The at-home flair of superlobbyist Tony Podesta
He’s an outsized character in the influence industry, known as much for his insider political bravado as his flashy Brioni Italian suits, red Prada loafers, splurgy art investments and wince-worthy divorce. But Tony Podesta, the Democratic power broker once embattled in a headline-grabbing federal investigation where no charges were subsequently filed, still hasn’t lost his flair.
That playful flamboyance—with the finest of details and materials— is ever apparent in his nearly 7,000-square-foot house nestled in a hillside in Kalorama, next to the Obamas.
The longtime K Street fixture, who has both tiptoed back into political operative life and been recognized as a major National Gallery of Art donor (with his name engraved in stone), looked to Olvia Demetriou, principal of the eye-catching architecture and design firm HapstakDemetriou+, to create rooms with elegance and harmony, while also reflecting that Podesta spunk. Most importantly, it involved displaying his notable contemporary art collection that includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Olafour Eliasson, Janina Tschape, Gillian Wearing, Petrina Hicks and Natalie Djurberg/Hans Berg—all of which, he says, will eventually be donated to museums.
Natural illumination in the historic Georgian house, Podesta says, is the very “vessel for showcasing art.” In fact, he keenly adds, this creates an ideal environment where “all of the world can converge in creating interesting conversations,” he says while noting that the Queen Rania of Jordan, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have all spoken at the house in addition to artists, museum directors, Democratic politicians and nonprofit notables. Now, he says, hosting has shifted to mostly art and art-related charity events, especially those supporting the creation of art to help victims of the war in Ukraine.
When entertaining large numbers of guests, it helps that the overscaled 20-foot doors of the residence open to the outside and allow for a light-filled expansion of space. Rich textures and colors of the original stone in the exterior are balanced with taupe trim and deep bronze accents. (An outdoor wood burning pizza oven has churned out, in one estimate, as much as 499 pizzas in a single evening for hundreds of guests.)
Inside, the dining area has surrounding art (including a dynamic Olafur Eliasson sphere fixture) and comfortably sits 60 people to dinner. “Tony wanted a clean open space for casual living,” Demetriou says, “so we combined the kitchen and dining area with his casual living room. The Boffi white lacquer cabinets are sublime, but the custom 16-foot-long red ribbon chandelier by Ingo Maurer is truly spectacular.”
It’s Podesta’s favorite too, perhaps exemplifying his joie de vivre. Constructed from two lengths of metal, the undulating red ribbon was formed and gold-plated by hand and within the body, light sources emit light through openings which makes the surface glow. “It is a joy to cook for family and friends under the brilliant light fixture,” he says of the kitchen area, which he calls the “nucleus and the heartbeat of the house.” The wine cellar, however, is his “happy place” with a wide collection of vintages from Italy, France, California and Australia.
With art as the mansion’s quintessence, Podesta turned to the Exhibit Specialist and lighting designer at the Hirshhorn Museum who recommended the built-in lighting system in the residence to allow for maximum flexibility to illuminate wall art and sculptures (in addition to the natural lighting of course). Podesta then had a hidden projector screen installed that flips down and out of the ceiling to provide wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor projection for art.
He may favor the audacious and dramatic as well as a sprinkle of razzle dazzle elements, but the heart of the house is, well, a little more human. Podesta credits his partner Trisja Malisoff (who describes herself as a “Human, child activist, advocate, adventure buddy, curious, forever exploring and traveling towards an as-yet-unknown destination”) for filling the house with flowers and bringing “buoyancy.”
That’s true art that doesn’t require good lighting.