Home & Design

Modern Classic

A light-filled home in Great Falls provides the perfect environment for a couple's growing art collection

Modern Classic

The austere aesthetic of modern design can seem coolly impersonal. But when collectors with a taste for fireworks—bright contemporary art and dynamic architecture—sought to furnish their home in a compatible style, their collaboration with interior designer Mallory Lawson sparked a classic modern living space with individual flair.

“Initially, we weren’t sure where we were going to end up,” one of the collectors recalls, describing their journey of design discovery. “As we worked together on the project, we began to understand the look and how art we really like would tie in with furniture we really like. This feels like us.”

She and her husband expressed a clear vision of the look they wanted to achieve: “Not traditional, bold color, with a certain friendliness,” she says. “We wanted it to be an escape and a place where we’d feel comfortable.”

Both communications lawyers and partners in the same firm, the collectors have hectic schedules and often travel together. Whenever possible, they combine work with hunting for art. “We found a bright green glass piece by Dale Chihuly in Seattle,” she recalls. “Or we’d be in New York, wander into a gallery and think, ‘Would that piece go [in our house]?’”

Among their finds, works on paper by pop art masters James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine energize rooms. A brilliantly hued Sam Gilliam painting animates the living room, and glass art in a rainbow spectrum dazzles on tables and in niches.

The couple shares a long-standing attraction to contemporary art, but it was the house that prompted their union. Its purchase 14 years ago was the catalyst for their decision to marry and make it their home. Designed by architect Joseph A. Boggs, who also designed the Filene Center at nearby Wolf Trap, the residence has a commanding presence.

Its three-story entrance shapes space like a sculpture. A pitched skylight floats above paired columns that support second-floor room bays and a connecting hall bridge. At the back and in every room, long paneled windows open up views of the lush wooded landscape, a privacy screen on this 15-acre property.

The home’s angular, complex architecture posed opportunities as well as challenges. “The angles make it more interesting, but they make the design and construction a lot more complicated,” Lawson says. Building moldings in the library, for example, required making hand templates that took two weeks to complete. The designer eliminated the home’s window coverings, which were fading in the expansive glass. For protection from UV damage, art works are positioned away from direct light, and windows are coated with tinted film.

To unify the flowing spaces and strong art, walls were left gallery-white. Classic black leather chairs and stools by Mies van der Rohe used in many rooms create a counterbalance. “We used architect-designed furniture,” Lawson says. “It’s elegant and extremely well made. And with modern 20th-century masters, the look isn’t dated in five years.”

Another integrating element, Absolute Black granite, reappears throughout the house. “It’s the blackest of the black. It gives gravitas,” the designer says. Because of the home’s abundant light and space, the material doesn’t overpower but adds polished grandeur to a sweeping kitchen countertop, fireplace surrounds and custom pieces designed by Mallory Lawson, which include a dining room buffet, a sofa table and a center-hall pedestal for a five-foot-tall sculpture of stacked glass houses by Therman Statom.

It was the second major art work commissioned by the collectors. The husband relates the story of their first, acquired shortly after the couple moved in. “We visited Sam Gilliam’s studio. He’s very quiet, and he talked with us about what we liked and didn’t. When we called back to commission a piece, he said he’d already done it,” he recalls. “It was our first adventure commissioning a piece. It was a little unsettling. When we saw it, we loved it. But what do you say if it didn’t turn out?”

Gilliam’s painting, hung in the living room, vibrates with primary colors. Yet it was a work acquired earlier and displayed in the family room that jumpstarted the home’s color scheme. Artist Oleg Kudryashov’s River Yauza, Kazan Railway, Moscow, with its strokes of saturated black and graphite grays, inspired Lawson’s use of similar tones throughout the house. Meanwhile, its washes of clear red, blue, yellow and green recur around the house in the cheerful dining-room chairs and living-room pillows, and in the colors of a guest room and the bedrooms of the couple’s now-grown children.

The inviting downstairs library is upholstered in rich red fabric. Rather than books, the husband’s collection of sports memorabilia is displayed in red lacquer frames on the shelves. He started the collection as a boy growing up in rural Michigan. “I wrote fairly lengthy letters to professional athletes, telling them why I admired them and asking for a photograph,” he explains. “No one responds to you today, but in the late ’50s, players would send back a handwritten letter, sometimes on hotel stationery or on a postcard with pictures of the team. I have photographs of the Detroit Tigers and New York Giants with everybody signing. I got a Christmas card from NFL star Norm Van Brocklin and a personal letter from George Halas, coach of the Chicago Bears. I framed a letter from Rocky Colavito, home-run king of the era.”

Looking back over their years of collecting, living and entertaining in the house, the wife reflects, “All the art pieces mean something to us and were gathered over time. And the house has worn incredibly well. It’s been very, very comfortable for both of us and for the family. The design is timeless.”

Tina Coplan is a writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photographer Lydia Cutter resides in McLean, Virginia.

ARCHITECTURE: Joseph A. Boggs, FAIA, Boggs & Partners Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: Mallory Lawson, ASID, Mallory Lawson & Associates, Washington, DC.

A niche beside the fireplace displays glass works, including
Czech Harvest Series by John Raymond Leighton, Bird’s
Nest by Mark McDonnell and Ostinato by Brent Marshall.

The dining room centers on a lithograph with silkscreen and
collage by James Rosenquist. While Mies van der Rohe
dining chairs upholstered in bright shades of leather reflect
the art, interior designer Mallory Lawson proposed white
walls and a furnishings palette of gray and black throughout
much of the home to maximize the impact of her clients’


Lawson also designed a banquette in the dining area,
surrounded by classic Mies van der Rohe chairs. These
architect-designed chairs, she says, are “elegant and
extremely well made. And with modern 20th-century
masters, the look isn’t dated in five years.” The painting by
Oleg Kudryashov, visible in the family room on the right,
inspired the color scheme throughout the home.

A large mixed media installation by Therman Statom entitled
Two Plates/Dakotas greets viewers as they arrive on the
second floor, where a bridge leads to the bedrooms.

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