Fitness diva Denise Austin
You probably know her best as the doyenne of fitness—she’s sold nearly 20 million videos and DVDs and currently has two top-rated workout shows on Lifetime television, but powerhouse Denise Austin is as committed to creating a warm family home for her husband Jeff, a sports attorney in Tysons Corner, Virginia, and their two teenage daughters, Kelly and Katie, as she is about sculpting her abdominal muscles.So when the couple purchased their home seven years ago just outside of Washington, DC, they knew a major renovation was required. “We just fell in love with the neighborhood,” says Austin, who on a recent visit won us over while hopping about her kitchen serving homemade pumpkin bread—low fat, of course—and chatting as if we’d been girlfriends for years. “It was near our daughters’ schools and had lots of other kids nearby so it was a very family-friendly place to be.” But the 75-year-old traditional brick house with just 1,600 square feet of living space did not accommodate the active family of four: Jeff is a former professional tennis player and brother to Hall of Famer Tracy Austin, and the girls play tennis as well as lacrosse. So they hired Falls Church, Virginia-based architect Eunice Murray to transform the original space into one that reflects their casual, energetic lifestyle.“Throughout the design process, Denise really wanted to be respectful of the neighborhood, as it was one of the first homes to be renovated [there],” recalls Murray. “So I set out to design a house that hopefully, in the end, looked like it had been there forever. A home that was not imposing but that looked comfortable in its surroundings.” Murray added a new wing with a brick façade to the original home, bumping up the finished space to some 6,000 square feet.
Melding the old and new, Murray and Austin collaborated on a floor plan that not only worked for the family’s lifestyle, but also complemented the architecture. For example, the original post-War home had just eight-foot ceilings so the former living room, complete with working fireplace, was converted to what is now the dining room. “I really like the lower ceilings in here because it makes the formal space much more intimate,” says Austin.
Although Murray classifies the original home as traditional, she tags the new space as transitional. “It accommodates today’s lifestyle much more than a traditional home,” says Murray, referring to the open floor plan of the added square footage. “The new space also has lots of windows, so it’s much lighter and brighter than your typical traditional home.”
Even the interior design of the home reflects the two style genres. “I call it transitional with a traditional twist,” says interior designer Janice Lucido, of Ocean View, Delaware-based JL Interiors, who worked with the Austins on this and three other home remodels. “Jeff and Denise are such warm people that I wanted their home to be a reflection of their personalities, but I also wanted it to reflect the established neighborhood.”
Although a majority of the items in the home were purchased specifically for the Austins’ new digs, Lucido was able to reupholster a few pieces they already owned. In the living room, for example, she positioned a pair of Donghia chairs the couple had in their previous home, which was more contemporary, near the fireplace. “This line of furniture is typically modern to transitional,” she says, “so to make the chairs work, I ordered more traditional fabrics from F. Schumacher & Co.”
Austin’s favorite spot to hang out is the kitchen and adjacent great room, where Lucido relied on a color palette of variable earth tones to infuse a sense of warmth. “I love to cook in the kitchen while the girls sit and do their homework,” Austin says. “I can talk with them, find out how their days were. I just love spending time with them.”
But Lucido’s design plan was flexible, as she wasn’t afraid to veer from the home’s overall style when it came to the couple’s personal space. Austin’s office, for example, has a more contemporary look. “She does a lot of filming for her videos in the Caribbean so I wanted to play into that for the design,” says Lucido. To create the ambiance of the West Indies, Lucido chose a wooden veneer wallcovering from Maya Romanoff and accented it with a sage green palm print window treatment.
The basement, which is a popular spot for watching television and hosting dance parties for the girls’ friends, offers a similar feel, with its deep wood tones and palm tree accents, namely the large metal light fixtures crafted by Niermann Weeks. Austin loves it because she says it reminds her of her roots: Both she and Jeff are from the same town in southern California. During her teenage years, Denise focused on gymnastics and won a scholarship at the University of Arizona. After graduating with a degree in exercise physiology, she made her TV debut on “The Jack LaLanne Show” and eventually landed her own local television program two years later on KABC in Los Angeles. After marrying Jeff Austin in 1983, the couple moved to the DC area. In 2002, President Bush appointed Denise as a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, an organization that encourages Americans of all ages to become physically active. She has written nine books on fitness and keeps busy filming her two shows, “Fit and Lite” and “Daily Workout,” for Lifetime.
Landscape designer Katherine Kehoe of Iris Design/Build in Kensington, Maryland, helped create the lush outdoor space. “My goal was to integrate these large activity spaces through the use of garden materials and plants,” says Kehoe.
“Now all the neighborhood kids hang out here, which I like because I know where my kids are,” says Austin, who was also pleased that the view from the great room was not obstructed. “When my husband wanted a tennis court, I was so worried I’d be stuck looking at a big fence,” she laughs. Fortunately, the back lot naturally slopes away from the home so the tennis court sits nestled below, surrounded by a wall constructed of local fieldstone.
A half-moon credenza with gilt wood details and various multicolored veneers welcomes visitors into the foyer, while Madonna, the family’s Portuguese Water Dog, looks on.“Denise also loves color so she wanted lots of vibrant plants and flowers in the backyard,” says Kehoe. “Of all the clients I’ve ever worked for, the Austins truly use their yard. They love to entertain outside and she wanted flowers all the time.” So Kehoe planted dogwood, cherry and magnolia trees to bloom in spring, and crape myrtles and styrax that flower in the summer. She also incorporated mature holly trees into the landscape for privacy between the tennis court and neighboring homes.But for the woman whose boundless energy inspires millions to get in shape, home really is all about family—whether it’s quality time spent with Jeff and her daughters, or large extended gatherings when family visits from the West Coast—and finding the time to be together, even when life gets hectic. “This is the perfect family home,” says Austin. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Kelli Rosen is a writer in Monkton, Maryland. Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in Arlington, Virginia.
Renovation Architecture: Eunice Murray, AIA, Eunice Murray Architect,
Falls Church, Virginia. Interior Design: Janice Lucido, JL Interiors,
Ocean View, Delaware.