The Roman Revival style residence of Egyptian Ambassador Sameh Shoukry and his wife Suzy features a museum-quality collection of precious artifacts from the Land of the Nile.
By Gail Scott
The Royal Egyptian Government bought this unique Sheridan Circle mansion in 1928 from socialite Margaret Beale for $150,000 to serve as King Fouad I’s residence during a state visit that never happened. The Egyptian government decided to keep the stately home as their ambassador’s residence.
The exterior is dominated by a third-floor archway directly above the front doorway that is supported by a pair of second floor double columns. Appropriately flanking the entrance are two majestic carved stone benches with watchful lion heads, evoking ancient Egypt where they symbolized the guarding of sunrise and sunset.
Once inside, the elaborate and luxurious interior boasts a beautiful spiral staircase, intricately patterned parquet floors, hand-tied Egyptian and Persian rugs, puddled silk striped curtains, and gilded barrel and circular ceilings. One is immediately aware that this great house is one of Washington’s most historic properties.
A comprehensive restoration from 1999 to 2002 brought the mansion back to life and now the Shoukrys – with the help Egyptian museum experts – now have a new first floor Museum of Antiquities of which they are very proud.
“We installed a highly sophisticated security system to protect everything,” Suzy Shoukry says.
The newly designed and lighted first-floor museum includes a collection dating back to 3,000 B.C. that transports visitors to the ancient Land of the Nile. Most recognizable are the mummy masks and mummified sacred birds of the pharaohs, alabaster plates and bowls handsomely lighted from within, and inlaid brass bowls, basins and boxes with arabesque motifs. The Shoukrys are now adding Coptic artifacts to include Egypt’s Christian heritage to complement the original collection of pharaonic and Islamic treasures.
“We often welcome our guests here with a cocktail reception so they can enjoy the museum before going upstairs for dinner. I want them to be comfortable and know that they are important to us, so I make every dinner party unique,” Suzy Shoukry says. Guests who have previously visited the house will probably notice a difference. It turns out that she couldn’t wait to make it feel like home.
“The morning after we arrived, I woke up very early – around 2 a.m. It was still dark but I was dying to move things around,” she recalls. “I couldn’t wait until everyone was up, so I put the big items on the rugs and pulled them from here to there. You should have seen the faces of the staff in the morning when they saw that everything was different!”
To Ambassador Shoukry, the city already felt like home. As a young boy, he lived in Washington when his father was the embassy’s first secretary and he loves retracing his footsteps, especially in Chevy Chase. “I have fond memories of Glen Echo and Luray Caverns,” he explains, “and playing football and baseball at Lafayette Elementary.”
He vividly remembers the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated: “I was getting ready for football practice when we got the news. Immediately, everyone went home and we were fixated for the next three days in front of the TV.,” the ambassador of the world’s most populous Arab country remembers. “I have a deep respect for U.S. value systems and the history of the Founding Fathers.”
This top diplomatic couple were high school sweethearts and have built their family life together around his ambassadorial postings to Austria and the United Nations in Geneva, time in New York as Egypt’s United Nations Representative, and important appointments back home as the foreign ministry’s chief of staff and President Mubarak’s information secretary.
In Washington, on the rare occasions when they have time alone, the Shoukrys love waterfront dining in Georgetown with their dog “Kaiser” and Kennedy Center musicals (especially “Evita,” and “The King and I”). Each summer they look forward to the month of July at home, sharing their Mediterranean oasis with their two grown sons and their families, including one cherished grandson – named Sameh Jr., of course.