Home & Design

An Artful Spirit

Clean lines and a serene color scheme provide a soothing backdrop to the artwork in Susan Gulick's Virginia home

An Artful Spirit

Interior designer Susan Gulick's Northern Virginia home. 

Tucked away in a well-manicured, forested enclave in the Oak Hill region of Northern Virginia, interior designer Susan Gulick finds respite from her busy professional life. Her sun-filled house is located in a small development, built by her contractor husband, Peter Gulick, nearly 15 years ago. The area is green and welcoming, with a variety of beautifully maintained, large, yet understated houses, whose colors and styles blend ideally with the surrounding flora and fauna.

The interior of Gulick’s home is just as welcoming. The designer’s affinity for contemporary design, modern art and livable spaces has created a convivial, sophisticated atmosphere. Entering the home, one is immediately struck by her vast collection of art and objects, which straddles every period and style. “Holding a degree in Fine Arts, I learned to appreciate and love many styles and types of artwork,” she says. An avid collector, Gulick can gaze toward every wall, every nook in her home, and be reminded of a trip or occasion when a piece was acquired

Some of her favorite pieces hold special status in the soaring two-story living room. Four drawings in a series, Scribe #1, #4, #7, #15 by Robert Berguson, are hung on either side of the room’s fireplace. Atop one of the pair of antique-style chests, a blue Dale Chihuly glass vessel mingles with tiny enamel, wood and silver boxes and a trio of hand-blown glass candlesticks. Gulick touches the tiny boxes, opening several and reminiscing. “Some of these boxes are from travel, some are gifts. But they’re fun and they all remind me of places we’ve been and friends who have found a special little box and thought of us.”

Contemporary furnishings in muted fabrics create a subtle backdrop for Gulick’s art collection. Seating in the living room is set in a circular pattern. She explains, “I wanted a seating group that is intimate enough to hold conversations with friends.” A small Donghia couch covered in herb green linen velvet offsets two chairs covered in a silk blend of undulating blue and charcoal. Gulick adds whimsical details with tiny glass beads on pillows and fringe along the base of two slightly more formal seats covered in a cotton blend. “That is what design is all about,” she says. “It’s detailing in a way that makes things special and adds a touch of interest.” The centerpiece is a table from Salvations that incorporates an antique iron grate covered by glass. Gulick carries the palette onto the floor with a hand-knotted rug that incorporates tone on tone squares of blue/gray wool and silk.

The formal dining room also accentuates Gulick’s flair for mingling contemporary art and furnishings. Two walls are devoted to large paintings that are her personal favorites. One abstract oil on canvas, Waltzing Wutaishan by Washington artist William Willis, is a recent acquisition. The blue colorations and jagged forms remind Gulick of water and pine trees and her childhood in Michigan. On another wall, a painting titled The Forgiving by Deserau depicts whispering figures. Gulick says, “I like the theme of this painting. I feel like we go through life forgiving, whether it is other people or ourselves. I think that if you can do that, you can keep moving forward.”

Gulick chose the oval dining table to promote conversation. The walnut table was treated with a process called cerusing, whereby the wood’s pores are opened and white wax is poured in to accentuate the grain. The dining chairs are covered in green-gold mohair. Gulick had the backs raised slightly to define the arc of the back and the color without obscuring the view across the room. Along the side wall, Gulick custom designed a buffet in a dark wood, which allows for ample storage of glass and silverware. The doors are treated to resemble cream pebbled leather. The contemporary glass fixture is part of Artemide’s “Cloud” series. Underfoot, Gulick chose a tightly woven wool rug banded with chocolate brown leather.

“This is the room we spend the most time in,” Gulick says of the home’s open-plan family room and kitchen. Soft contemporary Donghia seating, in muted patterns and shades of gray from Pollack, are surrounded by a mélange of American folk art, more contemporary pieces and a few antiques. Because the room’s lighting plan was inadequate, Gulick ran a stainless steel cable system overhead. “It was a great solution for this space, and it lends that contemporary feel,” she says. She also bumped out one wall and installed custom cherry cabinetry to house electronics and create additional storage. The room’s fireplace was recently given a facelift with slate tiles, which give the room a textural, modern feel.

Over the fireplace, Gulick hung a mixed-media modern sculpture by Celeste Simon. Bridging a space between the family room and the breakfast nook, Gulick placed a large antique German armoire. “We found this years ago at an estate sale and it has traveled with us through each house we’ve lived in,” she says. Gulick uses the piece to store her voluminous collection of interior design publications.

Susan Gulick enjoys a spring morning on the deck.

In the open kitchen, cherry cabinetry and brown granite countertops serve to warm the space while lending balance with the home’s wood floors. The highlight of Gulick’s breakfast nook is the Ingo Maurer light fixture of winged light bulbs “flying” while tethered to thin cables. On the back wall, a piece of folk art entitled The Neighborhood exemplifies how Gulick personalizes her art pieces. “Look here,” she points to a figure of a man and woman. “The man is my husband the builder. He’s holding a hammer, and there’s me, Susan the designer, surrounded by color and holding a lamp. And around us is our neighborhood.”

