Playing with Color

Interior designer Justine Sancho livens up a young client's home with color and texture


In the high-impact living room, interior designer Justine Sancho
punched up neutral walls, floors and furnishings with a pair of
stools in cinnabar velvet.

When a successful young mortgage professional and mother of a four-year-old girl purchased her three-year-old home in Bethesda, it was completely undecorated and unadorned. She knew she needed help designing interiors that would express her personality and present the right mix of sophistication and playfulness. So she dialed up interior designer Justine Sancho, whose work she knew from her annual visits to the National Symphony Orchestra Decorators’ Show House. Sancho’s show-house designs—which have run the gamut from formal and traditional to sleek and contemporary—have never failed to impress her.

When the two met to discuss White’s project, they immediately clicked. “We hit it off right away,” says the homeowner, who explained the home she envisioned to Sancho. “I wanted Justine Sancho and I wanted a little funk, too. I didn’t want my house to look like somebody’s grandmother lived here. I wanted it to look like I live here.”

A consummate listener, Sancho understood what would work for her client. “If you start out with a cup of coffee and can sit there and talk, that’s what you need for good rapport,” says Sancho. Mutual understanding established a strong foundation upon which the designer could create a sophisticated, yet casual and highly functional home for her client.

However, getting there wasn’t easy. First, Sancho had to gain her client’s trust in selecting a color scheme. “Originally, she wanted all beige and neutrals,” recalls Sancho. They rifled through stacks of swatches until honing in on rich hues of cinnabar and rust. Sancho established continuity with references—not replications—of the same palette throughout the main level of the home.


In the dining room, Sancho plays off the slate blue-gray walls
with chairs upholstered in burnt-orange damask.

A telling moment came the day the new dining room chairs arrived, upholstered in a burnt-orange Nina Campbell damask. “I was not used to having color in my house, so they literally came in the front door and I almost wanted to cry,” the homeowner recalls. Sancho reassured her that when the walls were painted and the room was finished, the overall effect would be wonderful. Now, says the homeowner, the chairs “are one of my favorite things” in the house.


A secretary designed by Justine Sancho lends a traditional air
to the living room.

In the living room, while her client got her neutrals on the walls, the floor, and the large upholstered furnishings, Sancho punched things up with a burnt-orange abstract painting and a pair of stools upholstered in a complimentary velvet pattern. The slim, contemporary lines of the sofa are paired with traditional end tables and a secretary. On the floor, a pre-cast concrete sphere covered with gold stars adds a dash of whimsy.

In the dining room, burnt-orange fabric delivers zip and punch, while the slate-colored walls, highlighted with cream moldings, set a sophisticated tone. Sancho chose a roundtable, which leaves space for built-in cabinets at one end and a buffet at the other, along with oversized, Adams-style dining chairs. “The seat has to be big enough that you feel you are not hanging off it,” she says. “If you want to sit around and talk at the table, having a comfortable dining chair is important.”


Artisan Keith Fritz made the dining room table; the
dining chairs and chandelier are Niermann Weeks.

In the family room, Sancho emphasized comfort and livability. She designed two storage pieces for the room: a media cabinet below the flat-panel television and a step-cabinet with an Asian flare that conceals an abundance of the four-year-old’s treasures in the bottom drawers. Shades of cinnabar in neighboring rooms give way to a faux-finished, rusty-red hue on the family room walls. “Indestructible” striped barrel-back chairs hide wear, tear, and stains, says Sancho. Triangular stack tables by the fireplace and two generously sized ottomans can be moved around, making way for plenty of child-friendly floor space.

In the kitchen, Sancho chose a red hue to temper the orange in the cabinets. A pine table from the client’s previous home provides a perfect spot for her daughter’s art projects.

The master bedroom is “Mommy’s space,” says Sancho. It is warm and soothing, yet its colors project an energetic vibe. “The key was to keep [the color palette] from getting too hot; the blue-green [chaise fabric] cools the oranges. And the golds are flattering,” the designer explains. The chaise and mirrored chest infuse romance and glamour while an animal print on the chairs adds some attitude.


The sophisticated master bedroom blends traditional elements
with funky touches such as the Lucite chair and animal-print upholstery.

“This is a house that people actually live in,” emphasizes Sancho. “There aren’t any rooms that are off limits. We don’t design a home just for aesthetics. We do it for livability and durability, and I am not very much for following any particular trend or style.”

Sancho led her client through a maze of styles, colors, and textures and distilled a look that her client loves. “She wanted a fun, kind of quirky home,” says Sancho. “The bottom line is it’s always fun to do something a little different.”

Contributing editor Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in Arlington, Virginia.



Sancho designed the media cabinet beneath the flat-screen TV.