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Anyone familiar with Washington, DC’s radial street design will know that there are many lots which are of an unusual shape to say the least. We saw one example of how an architect can overcome these non-rectangular blocks when we visited the Patterson Mansion in an earlier post. Another solution to this problem is the Wilkins House. Here we see the work of French-born architect Jules Henri de Sibour.
De Sibour did as much as any individual to improve the quality of Washington’s early 20th century architecture. He arrived in Washington from Paris around 1900 paving the way for a wave of Paris-trained architects who brought the Beaux-Arts style to Massachusetts Avenue and the surrounding blocks of the city.
Emily Wilkins commissioned de Sibour to construct a private residence on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 17th Street, NW. Built in 1909 and reminiscent of Italian classic design, the house has a simple diagonal entrance to overcome the problems of the radial lot. The interior, though, needed a more intricate layout. Immediately upon entering the entrance hall are flanking north and south lounges contained within the triangles formed by the reception room to the northwest and the serving rooms to the south. A trapezoidal anteroom gives access from the entrance hall to the northwest reception room.
Emily Wilkins’ son, John F. Wilkins, inherited the house the year after its construction. The property was primarily used for entertainment until it was sold to the Government of Australia in 1946. The Wilkins House served as the Australian Embassy from 1947-73. When the Australian Embassy moved to a modern building on the other side of Massachusetts Avenue, the building became the Chancery of Peru.
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