I guess one could say that one of the “sweet perks” of being ambassador is living in an ambassador’s residence. The residence in D.C. carries quite a bit of historic weight and significance for Norway. So naturally, when I learned that I would be moving to D.C. as Norway’s Ambassador to the United States, I was very much looking forward to moving into one of my country’s most important “homes away from home.” But someone had other plans.
The day I arrived in D.C., the Norwegian government closed the doors to the residence and took away the keys for (what was supposed to be) four months of renovations. But, as with most renovations, that time was extended – quite a bit.
Finally, a little over two years later, it is time to move in.
But I can’t really complain. During the construction I had the pleasure of living on S Street N.W., near Dupont Circle, in a beautiful rowhouse, then later moved up to Foxhall, into a modern state-of-the-art mansion, next door to my French colleague Gerard Araud.
I must admit, I really enjoyed both these homes. Therefore, when it was time to move, I wasn’t sure I was quite ready. But I am very glad I did – it has turned out beautifully and tonight, on April 21, I am hosting the official grand re-opening!
“Y” Did We Renovate?
The Residence, located at 3401 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. has been given a serious facelift. Although you may not notice much of a difference when driving by, the second you step inside you can see that a lot has happened.
Perhaps the most noticable change is the addition of an elevator, which makes the building accessible for physically disabled guests.
Norwegian interior designers brought in contemporary Norwegian furniture, light fixtures and art to compliment the antique pieces. Among the collection of art hanging on the walls are seven impressive works by Edvard Munch.
Pairing the accessibility with inviting new décor, new artwork, and much-needed structural upgrades, the building has returned as a prime arena for promoting Norwegian interests.
I want to thank all the people who have been involved in this process. From the architects in Oslo and D.C. to the construction workers, from the gardeners and movers to the interior designers and their team – each has played a significant role in turning the Norwegian residence into what it is today.
“Y” Is This Important?
The ambassador’s residence is an important building as it is one of Norway’s official “public faces” to the American audience. Obviously, we want it to look good and be functional for its purpose.
Since the building was inaugurated in 1931, maintenance has been rather patchy and a full renovation has never been carried out. The only significant change was made in the ’70s, when we moved the chancery into a separate building, and integrated the first floor into the rest of the house. Other than that, we have just fixed things whenever things needed to be fixed.
Over time, it became evident that much needed to be done in terms of electrical, plumbing and HVAC work, as well as making the building generally more “green,” which we have now done.
Located at the top of Embassy Row, across the street from the vice president’s residence, the building has been home to 11 Norwegian ambassadors and their families before me. It has also welcomed thousands of guests every year, including U.S. dignitaries; the Norwegian Royal family; members of the Norwegian Parliament; and members of the business community, NGOs and civil society.
Even the present King, Harald V, has fond memories of the house from when he stayed here as a child during WWII. His mother, Crown Princess Märtha (depicted in a statue outside the residence), was instrumental in raising awareness in the U.S for Norway’s situation during the Nazi occupation. With King Haakon VII leading a government in exile in London, and her husband, then Crown Prince Olav, commuting infrequently between England and the United States, Märtha lived in Washington with her three children. Part of the time, they stayed in the residence (but eventually rented a house in Pooks Hill, Maryland).
The residence on Massachusetts Ave. has a long history to share, but must also be instrumental in showcasing a modern Norway. That is why we made an effort to find a way to combine the old with the new.
All in all, the residence has become quite an impressive house. A Twitter search for hashtag #renovationresidence provides an overview of the changes we made the past two plus years: see photos and tweets here.