A Conversation With Country Mouse, Simon Jacobsen
Since the 1970's when I first set eyes on Hugh’s Georgetown 'Tuscan Villa' remodel on Q Street, I've been in love with Jacobsen Architecture.
Late last year, Simon moved his family to the country. I had a chance to sit down with the world-renowned architect to learn more about the dramatic transition.
DISH: You’ve resided and had your architecture practice in Georgetown for the past 54 years. Now that it’s been almost a year since you traded in your navy blazer for overalls and moved to Delaplane, Virginia, how does it feel?
SJ: This is a very special part of the world. Its rolling hills and green pastures are very reminiscent of Vermont. It is peaceful and quiet and our closest neighbor is 1/8 of a mile away. The air is sweet and smells of flowers and not a Metro bus. Birds are always singing and there are no gunshots or sirens. Madame, I do not wear overalls. A jaunt through town will often reveal more Guccis per capita than Washington.
DISH: What a perfect time to practice social distancing. What’s it been like for you and your family to shelter in place in the country?
SJ: It was not by design that we moved out here just before the pandemic struck and the economy went into a slide. Ruth and I have always admired our friends who had pastures in the country and took up residence there.
We came to a point last year where we just asked ourselves, “If not now, then when?” At the time we were not even certain if this would only be a weekend estate, but we purchased Margo and put our toes in the water, and then we decided to stay and stay for good. We enrolled our son in school in The Plains and our 18-year old daughter shot off to college in Virginia. (In state tuition is something new to me now and I like it.)
DISH: I may have lost count, but I think you have four ducks, two turkeys and a wrangled calf his mother wasn’t keen about. For a minute there, also seven rescued kittens. What’s it like on the ark?
SJ: For awhile it was like that. Every time time we would take our country walks down a peaceful lane, we came home with some animal in tow that needed attention. The count so far has been four baby ground hogs, nine abandoned kittens, four ducks, two white turkeys, a Black Angus calf. All have been repatriated to the mothers or to good homes except for the fowl. They are just too funny to watch and have become family.
DISH: We’re all working from home at the moment. Any adjustments now that you are truly remote?
SJ: I have to admit, it was very strange at first and slightly panicky as this was something new to me and everyone else, however, the business stays in operation and my weekly trips across the country have stopped, and it is for the better. I never thought it could be this way; it’s easier and not so chaotic.
Zoom meetings, texts and calls with clients and staff seem normal now, and I am not worried about getting mugged.
The first order of business was to install a whole house generator as the power goes off without reason and no real anticipation of a return to normalcy can be expected. This is country life for sure and looks remote but really, it isn’t.
Everything we need is 5-10-20 minutes away such as excellent restaurants, grocery stores, etc. The area has some of the best specialty food stores like artisan butchers, bakeries and organic produce all within arms reach. Driving to these places is half the fun as it so beautiful.
Our neighbors are fantastic and there is a feeling of fellowship with each other out here. We do need each other because small problems can become bigger ones right quick. But the funny thing is, many of the people here are either Washingtonians, or DC expats. Many still commute into town for their businesses. Several are members of The Metropolitan Club. This particular area makes for a quick and reasonable trip into Washington because our proximity to I-66. Fifty-five minutes on a good day.
Business has been exceptionally surprising. Jacobsen Architecture will be opening an office in Middleburg and Los Angeles. Our Washington HQ will remain.
DISH: Can you tell us a little about the history of your homestead. Have you made any design changes since you moved in?
SJ: The house is a series of white gabled country vernacular forms all joined together at different times starting in 1941 and is very “Jacobsen” in nature. It was an active horse farm prior and has stables and barns and substantial grounds and a pond that is stocked with Large Mouth Bass. It has an elegant pool over looking the pond. That is where we quarantined over the summer.
The house needs some minor adjustments which we are drawing now (I know an architect who works for free in this case.)
DISH: What surprised you the most in making a dramatic lifestyle change?
SJ: The biggest surprise was how much we love it out here. Ruth is from a small agricultural town in Washington State so this is close to her heart. The children and I had no real experience in the country unless it was a rental house in the South of France. I realized that we had always wanted to live like this. Fifty-five years of living in Georgetown and other cities had blinded me to the possibility of something else.
DISH: Porsche or John Deere?
SJ: This is fancy horse country so you will see on the highway an assortment of combines, tractors pulling hay mixed in with Bentleys, Teslas, etc.
DISH: Maybe it's not the best time to ask, but what do you miss most about DC?
SJ: We have many friends in Washington that we miss, but the virus has sent us all indoors or apart, so we could not have seen them safely anyway. I do miss my old haunts such as The Prime Rib, Martin’s, Milano, La Chaumiere. We will be back as Covid will not last forever.
Like a sick friend, I just hope they can hold on until we do.