How do you revamp one of gay District's most iconic landmarks without losing its personality? That's the challenge Brad Weesner was given when he was asked to give Annie's Paramount Steak House a facelift last year.
''I was so honored, flattered and proud,'' Weesner, 52, says of that assignment at 1609 17th St. NW.
''We wanted it to be more sophisticated, more upscale. What really mattered was the owner said, ''I want to give back to the community that got us here.'''
Weesner himself was part of that community. The Indianapolis native who moved to Washington when he was still a child, spent his 20s hanging out at Annie's. When it came time for this assignment, he already knew the venue inside and out.
''I think the point was don't alienate anyone. There was a very strong commitment to the community, and it wasn't just the gay community, but the neighborhood also. That was very telling for me.''
Even though Weesner launched his interior-design career seven years ago, he has been training for it all of his life, working in hotels and developing residential real estate.
''When you work in a hotel, in food and beverage, and you go to open the doors of a ballroom, you don't know if there's going to be 25 people and it's a conference, or if it's 600 people at a wedding. You don't know. You have to just be prepared. That trains you, as a designer, to be a diplomat, a therapist, a sounding board, a mediator and the arbiter of taste. You have to have the self-confidence to show people why this is the level we should be at.
''In new-home building, I learned how to build houses. I built my own house…. I'm very knowledgeable about architecture and the building process.''
But Weesner goes all the way back to his childhood, to a department store in Indianapolis, when asked about his earliest memories of caring about design.
''My mother would take us out to lunch, and I remember that dining room -- the columns, the chairs, the chandeliers,'' he says. ''The space, the light, the environment…. I remember it clear as a bell, and I was 4.''
That Indianapolis memory was further enhanced by living in D.C. during the Kennedy years, he adds, pointing to the sophisticated tastes that made a home in the District during that era.
Figuring out how to express that desire for design, however, was the tricky part.
''There was never a doubt that interior design was my No. 1 passion. I just never had the courage to just step out and do it.''
Weesner's work is not limited to restaurants and public spaces. Naturally he offers his services in homes, where he works to ''connect'' with the client before doing anything else.
''People's biggest fear is that a designer is going to come, snap their fingers, and say, 'It must all be mauve.' They fear that the designer is going to imprint their own style on this person's space. So it's rewarding to hear that you've connected with a client personally.''
If you're looking for a cost-effective way to connect with your home, Weesner advises you to think ''color.''
''Color on the wall: paint. Some people aren't good with it and we do color consultations. But to paint your walls a color is the single, least expensive, most transformative thing that you can do.''