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Potomac Country House Tour

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Norton Manor

Featured in 2014


With 47,000 square feet comprising a complex of main, guest and tea houses set on nine park-like acres, Norton Manor aims to impress. But don’t let its sheer scale deter you from seeing that while it provides a spectacular venue for political and philanthropic fundraisers, Norton Manor is every inch the home of Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman. From the time they purchased two lots in 2007 to Norton Manor’s completion 6.5 years later, the couple oversaw each phase of architectural and interior design. Furnishings, fixtures, color schemes, artwork and untold yards of richly textured fabrics all were personally selected with the meticulous guidance of local designer Skip Sroka. Aidan Design provided the kitchen cabinetry as well as all other cabinetry in the house. Its façade inspired by The Elms of Newport, R.I. and simplified by the owners, this refined mansion was executed by GTM Architects and built by Gibson Builders.

The first floor is a polished tour-de-force of French Neo-Classical style with Italianate touches. A double staircase sweeps dramatically across the two-story entry, capped by the Capitol-like rotunda above. A close look reveals that the coffered dome is actually a faux-painted trompe l’oeil, creating an impression of greater height. Rounded walls painted with intricately detailed landscape murals are done in the manner of Italian Renaissance landscapes, yet each is cleverly adapted to contain only native Maryland flora.

Notice the layers of visual detail and fine craftsmanship in each of the first floor rooms. “His and hers” adjoining libraries are distinctly personal, housing a licensed replica of the USS Resolute desk in the Oval Office and a maternal-side grandfather clock. The North Terrace Hall, a grand “gathering spot” adjacent to the formal dining room, is flanked by Venetian mirrors. Here, and throughout the first floor, carpets custom-made for the home are set into the gleaming inlaid marble floors; no two are alike. In the stunningly elegant dining room, admire the “inlaid mahogany” doors and discover that they are another of many deft faux-painted triumphs. Oversized blown glass lighting fixtures and glass sculptures in organic forms (by upstate NY artisan Barry Entner) accent nearly every room with brilliant blooms of color.

Etched glass doors open to the first of several more intimate living areas. The Conservatory surprises and delights with lattice-painted walls, abundance of light and views of the pond and patio area beyond. In the Family Room, note the “portrait” of Norton Manor and the 19th century-style molded plaster ceilings. A blue and white tile backsplash sets the theme for the airy Kitchen‘s decor. Its stylized central bouquet inspired the centerpiece for the custom rug and charmingly repeats in painted patterns on the walls.

Enter the lower level via the “VIP Hallway,” showcasing photographs of the owners with President Obama and other dignitaries, and emerge into an altogether different design environment. Here the geometrical visuals of 1920s/30s Deco and Arte Moderne motifs turn walls into sophisticated backdrops with clean lines and understated hues. Deco designs taken from the elevator doors in Radio City Music Hall frame the banquettes in the Bar. A pair of 1930s French wrought-iron garden gates now open to the wine cellar. Commissioned murals of D.C. monuments and buildings (including the U.S. Institute of Peace, where Frank serves on the Advisory Council) line the walls in the spacious Lounge area.

Exit through the serene French Garden Room and up to the tranquil koi pond and colonnaded patio area. Over 140 koi glide placidly among floating “islands,” landscaped by Lewis-Aquatech. Long blue-trimmed white curtains hung between columns can be left open to the view below or pulled shut to create private outdoor conversation areas. A five-bedroom guest house and secluded tea house are set among gardens, based on those at Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, their sense of grandeur and ease a fitting last impression to your visit.