Philanthropists Victor Shargai and Craig Pascal find community and design inspiration at the Watergate, furnishing their stylish apartment with mid-century modern elements.
“People would always ask me, where are you going to retire?” says designer Victor Shargai. “And it finally occurred to me, why would I move? Washington has become my home.”
For his partner Craig Pascal, Washington has always been home – the lawyer turned banker was born a few blocks from their Watergate residence at George Washington University Hospital. “I like to say I haven’t gone far in life,” he quips.
When the power couple, also known for their philanthropic endeavors (Shargai was founding chair of theatreWashington and Pascal works in affordable housing) decided to look for their first home together three years ago, they had a few non-negotiables: it had to be walking distance to Pascal’s K Street office and it needed to be conducive to entertaining, particularly for hosting fundraisers. The stunning Potomac River views and friendly community they found at the historic three-building complex were just icing on the cake.
“It’s such easy living,” Shargai says of the complex that counts former senator Bob Dole, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and candy heiress Jackie Mars as residents. “We can get a haircut, buy groceries, go to the post office and our liquor store just opened downstairs. It’s marvelous.” It’s also walking distance to about 14 theaters, Shargai estimates. He and Pascal often find themselves strolling home after a show with new friends from the Watergate. In fact, upon moving in, their already busy social calendars became flooded with invitations.
Rahman Seraj, Shargai’s former senior associate at Victor Shargai & Associates, was asked to redesign the apartment, which was originally two units. The result was a more open floor plan with direct views of the Potomac River and a spacious living area and dining room undivided by walls. It took over a year to complete.
“We lucked out because there were two kitchens. We also created a space where you could actually stand behind the bar, serve drinks and look at the river,” Shargai explains.
The next step was deciding what style to focus on. The apartment’s openness lent itself to a mid-century modern look rather than the English and French antiques Shargai had in his previous residence. Many pieces were incorporated from Pascal’s prior home, which had a mid-century style.
“When you’re going to live with somebody you get to know them a lot better when you’re designing a home together,” Shargai says. “You can grow to hate them.” Luckily, he found that Pascal has “an innate sense of design.”
Shargai also chose his designer wisely.
“We will always be indebted to Rahman for creating our home. He is the kindest, most loyal person in the world and he wanted it to be everything we wanted it to be,” Shargai says, noting that “one of the most important qualities in a designer is liking people and liking the people you work with. Also I could never work with someone who didn’t have a sense of humor.”
The couple’s own humor is reflected in subtle touches. Having fun with the classic chairs around the Saarinen breakfast table, found at Random Harvest in Georgetown, they put a striped fabric on the back since traditional French chairs were often placed against a wall with less expensive material on the back. A bowl full of cue balls on an antique Chinese console from Carling-Nichols in the foyer with Richard Prince’s “Marlboro Man” above it adds to the fun.
“Marjorie Merriweather Post once put a Mickey Mouse in one of her cabinets with Faberge eggs and I just love that,” Shargai says.
The decor is distinctly colorful, with classic prints and pops of red that start with a Charles Eames red leather chair in the master bedroom. They found dining room chairs by Holly Hunt and covered them in a lynx pattern fabric. A Noguchi cocktail table – “the most spectacular piece of furniture designed in the 20th century,” Shargai pronounces – sits in front of a custom purposely wrinkled leather sofa. They both initially wanted flowers on the table but decided against it because “that’s where the hors d’oeuvres go,” Shargai adds. Pascal had the idea of including a piano by the tall bookshelves in the living room, which ends up looking “like a piece of sculpture.” After dinner parties, festivities continue around it. At fundraisers, speeches are given in front of it. Guests enter the apartment to see an intricate 18th century Buddha, an inviting piece that the foyer was designed around.
A few antique pieces, like a 19th century Biedermeier chair, are mixed in throughout and add to the perception of “not being decorated” as Shargai puts it. The apartment is not without modern technology; a Sonos sound system plays music in any or all rooms with the touch of an iPhone. In the two years since they’ve lived there, the couple are still having fun picking out pieces, learning about each other and designing the perfect home.
“This apartment will always inspire me to look,” Shargai says. “It keeps me young.”
This story appeared with additional photos in the Summer 2017 issue of Washington Life.