The Coleman family left behind a Manhattan apartment when they moved into their spacious Potomac home overlooking horse pastures.
While urbanite attorneys Maureen and Tim Coleman carefully pondered purchasing a home in Maryland versus remaining in Manhattan, they spent some time in the DC area to make certain the decision would be a judicious one. The family finally chose to make the move to Maryland. “Tim is from Kentucky and he wanted acreage,” says Maureen. “For 10 years we lived in a 1,500-square-foot apartment in New York and now he wants horses. I told him there are lots of horses in Potomac—they can be our neighbors!”
The Colemans were initially drawn to their traditional brick home’s two-acre lot. “It is flat with acreage in the front and in the back,” says Maureen. “And it just so happens this house is built on the grounds of a former riding school, so a lot of homes around here are zoned for horses.” The location, too, was a key selling point because the couple wanted to be close to their children’s school (Chris is seven, Claire is four), plus the commute is an easy one for Tim, a partner in the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf. Maureen works from home for Standard & Poor’s and commutes to Manhattan once a week.
But it wasn’t until the two toured the interior that they knew it was a place they could call home. “The inside attracted us,” Maureen recalls. “We have lots of family in Europe and throughout the States who visit and stay with us, plus we have family in this area as well, so we knew this house would become ‘Grand Central.’ The layout was great—it had a nice, cozy feel but it was large enough to accommodate our needs.”
Although the floor plan was desirable, the existing décor was not. So the Colemans hired Bethesda, Maryland-based interior designer Skip Sroka, principal of Sroka Design Incorporated, who along with designer Liz Shirey Bausch transformed the outdated space into a home infused with warmth and color, one that reflected the homeowners’ personalities.
“The flow was very good. The rooms related well to each other,” says Sroka. “What wasn’t here was a sense of place. There was not any finesse to the details in the home.”
One of Maureen and Tim’s main goals for their new home was to create a kid-friendly space suitable for their son and daughter, as well as for all their young cousins who visit often. “We did not want anything formal,” Maureen says. “We wanted a home that was comfortable, elegant, nicely put together. But one where each kid could go into every room and I wouldn’t have to worry about them destroying it.”
Fortunately, Sroka believes in choosing fabrics that can take a lot of wear and tear. “It has to be bullet proof or I just won’t use it,” he says. Many of the pieces, including the two sofas and chairs in the family room, are upholstered in an ultra-durable, chenille-like fabric. “It wears like iron but with a soft hand,” he says.
And when a more delicate fabric was deemed ideal, Sroka figured out a way to make it work. On the living room ottoman, for example, he creatively incorporated a favorite striped fabric he had pinned to his bulletin board for months, hoping to use it in an eventual project. “I wanted the ottoman to have interest but this particular fabric wasn’t practical enough to sit on,” he says. So he topped it with durable brown leather and placed the more delicate swatch around the perimeter, “out of harm’s way.”
The rich, wood-toned library, too, was designed with the kids in mind. Brimming with bookshelves and comfortable places to sit and read, it is a special place where the kids can do homework and play board games. But it was Sroka’s persistence that made the room a cozy spot for mom and dad, too. “Furniture should be tailored to people just like clothes,” he says. Tim is tall—measuring in at six feet, five inches—some 12 inches taller than Maureen, but Sroka managed to find identical rouge-colored Victorian-styled chairs with a gout stool, comfortable for both. “These are the two chairs I never thought I would find in a million years,” he says. He also utilized window treatments to disguise the fact that some windows have transoms and others do not. “This made the room much more architecturally cohesive,” he says.
The Colemans travel extensively and enjoy purchasing unique pieces from around the world, from the three South African masks in the dining room to the painting of an Amsterdam cityscape in the living room that evokes memories of Maureen’s time abroad. “We really wanted to bring in pieces they collected during their travels, but we needed to give them a backdrop that would allow their collections to show well,” explains Sroka.
To accomplish this, he aimed for a more worldly design, mingling eclectic and seemingly unrelated pieces rather than embracing a particular period or style. In the family room, for example, the designer selected andirons from the American Arts and Crafts movement, an Art Deco chest, modernist 1930s sofas and a Victorian table. “There is a real mix going on here but it comes together nicely,” he says. Even the artwork is a veritable melting pot of media. The dining room boasts an original contemporary scroll by New York artist David Shapiro, a classical still life and ceramic pieces that Sroka discovered at the Baltimore Craft Show.
Additionally, Sroka wanted to surround the family with the comforts of familiarity, so he positioned two photographs of Madison Square Park—purchased by the Colemans at a store in their former Manhattan apartment building—over the mantel in the family room. “This [park] is where we used to play with our son, so it is very appropriate to have them here as a reminder of the first place we owned,” says Maureen.
Sroka also strategically utilized color to achieve a desired look. “In the living room, we deemphasized the wainscoting by painting it the same color as the walls,” he explains, “but we emphasized the baseboards, crown molding and door frames with darker paint. The mantel is the deepest color in the room because we really wanted you to notice it.”
In the dining room, Sroka relied on color to accentuate the positive. “The baseboards are a deep plummy brown, then there is a stripe of sepia on top of that, then there is a rosy persimmon color to deemphasize the wainscoting,” he says. “We did not follow the traditional rules that all trim and moldings had to be X color and all walls would be Y color. We really lead you around with what we want you to see.”
Color, too, played a key role in transforming the master bedroom, bath and adjoining sitting room into a spa-like retreat. “The bedroom is a whole different set of colors,” explains Maureen. “And the idea behind this is that the rest of the home is all about activity, children, traveling and work. Skip wanted us to walk in here and feel like we could just relax.” To complement the existing Bardiglio gray marble, Sroka selected a cool French blue hue to surround the fireplace and accented it with ivory walls, a celadon carpet and a deeper sky-blue ceiling.
The verdict? Even friends think the Colemans’ newly designed home is a perfect fit for the power couple. “Someone recently came to visit and thought the house looked beautiful. She told me, ‘It is obviously professionally designed but I can tell they really kept your spirit here because it reminds me a lot of your apartment in Manhattan,’” says Maureen.
“And I never saw the apartment in Manhattan,” whispers Sroka, with a grin, who no doubt enjoyed working with the Colemans. “This was really a fun job for me because 80 percent of my work is new construction—revising architect plans and changing doorways, moldings and lighting plans—making sure everything works. But here, it was like, ‘Okay, here is your deck of cards. How are you going to play it?’ I think it turned out to be a winning hand.”
Writer Kelli Rosen is based in Monkton, Maryland. Photographer Timothy Bell has studios in Washington, DC, and New York City.