Bridget “Brie” Husted, an architect who lived in Petworth and designed popular D.C. restaurants like El Centro D.F., Domku, Masa 14, and Southern Efficiency, as well as numerous private residences, died on Nov. 1. She was 41 years old. Her uncle, Steve Cochran, remembers her as whip-smart, driven, and magnetic: “There was absolutely no one else I so loved spending time with.”
A D.C. native, Husted grew up in Upper Northwest and attended Blessed Sacrament and Stone Ridge schools. She studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated in 1996. A study-abroad program in Rome was formative, deepening her interest in drawing and in the architectural qualities of light.
After college, Husted considered doing graduate work in sustainable design in Virginia or moving to the Southwest, but then her brother, Stephen, was seriously injured in a car crash in the D.C. area. Husted stayed by his bedside. “Brie was there every single day,” says Cochran, who credits her with helping her brother emerge from a long coma.
Husted interned at and worked for local firms including Trout Design Studio, Stoiber and Associates, and the Washington office of ZGF Architects before launching her own practice, Brie Husted Architects. Many of the bars and restaurants associated with D.C.’s recent boom are Husted’s work. If they have a hallmark, it’s a fine negotiation between the industrial and the handmade, a style that’s modern and rugged but not chilly.
Her abiding fascination was materials, Cochran says, and she liked finding discarded building parts to repurpose in unusual ways. At El Centro D.F. on 14th Street NW, she made industrial sprinklers into light fixtures and fashioned a railing out of thick marine rope. Ivan Iricanin, currently the owner of Ambar on Barracks Row, worked with Husted on Masa 14 and the two locations of El Centro, and remembers her “great ability to work within difficult timelines and budgets and still produce inspiring designs. She understood materials and how to make a statement with simple things.”
Husted’s residential projects include the Symera—a pair of new condos in Logan Circle—and a number of renovations and additions. She also worked on perhaps the most distinctive house built recently in the District, the Speck House at 990 Florida Ave. NW. The triangular plan of the house was the concept of its original owner, the urban designer and author Jeff Speck, but Husted served as the architect of record, collaborating with Speck on the design and drawing up the plans.
“What I had thought would be a mostly arms-length process turned into an intense two-year collaboration, with Brie contributing so much more than I had imagined,” Speck writes in an email. “Working with Brie was an education and a delight, from start to finish.”
Husted was not an architect who feared getting her hands dirty. “She was happiest when she could physically participate in the assembly of her designs,” says George Wabuge, who worked for Husted for five years. She relished the construction process, eagerly donning heavy boots and a hard hat to inspect work at her building sites, and learned Spanish to communicate better with work crews. As a successful female business owner in an overwhelmingly male field, Husted was an anomaly, and her confidence—verging on swagger, her uncle laughs—made an impression.
Husted loved D.C. and was proud to be a native, Wabuge notes. She bought property at P and North Capitol streets NW and built a beguiling, raw-looking studio there out of cinderblock, dark wood, and metal screens.
Husted was also an artist and exhibited her work at local galleries. Toward the end of her life, she discovered yet another talent: teaching. She taught design part-time at George Washington University until an illness compelled her to give it up.
Stephanie Travis, the director of the interior architecture and design program at George Washington, initially asked Husted to give a guest lecture to her class, then “practically begged her” to teach a studio course, she wrote on a Facebook page set up in Husted’s memory.
“The students absolutely adored her,” she wrote. “I remember bringing my students to El Centro on a field trip… There was such dedication and rigor in her work, and the students were not only impressed, but inspired.” Travis adds in an email that Husted “was a wonderful critic of student work” and had “an innate ability to communicate and connect with the students.”
Husted started experiencing stiffness in her right arm and sporadic tremors about a year ago. She changed her diet and exercised more. But at the end of last summer, things got worse. The tremors increased; she worried her mind was less sharp. She developed anxiety and depression.
Diagnosed with probable Parkinson’s, Husted was convinced she was deteriorating faster than is usual for the disease. She died of suicide earlier this month. Cochran wonders if Husted actually had Lewy Body Dementia, the Parkinson’s-like brain disease that Robin Williams suffered from before his death. Whatever the problem really was, Cochran wishes she had found reason for optimism instead of concluding her future was bleak.
Cochran’s favorite memory of his niece is when he visited her in Rome long ago and they biked across the city. In an orderly grove of trees by the Villa Pamphili, a place she treasured for its calm, she rode in happy zig-zags, introducing a little chaos into that rigid grid.
At a memorial service held at the 14th Street El Centro on Nov. 13, Cochran told the many friends and relatives who had gathered to celebrate her life: “I will forever treasure that day, and how she could hold together two such contradictions while moving forward with joy.”
The National Suicide Hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Photo courtesy Rob White Photography