Washington’s annual interiors showcase presents the polished visions of two dozen interior designers from April 14 to May 12. Rooms have been lacquered and buffed throughout a five-level, 14,000-square-foot builder mansion in Wesley Heights, a neighborhood known for ambassadors, media personalities, lobbyists and lawyers. As befits this Washington Establishment, luxury is omnipresent. But stylistic extremes are nowhere to be found. Instead, designers rallied around a common goal: modern comfort.
Colors define the house. Shades are collegial, rather than controversial, a calibrated rainbow of creams, browns and blues from Farrow & Ball, whose paints and papers were used throughout the house. The impact is discrete rather than dull.
“We’re not talking about beige,” assured David Mitchell, one of Washington’s most experienced designers. He decorated a paneled library in khaki and a green just short of emerald. Two wall-size photographs of Belgian formal gardens by Lynn Geesaman inspired the room’s hues, which were picked up in a patterned tribal carpet and oversize pillows tossed onto a pale Jean Michel Frank sofa. A slatted cherry-stained coffee table was inspired by an antique fish-drying rack Mitchell found in the Hamptons. The library’s paneled walls were done, which gave the designer an advantage he appreciated. “It was easy,” Mitchell said. “I am only doing show houses that are easy.”
Victoria Neale echoed the house’s serene zeitgeist. “This space did not want color,” she said, standing on a sea grass rug in the first-floor family room. Walls painted Stony Ground provided a quiet backdrop for pale blue and sand-colored upholstery and a striking limed wood wing chair by Formations.
Even the nursery colors were subdued. “The palette had to flow,” explained nursery designer Nancy Twomey of Finnian’s Moon Interiors. Taupes, gray-blues and touches of pale yellow suggested a misty dawn along the Potomac River. A set of hand-crocheted domes dangled like a mobile over custom iron cribs. The rest of the room came together after a series of near disasters, including 11th-hour substitutions, which Twomey described as “36 hours of labor followed by a C-section.”
Nestor Santa-Cruz’s dining room was suitably pale, but also the edgiest room in the house. He did not mind being in the minority. “I don’t do Washington DC,” Santa-Cruz said. “That’s not me.” Ironically, his décor makes a statement Washington could easily adore. “This is about freedom,” he said.
The architect intentionally mixed periods and styles and origins to suggest “a traveler, a collector, or just a person with great international flair.” A flat-weave rug in cream with panels of color is an homage to Eileen Gray. A banquet-size 1970s-era round dining table by Poul Kjaerholm comes with mismatched chairs -- three in black leather from Kjaerholm and one Louis XVI fauteuil. A sofa by Arne Jacobsen occupies the window bay, while an antique French chandelier holds a dialogue with a classic Chinese screen and an 18th-century architectural drawing. In place of flowers on the table, Santa-Cruz used a Chinese architectural relic with a tablescape of painted red cones and blocks.
“You have to have a point of view,” Santa-Cruz said.
Katherine Vernot-Jonas also departed from the majority, using a bold Citron yellow for the walls of a tiny guest room under the eaves, which could not be seen from the stair hall. Twin beds were topped with a graphic black-and-white floral print from Yves Delorme. Silvery flower balls provided battery-powered bedside lighting and cast lovely shadows. “If it’s miserable outside, the color brings you warmth,” Vernot-Jonas said. “Through color you can always send a message.”
Camille Saum’s living room was pale, but like the designer, not shy. Walls painted Pale Powder came close to matching draped taffeta-like panels of F. Schumacher & Co. polyester, which framed a long window wall. Crinolines puffed up the window treatments and the traditional skirted tablecloths like ball gowns. Saum’s own garments and signature headdress, tailored from design center textiles, were intentionally theatrical. “This is my brand,” Saum said. “This is me. I just have to be part of it.”
A house that is for sale for $14 million deserves some excess. The master bedroom mattress, which was stuffed with cashmere and horsehair at Savoir Beds, supplier to royal bedchambers, would retail for about $30,000. “The secret to a bedroom is a luxurious, comfy bed,” said designer Susan M. Jamieson of Bridget Beari Designs in Richmond, Va. The mattress lay on a mottled gold metal four-poster bed by Mike Reid Weeks stationed between a pair of églomisé glass panels and set off by a brass light fixture from the end of the Sputnik era.
Andrea Houck transformed a closet bar into a marble and chromed way-station for cocktails, with LED lighting built into glass shelving backed by antique mirror studded with Venetian glass medallions. The onyx-tiled master bath boasted his-and-her television screens embedded in the vanity mirrors. A media loft showed a dream display for multi-taskers: one big screen for movies and three small screens for simultaneous viewing of Facebook, family photos and the news. The show house missed an opportunity to offer wisdom on the modern home office. Perhaps next year.
The house is backed by woods and endowed with views of trees. Designers responded with twigs as wall sconces, a fruit bowl, a log basket and, in the kitchen by Jessica Parker of GTM Architects, a white-painted briarwood twig chandelier over the breakfast table, made by Wish Designs of New Castle, Pa.. Charles C. Almonte enlivened a powder room with bold swirls of Farrow & Ball’s Lotus patterned wallpaper.
The show house is the sixth in a series benefiting the Children’s National Medical Center. Vernot-Jonas expressed the hope that Washington tastes may be ready to shift out of neutral, if not by the seventh DC Design House, someday soon. “Washington is ready to move toward the contemporary,” she suggested. “It may not be next year, but the city will definitely assimilate what is happening around the world.”
Written by Linda Hales