How Many Neighborhoods Are There in DC? Ask the Artist Who’s Committed to Painting a Door in Almost Every Single One

It started with doorways. Now Samantha Testa is looking for the stories behind them.
How Many Neighborhoods Are There in DC? Ask the Artist Who’s Committed to Painting a Door in Almost Every Single One
All illustrations courtesy of Samantha Testa of Painted Palettes.

If you spend any amount of time on Instagram, you’ve probably already scrolled past one of the quirky, illustrated doorways of DC-based artist Samantha Testa.

But Testa’s drawings may appear familiar for a different reason: her sketches depict actual doorways throughout the DC area, ranging from the stone arches of Fairfax Village to the modern industrial entryways of the Navy Yard, the neon-hued doors of Columbia Heights, the downtown doorways of Dupont, and more.

Many, many more. Testa is in on a mission to illustrate a doorway from each of DC’s roughly 115 neighborhoods.

The process is part of ongoing illustration project called the DMV Door Series, which, in one short year, has both developed an enthusiastic social media following and managed to capture the attention of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s popular residency engagement project, 202Creates.

Each week, Testa scouts a new neighborhood in DC, scanning paint colors and looking for those details that make a doorway one-of-a-kind—say, a verdant potted plant collection, or a lethargic neighborhood cat. Then she photographs the entryway to illustrate later.

“It’s a lot about color and details. I also try to balance out the type of doors that I am picking,” says Testa, “but my rule of thumb is what speaks to me.”

Part of the fun in Testa’s illustrations is identifying specific houses and considering how each reflects the personality of the neighborhood and the characteristics of their owners. Can we assume that blue door on Barracks Row with a knocker in the shape of a Yorkie is home to dog-lovers? Or that the interior of the neon-painted house in Mount Pleasant has a bold interior to match its bright facade? The illustrations don’t just show the exterior of a building; they’re anthropological snapshots of the city’s communities.

When Testa moved to DC over a decade ago for a teaching job, it was a big shift in lifestyle from her Ohio hometown. During the transition, she got to know her neighborhood by bicycling around and taking regular walks with her dog. Everywhere she looked, there was a fresh architectural detail that fascinated her, a home just a few steps away, hidden behind a door. Over time, the architecture of Testa’s new city began seeping into her work.

Though she had a full-time job as a teacher, Testa’s client base from her ‘side-hustle’ as a calligrapher and artist for Painted Palettes was blossoming, and, in 2017, she committed to a career change. The DMV Doors project has become central to that.

But the goal of the project has broadened in unexpected ways since she began. With the Mayor’s Office involved, Testa is in the process of developing a book, to be released next spring, that aims not only to capture unique architectural details of DC’s numerous neighborhoods but to figuratively “walk through” each doorway with longtime residents. Testa is tracking down first-person testimonials and stories from every single neighborhood to accompany her illustrations.

“We’re looking for the longtime residents, the ‘Chatty Cathys,’” says Testa. “It’s not just about my artwork— it’s really about DC.”

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Wondering if that weird house in your neighborhood was portrait-worthy? Testa is about halfway through her mission: to date, she has illustrated more than 50 doorways–and she’s far from finished. She describes how early on in the process, she scheduled a rather distressing call with the DC Office of Planning in which they directed her to a website citing that the city had approximately 115 “official” neighborhoods. The number was high, but she’s stayed committed to her original goal. Testa guesses that will put her close to 109 doorways.

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“Some of the neighborhoods, for example, the Arboretum… it’s kind of hard to find a good door there,” she explains.

Testa’s favorites so far have been the ones that made long-lasting impressions: an eggplant-purple door in Capitol Hill, a beautiful archway in Glover Park. And no, she really isn’t getting tired of the subject matter. Without a trace of fatigue, she goes on to eagerly run through a list of neighborhoods she has yet to investigate.

“Naylor Gardens is beautiful—I’m excited to explore there. Oh, and Brightwood and up around Takoma.”

It seems there will always be a new doorway on Tesla’s horizon.

 

 


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Hayley is an Assistant Editor at Washingtonian Bride & Groom and Washingtonian. Previously she was the the Style Editor at The Local Palate, a Southern food culture magazine based out of Charleston, South Carolina. She currently resides in Bloomingdale. You can follow her on instagram @wandertaste.