The battle was on to win the decorating hearts and minds of suburban homebuyers in a new townhouse development in Stone Ridge, Virginia. Given identical floor plans, who could offer the most appealing look with a first-time homebuyer and family in mind?
Alexandria designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey handily won the competition on HGTV’s “Showhouse Showdown” with her vibrant color- and pattern-infused rooms. And though she wasn’t designing for a real client, her methods inspire plenty of ideas for a real house.
Starting with the combined kitchen and family room, she recalls, “I faced every obstacle known to man.” The seating area was a small, awkward space, where nearly every wall harbored windows or a fireplace. Though designers often float furniture in the middle of a room, in this case she wondered, “How do you get six people into this space without tripping over everyone?” She opted to eliminate several chairs in favor of one very long sofa and turned the bay area into a long window seat. Then she floated two large ottomans—meant for jumping on—in the middle.
Cavin-Winfrey found a similar solution in the kitchen. The plan called for a small island. There was an area off to the side for a separate table, but again, space constraints would have made additional furniture look cluttered. So she asked the builder to lengthen the island so that the bar would become the exclusive seating area—which, after all, is where guests always gravitate.
Within the confines of a townhouse, the designer emphasizes that each room should have multiple uses—including the sitting room she designed on the entry level. “It’s everything—a man cave, basement, family room, home office, overflow space,” she says. She painted the walls a deep chocolate-brown—fertile ground from which other colors pop. “It’s like painting your canvas and letting everything else float on top,” she explains. Built-in cabinets can hold anything from games to office supplies, while the skinny table and banquette can play a number of roles.
The room feels rich because every plane from ceiling to floor holds something of interest. The fiddle-leaf fig trees draw the eye up, while the middle plane is filled with multiple fabrics and forms and the sisal rug adds texture to the floor. None of the options, says Cavin-Winfrey, are necessarily expensive. “While it may appear intimidating,” she says, “it’s very achievable.”
She set aside the living room upstairs for just one use. “I wanted it to feel like a space that was special—an adult space.” Two long sofas face one another, their elegant curves a counterpoint to the square room. The clear glass coffee table helps avoid visual clutter. She went vertical with tall, airy étagères and simple linen drapes, also employed in the adjoining dining room. The gilded chest and mirror serve as the room’s focal point, so it’s not surprising that Cavin-Winfrey placed a bar tray there, emphasizing this as a kid-free zone.
She intentionally combined many different materials in this space, but they all work together seamlessly. “I walk into so many houses, and everything is wood,” she says. “It’s about balancing.” Here, metal, glass, sisal and rich upholstery blend in unexpected ways.
While she navigated a series of small spaces on the lower levels, the designer had the opposite problem in the master bedroom, where acres of space needed to be corralled into a cozy retreat. Lamenting that “the bedroom gets the least attention,” Cavin-Winfrey demonstrates what a little thought can do for this often neglected space. She chose an elegant, overscaled wallpaper pattern to bring the expansive walls inward and enclosed the headboard in a canopy to bring down the scale of the high tray ceiling. The plush sofa at the foot of the bed completes the protective bubble. Multiple light sources illuminate specific vignettes, breaking the big room into smaller zones.
Often, show houses end up presenting a cacophony of styles. But because this one embodies a single designer’s work, there was a distinct method to Cavin-Winfrey’s madness: “This was a study in using different palettes and patterns, but also in how to achieve that carry-over color,” she says, pointing out the deep emerald green on the main level and the many riffs on this hue shown throughout the house. “All of these spaces feel very different, but they’re very connected.”
Jennifer Sergent is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Virginia. Gordon Beall is a Bethesda, Maryland, photographer.
INTERIOR DESIGN: SHAZALYNN CAVIN-WINFREY, SCW Interiors, Alexandria, Virginia.