Articles - November 2019


New Lease of Life for Historic Kalorama Building

In 1807, an American diplomat and writer named Joel Barlow bought a country house on the fringes of North West Washington. The property was named Belair, but because it was perched on one of the few heights overlooking the city, Barlow renamed it Kalorama, which is Greek for “beautiful view.” Over the next few years, as the sycamores and oak trees gave way to splendid mansions, the whole, burgeoning, upscale neighborhood became known as Kalorama.

Kalorama is an almost exclusively residential neighborhood known for its affluence, relative tranquility (despite its central location), and the fact that it has consistently maintained its position as the home of some of the nation’s powerful elite, currently including former President Barack Obama and his family, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner, the residences of the French, Portuguese, European Union, and Jordanian ambassadors, and other notables such as Amazon (and Washington Post) billionaire Jeff Bezos.

There are few better vantage points in Kalorama than the new rooftop sky lounge and terrace of Ora, a glass-encased rental building at 2144 California Street in North West Washington, not far from where the tree-lined street spills out into busy Connecticut Avenue. The 360-degree sweep from this luxe-gathering space for residents dubbed The Ora Club takes in the Capitol, the federal monoliths of downtown Washington, the treetop expanse of Rock Creek Park, the Washington Monument - and etched above the skyline farther west, Washington National Cathedral.

The Ora Club came into being as the crowning phase of a $20 million gut interior rehabilitation together with a major facelift of the rest of the 1959 apartment block originally named The Envoy. The box-shaped Fifties building has always been something of a misfit squeezed into the area’s neo-classic/Georgetown Revival aesthetic. But a major renovation completed earlier this year has brought a new distinction to its exterior, while the interiors have been upgraded to provide “an unmatched opportunity for residents seeking boutique luxury in one of the country’s most renowned neighborhoods,” says Tracey Applebaum of BedRock Real Estate Partners, the property’s New York-based developers. Its once grey concrete façade has been transformed by the generous use of row upon row of oversized windows so that daylight now floods the bright and beautiful lobby-lounge, and the 113 thoughtfully reappointed residences on nine floors have some breathtaking vistas.

The lobby-lounge is an open and airy common space that includes an area for meetings, a mini-library (sample book: The Penguin and the Leviathan by Yochai Benkler), and a succession of smaller, glass-partitioned conversation spaces. The lounge sets the building’s overall tone of pristine luxury, with a light hand in the decoration, using ivory, cream and light grey tones. The lounge furniture is contemporary and eye-catching: In one of the conversation spaces, the seating consists of a pair of substantial, high-backed armchairs by British designer Mark Gabbertas, in an updated version of the wingback chair, covered in a neutral grey material.

Ora offers studios, and one- and two-bedroom residences spanning between 525 sq.ft. and 800 sq.ft. To breathe new life into this eroding, neglected one-time landmark, BedRock tapped Forrest Perkins, an award-winning DC interior architectural and design firm (they renovated the five star Jefferson Hotel). “The restoration was originally designed with diplomats in mind,” says Jennifer Beggiato, a Forrest Perkins associate who worked on the rental building. “Then millennials came on the market. We approached it like a boutique hotel, with the benefit of a great street that had a boutique flavor. We kept everything simple, but elegant.”    

Washington’s foreign diplomatic community is a unique source of would-be renters in the nation’s capital. With over 200 embassies and international organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, IDB, OAS and PAHO/WHO, an estimated 20,000 foreign diplomats and their families require short term accommodations (usually between two and four years).

More significant, with its prestigious location and upscale amenities, Ora reflects the rise of the millennials as a force in shaping the luxury rental market. Washington is consistently among the top cities that professionals of age 24 to 36 want to live in, according to surveys, including by the Urban Institute. This age group is also known for their preference for renting over home buying, in part as a result of postponing starting a family. 

Ora offers a fresh take on creative and comfortable work-life balance. Each residence features European-inspired kitchens that combine Blanco Maple quartz countertops, polished chrome fixtures, and stainless-steel appliances, including a gas stove. A fully equipped fitness center, with a Peloton bike, and a dedicated pet spa, are further amenities.

The “junior one-bedroom” units, which are the size of a studio, at 532 sq.ft., rent for $2,130 to $2,905 monthly; the one-bedroom rent range is $3,045 to $3,485 monthly; larger two-bedroom, two bathroom residences go for $4,438 to $4,520 per month.

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