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1MRM;EWLMRKXSR Tech Titan Frank Islam and his wife Debbie Driesman use their 47,000-square-foot home to pay homage to the city they love. BY LAURA WAINMAN PHOTOS BY TONY BROWN MAKEUP BY LIZ WEGRZYN | HAIR BY CHRIS RUSHTON FOR T.H.E. ARTIST AGENCY INTERIOR DESIGN BY SROKA DESIGN | LANDSCAPING BY LEWIS AQUATECH CONSTRUCTION BY GIBSON BUILDERS | LIGHTING AND AUDIO BY BETHESDA SYSTEMS


HOME LIFE | INSIDEHOMES

Photo by Kenneth M Wyner

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otomac is no stranger to mega-mansions. The suburban town has long played host to young couples driving along River Road to admire luxurious houses sprawled across acres of land they can only dream of acquiring. Amid the grandeur, “Norton Manor,” the newly constructed home of entrepreneur Frank Islam, founder and former CEO of QSS Group providing IT services to clients, and his wife Debbie Driesman, is impossible to miss. The 47,000-square-foot complex, situated on nine acres, consists of three French Neo-Classical buildings: the main residence, a 7,000-square-foot guest house and a tea house. The complex is a far cry from what the site looked like when the couple purchased the land five years ago. The space originally consisted of two adjacent four-acre lots, each of which contained a house that was torn down to realize their vision.The guest quarters and tea house, located east of the main house, overlook four acres of woodland gardens, a once completely wooded area that now includes a babbling brook, gazebo, multiple bridges and even a “secret gardenstyle” bowling lawn tucked away at the rear of the property. The first thing a visitor sees from the winding driveway in front of the house is a reflecting pool similar to the one in front of the U. S. Capitol. (The house is also divided into east and west wings.) Inside the grand foyer, there is a domed, painted ceiling surrounded by a double sweeping staircase, chairs with the same fabric used in the Blue Room of the White House and hand-painted murals depicting scenes of Maryland life. A quick chat with Mr. Islam, who has become a very active fundraiser for the Democratic Party, and it becomes clear that such tributes to the Washington landscape are no accident. “Washington is near and dear to us,” he says. “It is our home, and I think it is important to showcase these national landmarks that we are fortunate to be surrounded by.” He has showcased them indeed. In the downstairs lounge, where Mr. Islam can host upwards of 120 guests

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OPPOSITE PAGE, Clockwise from top left: The Beaux Arts exterior of “Norton Manor” was inspired by “Rosecliff” in Newport, R.I. Though Mr. Islam was initially skeptical about the bird design, the entrance to the lounge is now one of his favorite decor elements. Ms. Driesman and designer Skip Sroka worked with artist Barry Entner, who created the glass sculptures and custom light fixtures while the house was still in the blueprint stage. The conservatory walls were painted by Lenore Winters Studio in classic trellis style.

THIS PAGE, FROM TOP: The Art Deco influence is most noticeable in the bar. Every rug is custom made and inset into marble floors. Mr. Islam fell in love with the replica Resolute Desk he saw in Ronald Reagan’s personal library and had to have one of his own. The French Garden room overlooking a statue of Persephone is Mr. Islam’s favorite room. The lounge is where the couples’ many political guests will be entertained.

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for seated political fundraising dinners, floor-to-ceiling murals of the Capitol, White House, Lincoln Memorial and the United States Institute of Peace, where he is a member of the International Advisory Council, decorate the walls. In his personal library he uses a replica of the Resolute Desk, complete with the Presidential Seal, which has been used by two of his favorite presidents, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Mr. Islam considers himself to be living proof that the American dream can be achieved, and he wants his home to not only pay homage to the land that he loves but inspire others to believe they can live that dream as well. “This country invested in me through education and opportunity, so it is my duty to give back to my community and to stay involved,” Mr. Islam says. “I do that through political fundraisers, writing policy papers and philanthropic activities like setting up college scholarships through the foundation my wife and I run.” Though the couple — who just moved in over the summer — are still adjusting to their new home and establishing a routine there, they have found plenty of ways to ensure that the spaciousness of the house does not take away from the welcoming, homey atmosphere they wish it to convey. “The rooms we actually live in, the kitchen or the family room for example, were kept to a comfortable scale so that it would still feel like our home,” Ms. Driesman says. Mornings are spent reading the daily newspapers together over several cups of coffee before heading to their respective home offices to begin their daily tasks. Mr. Islam pens op-ed columns on the state of American politics and works on editing his second book; Ms. Driesman busies herself with paperwork and design plans. The couple usually takes a quick walk through the gardens for their mid-day exercise before heading out to meetings. On rainy days, they make good use of one of their favorite rooms in the house, the very open and airy conservatory. “It has such a comfortable, whimsical feeling and you can pretend like you are outside even if you are indoors,” Ms. Driesman. says “Plus, it has a great view of the Koi fish.” 

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HOME LIFE | INSIDEHOMES

Behind the Scenes THE MAKING OF NORTON MANOR

Tales of the men who spent more than five years bringing this Potomac mansion to completion

Photo by Kenneth M. Wyner

JIM GIBSON

SKIP SROKA

GIBSONBUILDERS-CONSTRUCTION

SROKADESIGN-INTERIORDESIGN

    We became involved six years ago, right after Mr. Islam purchased the home in 2007. We spent two years on pre-construction before we even broke ground. First we had to tear down the existing two houses and combine the adjoining properties into one. We tore one down, and the fire department burned the other down. Then we could get started on what became a four-year build.  The project is unique because there was a very strong, unique vision on the part of Debbie and Frank.The house was always going to be designed around the domed double staircase, with the entertaining rooms coming off the grand foyer. I liked that when we finished, it was going to look like a house that had been there for 100 years. My favorite element of the project is definitely the staircase. Even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it was going to turn out as well as it did. I am still amazed at the detailing every time I see it.

on budget. We had ongoing meetings with the clients to ensure their expectations were met.

When I came on board with the project four years ago, there were already elevations for what the house would look like. It was set as French Neo-Classical design, so the main priority was making sure the design remained period correct. This project was a marvelous way of taking my significant historic knowledge and applying it. We looked to many historic French residences, including one of the lesser palaces at Versailles, for inspiration and brought pieces in from all over the world.

DON GWIZ LEWISAQUATECH-OUTDOORSPACES

We’ve been involved in this project for four years. We loved its scale, its level of complexity, and the desire of the clients to create formal gardens. The two acres of woodland gardens incude a 450-foot natural steam, stone bridges and entry arches, a natural gazebo and over 400 landscape lights. The scope continued to change and increase but we were tasked to stay

MICHAEL WILSON BETHESDASYSTEMS-LIGHTINGANDAUDIO

We worked for a long time with the construction manager, Mike O’Connor, to not only create energy efficient lighting, but to find the best kind of lighting that would result in the most wattage savings. In the end, we did the entire home in LED, which is saving more than 70,000 watts a month. Our greatest obstacle was creating a seamless wired and wireless internet not just within the house, but across the entire property. We also created an enterprise grade network including a customized router, five-gigabyte switches and 18 wireless access points. Now, from the time Mr. Islam enters the security gate, his iPad connects with full bars to his wifi network and he can move anywhere in the house, outside to the Koi terrace, across the lawn panel to the tea house and through the woodland gardens — all without dropping one bar or changing networks.

TAKEAVIDEOTOUROF“NORTONMANOR”ONWASHINGTONLIFETVATWWWWASHINGTONLIFECOMORONNOWTHISNEWSCOM 102

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Inside Homes - Washington Life Magazine - September 2013  
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