The Artful Errol Adels, an Architect and a Gentleman
You make the client’s dream come true,” says architect Errol Adels, whose professional life has ranged from Washington, D.C., to Muscat, Oman — and places in between, such as Dubai, Athens and London. As far as being an architect, he says, “Occasionally, you’re like the family doctor.”
For someone who has worked half a world away part of his life, Adels is known around town for his work at Watergate apartments, and his firm’s designs for the Finnish and other embassies along Massachusetts Avenue and his modernist home on Cathedral Avenue, which he designed and lived in for a time.
“I worked on all kinds of projects over my career,” says Adels, who first arrived in D.C. in 1968, after studying at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Florida, and briefly stayed at the Georgetown Inn.
He now lives in Upperville, Va., at Lavender Hill, which he designed for himself and his fam- ily. One of his most prominent designs around Middleburg includes Foxlease Farm.
Influenced by Le Corbusier along with “the shining white of the Aegean” and the south of France, Adels reflects his own joie de vivre, geniality and depth of design wisdom. “It’s been beneficial to re-invent one’s aesthetics,” he says of his worldly flexibility.
After a teaching fellowship at Manchester University in England and a stint as visiting critic in design at several other British schools of architecture, Adels began working with archi- tect Angelos Demetriou in the 1970s. They later co-founded Architects International, a firm with worldwide projects, in the 1980s.
During his early career, Adels worked on projects for the Georgetown waterfront and the West End. He recalls attending Georgetown community meetings where there was minor, but vocal, opposition to new development and the future subway, known today as Metrorail.
For the young Adels, Georgetown “was a hoot.” One evening, a group of young friends, along with doyenne Kay Halle, wanted to get seated at Rive Gauche, a restaurant at Wisconsin and M, but were being shoed away until the maitre d’ saw that Secretary of State Dean Rusk was part of the gang.
“In the old days, everyone knew each other,” says Adels, who worked with Sam Pardoe on the design of his house at 28th and Q Streets. Georgetown “was not such an entertainment center then” — even if he did design Pisces, the private club run by Wyatt Dickerson. The town is “different not lesser,” Adels says. “But, oh, to meet Elizabeth Taylor at Clyde’s . . .”
Soon, however, Adels found himself in another world: “a very foreign place at the end of the Arabian Peninsula.” There, in 1983, he met the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Adels recounts: “The sultan said some- thing indelible: ‘Will you help me build this country?’”
The architectural firm’s workload exploded as parts of Oman went from nothing to the best of everything. Adels considers the sultan an “enlightened ruler,” who “balanced the life of the Middle East with the need to have good will of the West.” His firm designed the capitol build- ing at Muscat, the state palace and the summer palace at Salalah, the sultan’s hometown. Over a period of some 13 years, the firm left behind more than $600 Million in completed works.
Adels says he has designed at least 10 mosques — perhaps more than any other archi- tect. He got so good at it that an old villager simply asked him one day to build a mosque in Dhofar, Oman. “He insisted that I should do because I can . . . just make it happen,” Adels recalls. “So, we got land from the state and some extra building materials.”
The firm also designed the Dubai Dhow Wharfage, a large anchorage and parks complex along Dubai Creek. “We helped to set a frame- work for a new Dubai,” Adels says.
Closer to home, the white buildings of Adels still reflect the eclectic tastes of their designer. At 2130 Cathedral Ave., NW, a striking house stands out across from Rock Creek Park. The architect lived there during part of the ‘80s and ‘90s; it is again on the market for close to $1.8 million. Above Chain Bridge in Arlington sits Potomac Cliffs, four attached townhouses, his firm designed and built in 1983.
One personal project by Adels is his beloved Lavender Hill in Upperville, Va. Built in 1998, it calls to mind the architectural notions of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson as well as Italy’s Palladio. Its grounds evoke Provence, although only a small number of the original 1,400 lav- ender plantings remain. The two-story, stucco home has a central pavilion connected to two end pavilions. With its gardens and swimming pool, the place is in perfect harmony with the earth and was the venue for a Georgetowner cover photo shoot during the summer. Nevertheless, Adels has now put the five-acre property on the market for $2,750,000.
The architect is also proud of his designs for Foxlease Farm, also in Upperville and the former estate of John Archbold, a Standard Oil co-founder. The farm includes a residence, stable and polo grounds for the Steiner family. “I can’t think of anything further from a mosque than a hunt country house,” Adels told Virginia Living a few years ago. “But if you’re good, and the cli- ent is good, the building will emerge.”
Another place proves that sentiment: the Watergate penthouse of Leslie Westreich, a good friend of Adels. At Watergate South, he rehabbed and designed the onetime apartment of former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., opening it up to a spec- tacular vista of the Potomac, from the Kennedy Center up past Georgetown. Westreich’s art and antique collection is displayed seamlessly along- side unique furniture, including chairs from the S.S. Normandie.
“Houses are wonderful, but it’s time to move on,” says the 70-year-old Adels, who remains busy designing both buildings and interiors for a noteworthy clientele. He and his family are also patrons of the National Gallery of Art. “More than any other Washington institution, the gallery has given us great pleasure for more than 40 years,” he says. “It is nice to be able to give back. Alas, Lavender Hill will go to a new generation.”