By Karin Tanabe
Wade Davis has one of the most coveted jobs in America – Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. A cross between your favorite professor and a modern day Marco Polo, he spends of his time with his fingers in the dirt, traversing the globe as an anthropologist, ethnobotanist, photographer, and writer. When he’s home in Washington, he escapes to put pen to paper in his Travis Price-designed study, overflowing with books, manuscripts, artifacts, and inspiration.
“Travis did a studio on M Street in Georgetown for me,” Davis says, noting that in his current home, zoning prohibited a detached building. While many need light-filled rooms for inspiration, he wanted to avoid large windows opening onto a residential neighborhood and sought a cave-like atmosphere to disappear into his work. Subtle light was brought in by other means when the architect built a dome above his client’s desk (which Price describes as similar to the rotunda of the oracle’s temple at Delphi) and filled it with the books he uses the most. Davis whimsically calls the space his “Navajo kiva of knowledge.”
One of his most cherished moments there occurred when the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange performed during a benefit at the house. “We had all our writer friends over, and as they read from their works, the dancers moved to their prose,” he recalls. Daniel J. Boorstin, the late librarian of Congress, declaimed on the front steps, while Davis read in his study. “One dancer transformed himself into an anaconda, giving the impression he was slithering through the ladder that leads up to the rotunda of books.”
A room of many uses and even more inspirations, it is easy to see why Davis’s memories of the space run deep. One of the very best things about it, he says, is his ability to work from home. “My father left the house every day and only returned at night,” he recalls. “When my kids were young and I was home, I was totally at home.”