It was an emotional reaction,” says Hillary Clinton of her first visit to what is now her Beltway home, dubbed “Whitehaven” because it’s nestled on Whitehaven Street in the tony Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood of Washington, D.C. “When I was elected to the Senate in 2000, I knew that I needed a place to live while we were in session during the year. So I began looking. And, I had an experience in this house, which was just emotional. I had gone up to the third floor and looked out over the trees — to the back of the British embassy — and I just felt like I was in old-time London or New York. The gardens were just the most amazing that I had seen anywhere in my real-estate tour,” she says.

While the attraction may have been love at first sight, the Clintons also knew that the home — a Neo-Georgian red-brick 5,500-square-foot house that had been built in 1951 — would nonetheless require extensive renovations. “The mandate was to bring more light and to create more physical space for sitting and relaxing,” says Rosemarie Howe, the interior designer who worked with Ms. Clinton on the project from 2003 to 2006. “We also wanted to open the house and all of its interior rooms to this beautiful back garden.”

Working alongside architect Donald Lococo and landscape gardener Lila Fendrick, Howe set out to create what is now the showpiece of the property: a sun-filled conservatory living area that extends off the back of the original footprint. Additional work on the ground floor allowed for a more organic flow and function, and tweaks upstairs yielded larger hangout spaces for the family. “It was kind of this Ozzie and Harriet house and it had never been updated. The bathrooms were sort of '50s,” says Howe. “The kitchen was functional but very outdated, too. The people who had lived there before were very tall, so counters and things were quite high.”

Having also worked on Ms. Clinton’s guesthouse in Chappaqua, New York, and her State Department office, Howe is keenly in tune with the former Secretary of State’s aesthetic. “The Clintons have a connection to their past,” explains Howe, who not only selected the home’s furniture but also worked to place countless mementos and artworks the couple had collected over decades in the spotlight. “But it’s all with a total lack of pretense," she says. "A key part for [Ms. Clinton] is that she wants people to come in the door and not feel intimidated. She wants a comfortable place for everyone to sit.”

Decorating the space proved to be a family affair, however. Ms. Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, partnered with her daughter in selecting most of the furnishings and landing on just the right paint and patterns. (She would eventually move into Whitehaven when the project was complete.) “It was a joy working with my mom and Rosemarie,” says Ms. Clinton. “Both my mother and I love colour, and you can see, we have a lot of colour in the house that came from our collaboration.” Instead of overwhelming the owners, the undertaking proved a welcome respite from an otherwise hectic and demanding everyday life. “I have to say, it was a very nice refuge from my life in the Senate,” says Ms. Clinton of the process. “I’d come home or I’d get sent colour samples, or fabric swatches, or pictures of furniture, and it was a nice way to turn one part of my brain off and turn the other on.”

And though their home in New York remains the Clintons’ primary residence, they continue to enjoy their D.C. getaway almost two decades on. “I’d seen lots of homes in my hunt,” recalls Ms. Clinton. “But this one had everything I wanted."

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    Visitors to Bill and Hillary Clinton's home in Washington, D.C., are invited to sign a guest book. The book sits atop an ersatz petticoat table that had been designed by Ms. Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, when she was still living in Little Rock, Arkansas. A favorite of Rodham’s, the faux marble-topped piece made its way to D.C. when she moved in with her daughter. The staircase leading to the home’s second floor features large photos, portraits of the President, Ms. Clinton, and Chelsea. Explains interior designer Rosemarie Howe, “We talked about putting paintings there a number of times, but the fact is, when people come in for a reception, they want to know it’s their house.”

