Do You Miss Museums? Then Check Out the Blue-Chip Art in This Washington House

Natalia Rachlin
·4-min read
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

From ELLE Decor

Neatly set back from the sloping, redbrick sidewalks that line the streets of Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., is a 19th-century house with enviable proportions, exquisite furnishings, and light that is just right. But first impressions leave little room for doubt: This is a home where art rules the roost.

As you step through the front door, the monumental Sterling Ruby mixed-media piece in the foyer nearly overwhelms with its sheer size. A sight line from the entryway to the back of the house reveals a sliver of wall that hosts a looping digital animation by the British artist Julian Opie. Around a corner from the foyer, in the living room, a painting commissioned from the Englishman Richard Long serves as the confrontational centerpiece.

Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

One in a row of Italianate-style brick villas constructed in the late 1860s, the house belongs to Dan Sallick and Elizabeth Miller, who alongside their day jobs—he is the founder of a D.C.-based advertising and communications firm; she serves on a local advisory commission—are passionate collectors of contemporary art. Since 2015, Sallick has also served as chairman of the board of trustees for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a role that he considers central to his collecting philosophy.

Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

“If you have the enormous privilege to live with art, there is a responsibility to get involved with museums and help expand access,” Sallick says. “It’s inspiring to encounter great art every day, but it also holds you accountable.” Since he joined the Hirshhorn, Sallick’s habit has been refocused on expanding the museum’s collection rather than his own—already a breathtaking mélange of works on full display in his home.

Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

Sallick and Miller purchased the property in 2015 and undertook a complete modernization with the architect Robert M. Gurney. They traded in a 1980s remodel for clean lines and long views, highlighting the very features that lured them in: 12-foot ceilings, great light, and lots of wall space. There are also charming architectural idiosyncrasies, like two porthole windows that were left intact above the contemporary glass staircase that they added with Gurney. The interiors, meanwhile, have evolved over time, with trusted friends and decorators infusing the couple’s own good instincts with ad hoc updates along the way.

Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

The refined living room sets the tone for the ground floor. Two white-leather lounge chairs by Poul Kjaerholm pair with a low Fort Standard marble table near a set of original arched windows. A Donald Judd sculpture protrudes from the wall in one corner, while an obscure stone relief, picked up at a local shop where diplomats are known to offload pieces, holds court atop a vintage cocktail table.

“We’ve always liked the idea of not getting stuck in one box,” says Sallick of the unpredictable juxtapositions that unfold throughout. “Not everything has to make sense.”

Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

In the dining room alone, works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ai Weiwei, Candida Höfer, and Lawrence Weiner each have their place. But rather than reading like a gallery, a sense of irreverent informality pervades: The custom dining table is surrounded by low-key bench seating, and two furry sheep grazing in window nooks provide a playful wink. Masked teenagers (the couple has three children) huddling around a fire pit in the garden and two dachshunds scampering about are proof that the home is a functional backdrop to the rhythms of family life, not a precious showcase.

Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes
Photo credit: Jennifer Hughes

Upstairs, in the couple’s understated bedroom, hangs a text-based piece—depicting the dictionary definition of the word self-contained—by the American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth. The same term might apply to the streamlined but spectacularly marbled main bathroom, outfitted entirely with fixtures from Waterworks, the design company founded by Sallick’s parents in the late 1970s.

In a year that was spent mostly at home, the family room has had particularly heavy use. An enveloping space with gray walls, its Ping-Pong table is the main attraction, backdropped by treasures that have followed the couple across four moves in 20 years. “We like the idea of not always starting over when we’ve moved,” Miller says. “We’ve brought the things that we love so there has been a continuity throughout all these different phases.”

While the couple has, in the past, been prone to looking toward their next move, 2020 also allowed them time to really contemplate their current surroundings. “Taking in the art we’ve collected, the furniture we’ve carried over from place to place, everything feels right to us, right now,” Sallick says. “It’s more than just the objects themselves; it’s a personal history.”

Styled By Melissa Colgan

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of ELLE Decor. SUBSCRIBE

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