Lutyens in Washington

15-20 October 2001

By the 1920s, most Washingtonians lived within the Federal City as drawn by Pierre L’Enfant. There was still much open land within the centre of the city designated as future sites of planned Federal buildings. Distances were relatively small for a capital city and most people walked to work, school, to the shops and theatres or they went by streetcar. It was within this context – 1890-1940 – that we planned our visits to various residences and embassies.

To name all the buildings that we toured – 36 in total in 5 days – would take too long but I mention a few of the highlights. There was a residence of the Embassy of Egypt, which was in the process of being restored and we could clamber all through the building. The Ambassadress at the residence of the Embassy of Chile not only provided us with cakes and coffee but also took us through her own bedroom and bathroom. We had very pleasant drinks in the evening beside the pool at the residence of the Embassy of Ireland and little sachets of coffee were given to us at the residence of the Embassy of Colombia. It is difficult to say which was more impressive; the enormous overscale decorations at the Embassy of Indonesia, the Cosmos Club and International Order of the Eastern Star of the more sophisticated grandeur of the Society of The Cincinnati, the Embassy of Turkey or Meridian House. It was hard not to be impressed by the chic of the Brazilian and French Embassies but there was something poignant about the timewarp quality of the Embassy of the Holy See and The Washington Club. However, we all agreed that the Royal Thai Embassy was very hard to fault in either elegance or perfection of its original design until we stepped into the British Embassy. Then another whole range of adjectives became necessary. Lady Meyer, the current Ambassadress, hosted the group to afternoon tea on the terrace, then talked of her work in redecorating the house and invited us to tour the bedroom floor of the house with her. We were very lucky with the weather throughout the whole trip, having no rain at all but the afternoon spent sitting under Sir Edwin’s portico in the sun will stay in all our memories for some time.