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    Part of the renovations, this expansive solarium was added to the original footprint of the modest home. It’s a favorite spot for Ms. Clinton to meet with people, lie down and read, or take a nap. Two velvet tiger-print chairs and an antique Serapi rug are part of a larger color story of warm reds and caramels that are meant to be both inviting and cozy. The table at the window showcases mementos that include a personalized photo of King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan, as well as an Ardmore Ceramics teapot gifted by Nelson Mandela.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    The living room and entryway are painted in Ms. Clinton’s favorite color: pale yellow (Benjamin Moore Hawthorne Yellow HC-4, to be exact). Early 19th-century Italian fruitwood sconces flank one of three paintings the Clintons purchased when in Hanoi, Vietnam. “We were on a state visit Bill made right after the beginning, again, of diplomatic relations,” says Ms. Clinton. “This one is by a young artist—just coming out of the isolation of Vietnam and opening itself to the world.” A photo from a skit the couple once performed at a White House Correspondents' Dinner sits atop a mirrored table by Amy Howard. The joke? While Ms. Clinton is busy running for Senate, her husband tries his best to stay busy—preparing his wife lunch and mowing the lawn at the White House.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    A peek into the home’s kitchen, where barstools face a window that looks out onto landscaped greenery. There had been a smaller window before, but a new one was installed in order to both bring in more light and echo the feeling of the solarium. Glass tiles in various shades of coral and red were arranged in pointillist fashion on the backsplash. “The wonderful tiler allowed me to just be insane, and we are all really pleased with it,” says Howe.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    “We use this room in several ways,” says Ms. Clinton of her formal dining room. “We have actual dinners, buffets, or, sometimes, cocktail parties. And when I was Secretary of State, I had a memorable dinner there. All the foreign secretaries from what was then called the G8. The Brits, the French, the Germans and the Russians.” More recently, Ms. Clinton recounts, her two grandchildren like to play in this room, too, running “from one end of to the next, and out the door into the backyard.” Howe first had the walls painted in Benjamin Moore 2054-40 Blue Lagoon and then had them “aged” for added depth—the better to showcase the Russian still life painting Ms. Clinton’s mother and brother had purchased on a trip to Moscow some years ago, as well as the colorful Kent Willy pattern rug from an Azerbaijani workshop. Wanting her guests to feel comfortable at her dining room table, Ms. Clinton decided on a floor covering that is colorful, vibrant, and ultimately forgiving should someone spill something.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    A painting by Pierce Brosnan—yes, that Pierce Brosnan—hangs above a Chihuly sculpture in the corner of the Clinton's dining room. Says Ms. Clinton, “We actually have two pieces of his work. They have a kind of French Gauguin-ish feel to them, and I just love having that there.” The pair of sconces are a 1960 custom copy of an 18th-century English design.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    An anteroom ahead of the kitchen, this nook is used for informal meetings. It also doubles as a holding area for the staff and security that often accompany visiting dignitaries. The space has a little desk that Ms. Rodham had used for correspondence and paying bills. Howe experimented in order to find just the right red for these walls, something coral and not too blue. She landed on Benjamin Moore Bird of Paradise 1305. The painting over the love seat is by Virginia artist Barbara Ryan. “It was something I saw and admired so long ago,” says Ms. Clinton. “We’ve had it for many years. Someone who looked at it remarked and laughed: If you look at the cloud or smoke in the back, it looks like a comic profile of my husband. But that’s not why I bought it.”

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    The family room on the second floor features this cheerful China Seas fabric, again in Ms. Clinton’s favorite color. This is where the family likes to retire to catch up on reading and to watch television. The painting that now hangs over the side table used to reside at Camp David. “It had been lent to us,” says Ms. Clinton. “When we were leaving, the owner asked if we wanted to purchase it, and we did because we had really grown to like living with it.” Three portraits of daughter Chelsea, shot by photographer Brigitte Lacombe, hang on the wall. On the bookshelf are works by two Arkansas artists: a plate by Sarah Noebels Mcmichael and a small sculpture of a seated woman by Jane F. Hankins.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    “I spend every bit of time that I can [here],” says Ms. Clinton of the lush and landscaped gardens in the backyard. In fact, the family prefers to entertain outside. “We have lots and lots of outdoor events, hundreds and hundreds of people sometimes,” she says. The pool, which had been completely renovated, sees its fair share of activity, too. Ms. Clinton, who is an avid swimmer, uses the pool along with family and friends. She adds, “Even while we’re not there, we have friends with kids who come over and use it.” Behind the pool sits a poolhouse which had been imagined as a guesthouse for Ms. Rodham. (She ultimately decided to settle in a bedroom in the main house.) The lantern at its entrance is a design by South Carolina firm The Urban Electric Company.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    The koi pond, an original feature of the grounds, was Ms. Rodham’s favorite spot. “She would go and sit in one of those chairs, in almost any kind of weather. Maybe with a visitor, maybe having tea,” recalls Ms. Clinton. The retreat wasn’t always so peaceful though. “We had huge raccoons. They found the pond, and one raccoon was making a meal out of our fish," she says. "We figured out a way to scare them with lights and sound.” Still, the house continues to get visitors from nearby Rock Creek Park, even giant stags with enormous antlers.

  • Hillary and Bill Clinton's deeply personal Washington D.C. home

    The former Secretary of State stands in her dining room. Behind her is a second painting she and President Clinton brought back from their visit to Vietnam. The candelabras were made in the 1920s by the Heisey Glass Company and still feature the original cobalt drops. Cobalt: clearly another one of Ms. Clinton’s favorite shades.