When Fred Bates moved from a tiny row house in Dupont Circle to an airy, open condo in DC’s Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, he traded the innate charm of an older home for builder-grade finishes. A real estate agent at Keller Williams Capital Properties, he turned to interior designer Dane Austin to imbue his new two-bedroom abode with character and beauty.
“Dane got my taste very quickly,” Bates says. “The building is modern, and most residents choose really contemporary furniture. But my taste tends toward things with a history and Dane got that.”
In a way, the project actually began in Bates’s previous house, which had served as an art gallery years earlier. As Austin recounts, his client had discovered “a treasure trove of really cool artwork—watercolors, collected pieces and antique frames” in the attic. Not sure how to use them, the homeowner held onto these discoveries and brought them to his new condo.
“I said ‘We have to use these, to share them with everyone,’” Austin recalls. The artwork provided the designer with a jumping-off point for the new space, which he infused with a playful mix of eras and price points in an inviting, eclectic style.
“I really appreciate working with heirloom pieces,” Austin says. “I think good design is a mix of old and new, whether it’s a picture inherited from family, a high-end piece from the Design Center or a store-bought find.”
Among the attic finds was a series of vintage watercolor landscapes, which the designer had framed and hung above the custom velvet sofa in the living area. Maintaining the eclectic vibe, he grouped Art Deco armchairs in Rogers & Goffigon fabric and a cane armchair in Donghia silk around a Niermann Weeks coffee table. French gold-leaf and ceramic table lamps flank the sofa on lacquered-linen side tables with ebonized wood frames.
In the adjoining lounge area, gilt frames from the attic collection have been repurposed as mirrors in all shapes and styles and grouped together. “A wall of mirrors makes an interesting design feature,” Austin says. “I love that they reflect the watercolors across the room over the sofa.” The mirrors are clustered artfully above Nancy Corzine chaises and an antique red-lacquer Chinese chest. Occasional tables from David Iatesta and Holly Hunt, an antique cabinet with cut ionized-aluminum panels and Robert Abbey gold-leaf floor lamps further enliven the space.
A round mahogany dining table designed by Barbara Barry for Baker occupies a curved niche by the wall of windows in the living area. Paired with a Niermann Weeks chandelier and chairs covered in Schumacher linen, the table nestles beside custom sheers and drapes in silk and vintage velvet by Robert Abbey. The niche is one of Bates’s favorite aspects of the new space. “The windows look out onto the street,” he explains, “and I love the way the drapes soften the view.”
In the master bedroom, Austin selected a vintage rug in blue and red tones that would inspire bolder color choices. The custom bedding includes a quilt that picks up the palette of the rug, while a red-lacquered Chinese chest functions as a night table against a custom leather headboard. Bedside pendants with linen shades provide light without taking up surface space.
Throughout the home, Austin implemented pops of color and texture. “I’m kind of terrified of color,” Bates admits, “but Dane did a really good job using it in a way I felt comfortable with.” Though neutral jute rugs keep the attention on the art and furniture, a custom, baroque-style damask was hand-painted on the wall behind the living room sofa. A grass-cloth wall covering by Phillip Jeffries in vibrant red adds warmth to the lounge area, while in the bedroom a green raffia wall covering, also by Phillip Jeffries, creates a perfect background for the room’s bright palette.
The owner is happy with the results of Austin’s labors. “I have an elevator entrance, so people walk right into the apartment,” he relates. “They’re always surprised. It’s a really soothing space.”
Photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg is based in Olney, Maryland.
INTERIOR DESIGN: DANE AUSTIN, ASID, IIDA, Dane Austin Design, Washington, DC, and Boston, Massachusetts.