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Breathing New Life into D.C.’s Landmark Old Post Office

Breathing New Life into D.C.’s Landmark Old Post Office

There has been a lot of talk about the Trump name heading to Washington, D.C., these days, and Betsy Hughes, an interior designer with Hirsch Bedner Associates, has found herself on the 2016 bandwagon—and we’re not talking about The Donald’s campaign trail. Hughes is eyeing the completion date for Trump International Hotel, Washington D.C., the $200 million redevelopment of The Old Post Office Pavilion.

Hughes became involved with the project on the ground floor. As the Trump Ocean Club in Panama—her favorite design project to date—was opening in 2011, the Trump Organization was also engaged in a bidding war for a 60-year lease on the former U.S. Post Office Department headquarters. Once Trump won the redevelopment rights, the company invited back Hirsch Bedner to help realize the design of the 116-year-old building, giving Hughes the chance to put her love of historic renovation to good use. The interior design firm is working alongside architects Beyer Blinder Belle and historic adviser and preservation specialists John Cullinane & Associates.

“Without question, the historic nature of it is near and dear to my heart. I’m a Southerner, and we revere older things that can’t be replicated in modern times,” says the Georgia native. “The idea of upcycling a building, recreating it, giving it a new life, and turning it into something viable in the community for the next 60 years is precious.”

Considering the hotel’s prime location on the corner of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Hughes recognizes that all eyes will be on the building’s revamp. The luxury hotel will feature multiple restaurants, a spa, and a conference space, in addition to 270 rooms and large public areas.

“This project sits in a prominent location in a prominent city,” she says. “The historic agencies are watching it carefully. Being respectful to their process and listening to what they treasure and then being creative about how to celebrate or protect what’s important is key.”

Hughes was eager to resurrect the space that functioned as the postmaster general’s office up until 1914, when the building was converted into office space for other government agencies. “I’m so excited for the chance to return it to its former glory,” she says. The team will convert the space into two presidential suites, coming in at 3,500 and 5,000 square feet. Another project highlight includes the building’s striking nine-story atrium, for which they protected the original metalwork and arched openings. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, so treating it with care has been paramount.

“We’ve worked very hard pre-design to solve problems before they happen. So we’ve really listened to what [historic agencies] have been saying and responding to their concerns and critiques in a very careful way, designing to meet their needs,” Hughes explains.

While design kinks may have been worked out pre-production, the political aspect of the project has been anything but smooth. Following Donald Trump’s controversial immigration comments, the property’s two celebrity chefs, Geoffrey Zakarian and José Andrés, announced they would no longer open restaurants at the property. As of press time, Trump responded by suing Andrés for $10 million in damages. Hughes did not comment on the project’s hiccups but has nothing but positive words about working alongside the famous family. “They revere quality above other things,” she says. “And it’s exceptionally refreshing to know that you don’t compromise on quality.”

Jumping through historic hoops could be viewed as a hassle, but Hughes, who has worked on many historic preservations, appreciates the education that comes with working in the nation’s capital. “I have really enjoyed learning more about how the government works and understanding that the building serves a higher good than just a luxury hotel,” she says. “Understanding all of the different organizations that were involved in it in the early days is an eye-opening education.”

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