Inside Homes: Welcome to Bahrain, in McLean

by Dara Klatt

The Bahraini Ambassador’s residence is a place for dignitaries to dine, artists to be showcased and neighborhood kids to playfully romp.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a Middle Eastern archipelago, tucked in a bay in the Persian Gulf. Cosmopolitan enterprising and modern, it’s a veritable oasis. So, perhaps it wasn’t such a stretch for a tolerant and Western friendly 21st century monarch, King Hamad, to offer its new ambassador to the U.S. – a father of five and a member of Bahrain’s royal family – another oasis for his young family for his first international posting. With one-year-old triplets in tow, the search in 2017 began for a contemporary home regal enough to host dignitaries, but a backyard expansive enough for barbecues and trampolines.

Enter Daniel Heider, the Sotheby’s realtor that the kids came to regard like an uncle, who steered them to a bevy of McLean’s spacious cul de sacs. Now, the official residence of Ambassador Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa is not only outside of D.C. for the first time, but quietly (and impressively) tucked in a neighborhood of modest, single-family detached properties at the end of an unassuming tree filled winding road, 25 minutes from the White House.

Set on 4.1 acres, the 15,300-square-foot residence of Amb. AlKhalifa and his wife Shaikha Aisha Al Khalifa features a grand two-story reception hall, or great room; formal living room; art gallery spotlighting Bahraini painters; and banquet dining room, decorated with the help of interior designer Casey Sanford.

Comfort was of “utmost importance,” Sanford says of the decor, along with creating an “inviting aura, a sense of warmth, [and] feeling of grandeur.” Stepping outside, the estate brandishes a leafy terraced area with heated pool overlooking the sports courts and jungle gym (and a place for the barbecue and trampoline). The children and twin golden retrievers can literally be playing outside or downstairs while the Crown Prince, Bahraini ministers, college students, or U.S. government officials, talk about security and trade enhancements between the U.S. and Bahrain … or perhaps just the beautiful autumn weather. It makes for a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere, just like the country itself has worked to be.

“Just mentally, people crossing that bridge [from the District to Virginia], it puts them in a different state. The atmosphere is different,” Amb. AlKhalifa notes. “It’s not just politics we discuss. It’s a whole bunch of other issues that touch upon not only who we are, but what the region is all about, and finding ways to further strengthen a very deep and historic relationship between the two countries.”

As Amb. Al Khalifa sits in the library which features storied Bahraini pieces, framed photos of the current and former kings (to whom he is related), as well as his family on various vacations, he discusses how welcoming and open the country is. “His Majesty the King for two decades now has ushered in the idea of inclusiveness, openness, freedom of religion, tolerance, and we contextualize that in many different forms.”

Mealtimes at the residence are a very small, but perfect example of this, he says, as people of a variety of faiths and dietary restrictions visit. “Sometimes it can be hard to accommodate everyone, but you will have to. Whether it’s religion or preference. We do put that into consideration … kosher, halal, vegan…” This is when Shaikha Aisha sweetly smiles and chimes in, “We drive the chef nuts.” While juggling household duties, the Shaikha is also active in the diplomatic and congressional community, serving as a director of Washington Performing Arts and the Explore! Children’s Museum of Washington.

She is the incoming president of the International Friendship Club, where she will be holding gatherings of diplomatic and congressional spouses at the residence. “It has been nice to get to know different people,” she says. While Amb. AlKhalifa elaborates on how open his country is, and how “people have for generations respected one another … a rare case in that part of the world,” he seems to start with respect first in his household. “I couldn’t do my job without Aisha being next to me,” he says. “It’s a team effort. In my previous capacity as a governor, I was on my own. That was the status quo back home. Here it’s harder for an ambassador to function without an effort being put by his better half. I’m blessed for Aisha’s support.” Now, to only get an invitation to the next friendly neighborhood barbecue.

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