Subtle Beauty

Interior designer Basha White creates simple and serene interiors in a family home in Great Falls

The designer built the living room around the David Iatesta coffee table with a faxu-shagreen top and silver-leaf base. She reupholstered the couple’s Louis XV-style fauteuils in a light gold silk by Brunshwig & Fils. A painting by Joe Niermann completes the scene.

After spending years in South Florida, Donald Dawn, a financial executive, and his wife Patricia searched for a new home in Northern Virginia. Life was turning delightfully upside down: Don had accepted a new position in the DC area and the couple was relocating with their young daughter, Brooke, now turning three. In their search for a family-friendly neighborhood, the Dawns found their new home on a cul-de-sac in Great Falls, Virginia, with enough land to offer privacy yet close enough to other homes to foster a sense of community.

It was October of 2005 and the NSO Decorators Show House was in full swing. Young children were not allowed inside, so Donald Dawn went in alone while his wife watched Brooke. He immediately took notice of the family room designed by Basha White. After two turns around the circuit, he approached the designer about working on their new home.

They liked the elegant simplicity of White’s style and
were drawn to her unique use of pale colors—whites, shimmering grays and faint blues and greens—that creates a patina of serenity in her work. The Dawns had worked with designers before, so their program was clear and concise: They sought comfortable interiors that were child-safe and -friendly but they also wanted to create interest with unusual, one-of-a-kind furnishings.

Early on, the Dawns purchased a piece for their living room: a coffee table with a faux-shagreen, tray-like top affixed to a silver-leaf-clad, wrought-iron base. “That’s the first thing that we decided on in the whole project,” Donald Dawn says. “I like things that are interesting and I had never seen a table like that before.”
Basha White agrees, “We built the whole room around this table. We wanted the ‘wow’ factor, an unusual look you wouldn’t see in your neighbor’s house.”
The Dawns pitched and purged many furnishings from their Florida home, retaining significant and noteworthy pieces. White would add more, combining them with vintage early-20th-century pieces and contemporary furniture, updating the old with new upholstery and enhancing and simplifying the surroundings.

White reupholstered the antique, Louis XV-style fauteuils from the owners’ former home in a shimmering, light gold silk to contrast with the linen basket-weave upholstery on the sofa. The two end tables are distinctive; one round and the other hexagonal, both are made of fruitwood in a similar size. Symmetry and balance are achieved with a pair of alabaster lamps.

Opposite the sofa, two club chairs are upholstered in a tone-on-tone woven fabric. With a nod to modernism, the white, reeded front of the chest by Barbara Barry suggests a reference to the use of parchment in decorating furniture during the 1930s and ’40s. The entire side is connected to the front panel, opening to expose shelving from the side as well as the front.

During a photo shoot, White placed a Daum tulip bowl from her own collection as an accessory on the coffee table. Patty Dawn fell in love with it and managed to find another from the same limited edition. Her husband surprised her with the exquisite bowl for their anniversary.

Family pieces are also incorporated into the living room: two lovely landscapes and a tilt-top card table that once belonged to Donald Dawn’s grandmother. Against a backdrop of pale celadon walls, these traditional pieces convey a sense of legacy without weighing down the airy room.

Open to the living room, the sunroom is a touch less formal, yet it retains its own character—comfortable and captivating. Here, a reed-like, heavily textured wallpaper, bearing little resemblance to the ’60s grass cloth, establishes a link to the outdoors. A vintage zebra rug purchased for the Florida home adds zip as the tall, vintage floor lamp from the 1950s, a Tommi Parzinger original that once graced The Plaza Hotel in New York, conveys sophistication.

In the dining room, White introduced pattern, used judiciously in a blue and gold Tibetan rug and the Fortuny chandelier. How- ever, texture is the prime mover. The smooth, refined cherry finish of the dining table by artisan Keith Fritz contrasts with the course grain of the cerused-oak sideboard. Cerusing the wood involves lifting the grain for emphasis and highlighting it, resulting in a rough surface; in this piece, the imposed rustic nature somehow becomes refined and genteel, a vis- ual contradiction between material and design that creates a distinctive piece.

The family room adjacent to the kitchen is a gathering place and playroom for Brooke. She loves to dance around on the leather-covered ottoman/coffee table. Opposite the chenille sofa, built-ins accommodate a large plasma television with cabinetry below. “All the toys are hidden in there. We can rip them out at a moment’s notice and it becomes ‘Romper Room’ and then they vanish and the room is very stylish,” explains Patty Dawn. Soft and flowing, sheer wool draperies frame the view. A Richard Serra print rests on the stone mantel and a 1960s bentwood chaise by Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson faces the fireplace. Near the fireplace, the sofa culminates in a chaise with a club chair at the opposite end.


Basha White worked with her clients to make the interiors reflect their signature style, finding unique pieces such as the Barbara Barry chest. Its white, reeded front recalls the use of parchment in decorating furniture during the 1930s and ‘40s.In the library, two comfortable chairs flanking an antique gueridon were placed by the window, creating a comfortable spot for reading or preparing for the next day’s meeting, interrupted by an occasional glance outside. After years in Florida, the couple relishes the change of seasons. White chose a wing chair to complement the “bird chair” as she calls it, on which two beak-to-beak birds are carved into the arm. Donald Dawn, who purchased it years ago, notes, “It is so different from anything I had ever seen before.”

Patty Dawn, recovering from surgery, now spends most of her days at home. “Basha promised me ‘serene’ and it is very serene,” she says. “I am here all the time now and I can really appreciate it, the subtleties and the beauty of it.
“There are about 50 children in the neighborhood. We had a summer block party. Don was master of ceremonies for the three-legged race and the tug of war, and then we had a Halloween bash, too, where all the kids came with their costumes,” she relates.

The picture is complete: The Dawns are enjoying a family-friendly home in a child-supportive neighborhood, a comfortable setting filled with unusual finds—antique, vintage and new—all reflecting the individuals who live there.

Contributing editor Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photographer Gordon Beall is based in Bethesda, Maryland.

 


In the sunroom, a heavily textured wallpaper establishes a link to the outdoors while the tall, vintage floor lamp from the 1950s, a Tommi Parzinger original that once graced The Plaza Hotel in New York, conveys sophistication.


Patricia and Donald Dawn, with daughter Brooke, enjoy entertaining in their new home.


In the elegant dining room, a Fortuny chandelier hangs above a cherry table made by artisan Keith Fritz.

Soft and flowing, sheer wool draperies frame the view in the family room. A Richard Serra print rests on the stone mantel and a 1960s bentwood chaise by Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson faces the fireplace.
In the library, two chairs flanking an antique gueridon were placed by the window, creating a comfortable spot for reading.