Home & Design

Design Fusion

By melding seemingly unrelated design styles, Ann Kenkel makes this McLean house feel like home
Living on the East Coast for the first time, at least for this homeowner, meant taking a chance on a Colonial architectural style ubiquitous to the DC suburb of McLean, Virginia. “I saw this house and loved it,” she recalls, “but I just wasn’t sure how our things would fit into such a traditional style of home.” Prior to her family’s cross-country move back in 2004, she and her husband—whose career brought them to Northern Virginia—along with their two teenaged children, lived in a French country home outside San Francisco. And prior to that, they resided in a contemporary home in Houston, Texas, and a small flat in London.

Fortunately, the homeowner, who enjoys the unexpected juxtaposition of contemporary art with antiques, partnered with interior designer Ann Kenkel of Washington, DC-based Ann Kenkel Interiors, who admits she finds the combination refreshing. “Through long discussions with the homeowner, I understood that she had a great love of contemporary art, some classic contemporary furnishings, which were art pieces in themselves, as well as antiques,” Kenkel says, recalling their initial long-distance collaboration. “I asked her to send me pictures of their current house so I could see what they had and what they liked. I also asked for pictures of every single piece of furniture, art and accessory so that I could begin planning the placement of all their items.”

The fusion of design styles played a vital role in the ultimate success of this project, especially considering the extensive collection of art and furniture the homeowner had gathered over the years. “I think a great example [of the design fusion] is my dining room,” says the homeowner. She was understandably skeptical about how her contemporary George Nakashima walnut dining table would complement the room’s elaborate moldings and Jeffersonian-inspired triple arched passageways or her beloved antiques, which include a linen press she purchased while living in London. “If you are going to put traditional with contemporary, you have to have a few transitional items, which you can use to connect them in a myriad of ways,” explains Kenkel. Rather than utilize the contemporary host and hostess chairs from the homeowners’ California home, the designer instead found transitional wing chairs to bridge the design gap. She selected a chocolate-hued grass cloth wallpaper to complement the organic shape of the table, but balanced the earthiness with more formal elements including a Tufenkian rug woven with subtle shades of mocha, sage green and coral, as well as Schumacher silk draperies with an iridescent copper dragon pattern.

Kenkel faced similar challenges in the living room. “It is a long room requiring many pieces of furniture, a focal point for each wall and elements to make it cohesive,” she says. “The strong character of the contemporary art and the heavy plaster moldings begged for there to be pieces of furniture that were ‘art’ or had architectural components, but they all had to be integrated perfectly for the room to work as a whole.”

In addition to furniture pieces, color may also be used to unite various design styles. In the kitchen’s breakfast area, for example, the homeowner already had the contemporary green and wheat woven leather armchairs, so Kenkel searched for a drapery fabric that would link them to the collection of blue transferware displayed in the space. “The homeowners love toiles so we settled on this one,” she says. “But I felt it needed some embellishment to add a little more weight to it and force the connection of the blue and green.” Therefore, she added a soft blue and green trim as well as checked banding along the top drapery edge.

As for the family room, its design was also inspired by color—namely the brightly hued contemporary painting over the fireplace, a piece depicting a Holland canal and tulips that the homeowner purchased while living in Houston. “The family wanted some bright colors in the room and a fabric somewhere that would pull all of the art together,” says Kenkel. “We found an extraordinary fabric at Clarence House that has a chocolate background with pops of all the colors in the art—green, coral, raspberry and gold. We decided to make throw pillows out of it and each pillow would strategically have a different point in the pattern so they would look like art themselves.” Additional “punches of color” come from two chairs and an ottoman upholstered in a muted green-apple damask. That “creates a cheerfulness and freshness in the room,” Kenkel says.

To anchor the space, the homeowner found a darkly stained antique buffet du corps in Atlanta to house the television and media components. “The challenge…was how to take very bold contemporary art with strong colors and create soothing and quiet rooms that were strong enough in character, not color, to balance the art,” says Kenkel. The designer also aimed to blend and neutralize the palette by using varying shades of wheat because the family room can be seen immediately upon entering the home due to its positioning at the end of the foyer.

For this homeowner at least, it seems that transforming a traditional home into a veritable melting pot of design styles is possible, especially with tenacity, creativity as well as expert advice. And a little optimism along the way probably helped a bit, too. “I believe,” says the homeowner, “that if you really like something, you can fit it in somewhere.”

Writer Kelli Rosen is based in Monkton, Maryland. Gwin Hunt is an Annapolis, Maryland, photographer.

INTERIOR DESIGN: Ann Kenkel, Ann Kenkel Interiors, Washington, DC


Ann Kenkel masterfully blended periods and styles in the
living room; her clients’ modern paintings provide focal
points on the walls.

In the husband’s library, a Tufenkian rug and contemporary
artwork brighten the room’s original wood paneling.


The master bath incorporates Osborne & Little wallpaper
an antique dressing table and chair.


A focal point in the serene master bedroom is a painting
entitled On Earth as is in Heaven by Dusty Griffith.

You may also like:

Organic Palette
A design team pays homage to nature in a spa-like master bath
Furniture Finds
Going outside the (wooden) box
Lap of Luxury
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