The Georgetown House Tour: A Preview

It’s that time of year, when show houses and neighborhood home tours bloom right along with the spring flowers. But perhaps none in this area is more revered than The Georgetown House Tour, which celebrates its 85th year on April 23.

I met co-chairs Jill and Scott Altman over the weekend to talk about the upcoming tour at one of its stops: designer Colman Riddell‘s gorgeous R Street home.


(Colman’s previous home on 33rd Street, which was on a past tour, was featured in The Washington Post.)

Those who purchase the $50 tickets will get to see 10 properties in Georgetown’s west and east villages (i.e. both sides of Wisconsin Avenue). And since it was set up during the Great Depression to aid parishioners in need, the proceeds continue to benefit outreach programs for St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Five of the homes, which range in architecture from Georgian to Federal to Colonial, have never been on the tour. The remaining five haven’t been on it in at least eight years, Scott tells me—and several of those have new owners, so they will look completely different anyway.

Here’s a peek at Colman’s house:


Colman and her family used to live in China and Turkey, so they brought many furnishings and works of art back with them. “The Chinese aesthetic is close to our heart,” she says.

I love how whimsical her collections are.

I love how whimsical her collections are.



Colman lucked out with this house, because the previous owners had thoroughly renovated it. “All we had to do was put our personal touch on it,” she says.

Colman tells me she has a thing for skulls!

Colman tells me she has a thing for heads!



I would love to eat breakfast here.

Here’s a peek at a few other houses on the tour, along with some fun facts (in no particular order):


  • One house was decorated by Frank Babb Randolph, and has been published numerous times.
  • One belongs to a Georgetown University dean. Its living-room bookshelves are filled with books written exclusively by Georgetown faculty.
  • One, built in 1860, famously belonged to a beautiful World War II American spy, code-named “Cynthia.” The current owners have an impressive modern art collection, which includes works by Steven Cushner.


  • One house nearly burned to the ground during a “minor” renovation in 2000. The only thing left from 40 boxes of books in the study, where the fire originated, was a paperback edition of Geothe’s Faust. The frayed cover is prominently framed and on display.
  • One house leads to a hidden oasis in back, a tranquil garden designed by Maryland landscape architect Osamu Shimizu.
  • One was designed by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, with his famously white interiors and egg-crate shelving systems. The owners’ art collections include Degas and Russian fauvist painter Jean Peske. Much of the furniture is original Biedermeier.


  • Architect Christian Zapatka orchestrated the renovation of another house, which preserves much of its Federal-era moldings, trim, and fireplace mantels.
  • One house used to house boys’ school in a cottage out back. Its current art collection includes a zinc sculpture of George Washington, a buddha statue from Burma, and a painting by local artist Lida Stifel.
  • And finally, one small corner house, built in 1901, feature the collections of owners who have traveled extensively overseas. Chinese, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, Argentine, Brazilian, Spanish colonial and Peruvian objects happily mingle beyond the home’s Victorian double-door entry.


Click here to purchase tickets. The tour includes a tea at St. Johns, and from what Jill tells me of all the sandwiches and sweets that volunteers will be making, it’s best to come hungry! See you on April 23.

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  1. I’m going to be in Boston and will miss this! I hope they’ll let you take more pics!