For the Love of Color


As Donna Sobeck sent her youngest son off to college, she dreamed of downsizing to a home similar to the one she and her husband Dave, a Bethesda-based accountant, owned in New England before moving to Maryland 18 years ago. “We raised our two sons in a large, rambling home in Potomac,” she says, “but then there were rooms we barely used and I really missed the charm of an older, cozier home.”

So the couple purchased a 1954 traditional-style house in Bethesda. When it came time to decorate, Sobeck knew she wanted it to be “pretty, livable and relaxed, but with great attention to detail,” she recalls. Sobeck turned to Bethesda-based Kelley Proxmire of Kelley Interior Design for help. “Kelley designed the guest room in our previous home so there was no question that she would do this whole house,” she says.

Honing in on color options was one of their first priorities. “Donna loves color and she loves green first and foremost, but she also loves pink and yellow,” says Proxmire, who insists that the key to using multiple colors in a home is establishing a compatible flow from one space to the next. In this home, she set out by weaving threads of common colors between each adjoining space. “Stand at the axis of the home, and see how they all look,” says the designer, pointing from the kitchen into the adjacent dining and living rooms. “They don’t need to be the same shade of colors but they sure have to flow.” For example, to tie in the light raspberry hue of the great room and kitchen, Proxmire opted for “peachy pink” accents on the dining room chairs.

Although she is not a fan of a “matchy-matchy” look when it comes to fabrics—hence the colorful array of throw pillows on upholstered pieces throughout the home—Proxmire does believe in subtle coordination of certain design elements.

n the living room, for example, green is woven throughout
the primarily “lemon meringue” palette. But to “calm the eye,” Proxmire chose certain items in matching pairs, including the lamps and side chairs. “If everything is different and there is lots of color in the room, it really can be too much,” she says.

Because Sobeck and her husband are now empty nesters, Proxmire could also be more flexible in her design choices. Without children underfoot, she was able to upholster the dining room chairs in a silk plaid fabric. “I guess that would be an impractical choice if you had children to consider,” says Proxmire. Because the dining room opens to the living room and kitchen, Proxmire accented the green palette with more casual touches, such as the reproduction dining table with parquet top and antique white legs. To balance the room, she added an additional corner cabinet to match the existing one near the living room. “This room needed symmetry,” Proxmire explains, “plus Donna needed the extra storage, an issue we had to deal with throughout the home.”

In the great room, Sobeck admits that she was a bit disappointed when she found out the walls would be white instead of the more “intense” raspberry shade in the wallpaper chosen for the adjoining kitchen, but she trusted her designer implicitly. Proxmire opted for white walls to make the room “crisp and fresh” rather than purchasing white furniture, which would have been her choice had the walls been painted pink. “The white walls really make the raspberry and green pop,” says Sobeck, “and the stained hardwood floors ground the room and provide warmth.”

Utilizing a colorful palette also requires deliberate selections of accessories that “don’t happen by accident,” says Proxmire. She stresses the importance of these finishing touches to add personality to a home, but strongly recommends finding antique or vintage items, “so that it doesn’t look like you went to one store and bought them all.” Prior to working with Proxmire, Sobeck says she regarded antiques as “dark and dreary,” and credits the designer with showing her how a few well-chosen pieces, such as the late-19th-century chest in the foyer and the Gustavian clock over the fireplace in the living room, can add warmth and depth to a home.

Sobeck and Proxmire truly bonded on the details, often combing antique shows together to find the bowls, figurines and plates now displayed in Sobeck’s home. From the custom trim around the silk shades on the dining room chandelier to the plethora of cords, nail heads and flanges bedecking upholstered pieces and pillows in the great room, it’s those tiny touches that made this project so special.

Family photos and oil paintings by Sobeck’s youngest son are scattered throughout the space. “Before working with Kelley, I used to have everything on display,” says Sobeck, “but she really helped me edit and concentrate the pieces. I appreciated that because these are important to me.”

“This is Donna’s home, not mine,” says Proxmire. “In every way it absolutely must reflect her. I just wish she would move or buy a second home so we could work together again.”