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>IR8VERUYMPMX]MR+ISVKIXS[R Michael and Susan Pillsbury transformed their historic Georgetown residence into a tranquil setting for an impressive collection of Asian art. BY DEBORAH K. DIETSCH PHOTOS BY GORDON BEALL


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Michael and Susan Pillsbury (Photo by Tony Powell)

snowy blizzard appears to have settled inside the Georgetown home of Michael and Susan Pillsbury. Ivory walls, curtains and furnishings fill the rooms to set off the couple’s remarkable collection of Asian artworks. “It’s a serene place to get away from all the hustle and bustle of Washington,” says Michael Pillsbury, a defense policy expert. “We wanted a Zen-ish house,” adds Susan. “All the white is calming.” Creating restful, elegant spaces for relaxing and entertaining was important to the homeowners, who frequently host dinners, political fundraisers and book parties at home. Their dining room — one of the few spaces with color on the walls — draws luminaries as diverse as former Vice President Dick Cheney, President Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta and arts philanthropist Dame Jillian Sackler. Mike Pillsbury worked with Cheney while serving under President George H.W. Bush as special assistant for Asian Affairs at the defense department. Prior to that job, he came to influence American policy in China and Afghanistan during the Carter and Reagan administrations through staff positions on Senate committees. British-born Susan, a former ballerina, has influenced the direction of major cultural institutions. She was a founding member of the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Las Vegas Philharmonic while married to her late husband, a hotel developer. “It was quite a challenge to bring classical music to a city familiar only with feather boas and pasties,” Pillsbury recalls. After arriving in Washington, she served on the board of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art and was the cochairman of its 25th-year anniversary gala last year. A preparty at the Pillsburys’ home offered guests the opportunity to enjoy their rare Asian treasures, many as culturally significant as the artifacts in the museum. Both Michael and Susan started buying Chinese art during the late 1970s and expanded their collection after

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PREVIOUS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Michael and Susan Pillsbury stand amid Asian artworks in the entrance hall of their Georgetown residence; in the living room, a Venetian lantern flanks the fireplace and a contemporary portrait of Marco Polo hangs above the mantel. The 19th-century Japanese screen depicts snow-covered pine trees. On a table near the windows sits a Song Dynasty wood carving of a guanyin (goddess of mercy). The large sofas are based on a design from Susan Pillsbury’s previous home; the bookcase-lined library showcases a red Buddha carved by a Cambodian master craftsman. Its large windows overlook the garden. Chairs and sofa are from Holly Hunt and the large coffee table was created by Georgetown’s Robert Shields who designed the interiors; the master bedroom centers on a contemporary four-poster bed from Holly Hunt. White curtain, carpet and bedding continue the pale color scheme found throughout the house. THIS PAGE, TOP: The kitchen was renovated with new cabinets and appliances, and a breakfast area with table and chairs. Its focal point is a gas fire pit sunken into the granite island; BOTTOM: Once owned by War of 1812 naval commander Stephen Cassin; the Federalstyle residence is entered through a door painted Chinese red for good luck.

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marrying in 2007. Artworks range from a Song Dynasty wood carving of a guanyin (goddess of mercy) and a Japanese screen in the living room to a Cambodian Buddha in the library. As in a museum, each piece is carefully placed within the rooms to catch the eye and draw the viewer closer. The Pillsburys bought the house in 2007 for $7.5 million, impressed by its Federal-style architecture. “I consider this living room to have the ideal proportions,” Susan says, pointing to the tall windows and high ceiling. The threestory brick mansion was once owned by naval commodore Stephen Cassin, who commanded the U.S.S.Ticonderoga in the Battle of Lake Champlain during the War of 1812. Subsequent owners included a school for girls and prominent diplomat Ray Atherton whose widow lived in the house for many years after his death. In the 1990s, the residence was extensively remodeled with new windows added to the side of house overlooking the spacious garden. By the time the Pillsburys purchased the property, the heating and cooling systems, electrical wiring and parts of the structure were in need of repairs. They hired Arlington remodeler Michael Sauri of TriVistaUSA and Georgetown designer Robert Shields to complete those upgrades as well as overhaul the bathrooms and kitchen, refinish the original pine floors and refresh the decor. The house has five fireplaces, including one in Mike’s upstairs office. Currently writing another book on Chinese strategy, the defense consultant sits in a white leather Eames chair while he works, surrounded by piles of papers and books. Two colorful skull-draped masks, acquired during a trip to Mongolia, flank the fireplace to face his desk. Designed to awe and frighten, Pillsbury says they inspire him “to keep my vow to finish my third book.”

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The Pillsburys enjoy traveling and recently returned from Burma as part of their work for the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative to save imperiled tigers, lions, leopards and cheetahs. They both serve on the National Geographic’s International Council of Advisors. Framed photos above their kitchen table testify to their past adventures in Asia, Africa and Europe. On the nearby granite island, a gas burner topped with stones burns brightly to warm the kitchen like an indoor campfire. “Since this is such a long, white room, it needed a focal point,” explains Susan of the blaze. “It might be good for toasting marshmallows, but we haven’t tried that yet.”

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Profile for Washington Life Magazine

Home Life - Washington Life - Holiday 2013  

Zen Tranquility in Georgetown - Michael and Susan Pillsbury transformed their historic Georgetown residence into a tranquil setting for an i...

Home Life - Washington Life - Holiday 2013  

Zen Tranquility in Georgetown - Michael and Susan Pillsbury transformed their historic Georgetown residence into a tranquil setting for an i...