Gulick extended the blue, green and gold palette upstairs in the guest bedroom. Two twin beds are covered in pale blue and chartreuse crinkled fabric. “The fabric lends movement and interest,” she says. The headboards are covered in a chocolate brown velveteen fabric. They subtly “sparkle” when one walks by, thanks to iridescent threading, and are reminiscent of a twinkling night sky. The bedding plays off the colors in framed paintings surrounding the room. These special works of art were done by Gulick’s grandfather, Hans Mahr, a lithographer by trade with a gift for painting in watercolor. The scenes depict the countryside of his native Germany and are a touching reminder of Gulick’s artistic and familial roots.

Outdoors, Gulick finds solace and relaxation on the large deck. Sculptural works, which she found on a shopping trip to Florida, are placed around the deck and mounted on the exterior wall of the house. “I love these pieces out here,” Gulick says. “It makes this outdoor area a living space as well.” The landscaped backyard is a rolling oasis of lush foliage, flowering plants, and soaring trees. A small pond and waterfall lend an entrancing focal point, where one can sit back and be absorbed by the sounds of nature. “I love to come out here and just sit and read a book. My professional life is so busy and can be very stressful. This outdoor space is the perfect antidote.”

Surrounded by the wonders of the natural world, and imbued with the rhythms of artisans from all corners of the globe, Susan Gulick has created an impeccably designed home that is ideally suited for this interior designer with the spirit of a true artist.

Contemporary furnishings in muted fabrics and a subtle wall finish create
a backdrop for Gulick's art collection in the living room.

“Holding a degree in Fine Arts, I learned to appreciate and love many styles and types of artwork,” Gulick says. An avid collector, she can gaze toward every wall, every nook in her home, and be reminded of a trip or occasion when a piece was acquired.

Sofa, Sofa Fabric, Shell Chairs & Slipper Chairs: Donghia, Washington, DC. Shell Chair Fabric: Pollack, Washington, DC. Slipper Chair Fabric: Jim Thompson, Washington, DC. Sofa Toss Pillow Bead Trim: Osborne & Little, Washington, DC. Coffee Table: Salvations Architectural Furnishings, Silver Spring, MD. Chests: New Classics, Washington, DC. Custom Silk/Wool Area Rug: Costikyan, New York, NY. Walls: Studio West, Washington, DC. Art: Wade Hoefer, Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC.

Dining Table: Berman Rosetti, California. Dining Chairs: Holly Hunt, Washington, DC. Dining Chair Fabric: Pollack, Washington, DC. Chandelier: Artemide, New York. Walls: Studio West, Washington, DC. Art: William Willis, Washington, DC. Tea Cups: Laney Oxman, Hillsboro, VA. Window Coverings: Conrad, San Francisco, CA. Custom Credenza & Custom Wool Area Rug with Leather Binding: Susan Gulick Interiors.

Sofa, High-Back Club Chair & Club Chair (Foreground): Donghia, Washington, DC. Sofa Fabric: Pollack, Washington, DC. High-Back Club Chair Fabric: Rudolph, Washington, DC. Club Chair Fabric: Jim Thompson, Washington, DC. Coffee Table: Les Prismatiques, New York, NY. Occasional Table: Knoll, Washington, DC. Custom Wool/Silk Area Rug: Rugs by Vicki Simon, Hartford, CT.

Upholstered Headboard Fabric: Gretchen Bellinger, Washington, DC. Bedding Fabrication: Carol’s Studios, Inc., Fairfax, VA. Coverlet & Sham Fabric: Pindler & Pindler, Washington, DC. Toss Pillow Fabric: Henry Calvin, Washington, DC. Bedside Table: Splinter Furniture Design, San Fransisco, CA.

Writer John D. Adams is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Photographer Timothy Bell has studios in New York City and Washington, DC.

Interior Design: Susan Gulick, CID, ASID, IFDA, Susan Gulick Interiors, Reston, Virginia Builder: Gulick Group, Reston, Virginia Landscape Design: Petro Design/Build, Mitchellville, Maryland Landscape Implementation: Area Landscaping, Fairfax, Virginia

Gulick's living room.

Gulick was drawn to the abstract oil painting by William Willis for its
blue colorations and jagged forms, which recall her native Michigan.

In the dining room, Gulick designed a buffet in dark wood with doors
that resemble pebbled leather.

Seating by Donghia upholstered in fabrics by Pollack, a melange of
folk art and cable lighting create a contemporary flair in Gulick's family
room, which is open to the kitchen and breakfast nook.

In the guest room, Gulick displays three watercolors by her grandfather,
Hans Mahr.

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