Interior designer Sarah Boyer Jenkins didn’t know what to expect when her client told her during their first phone call, “I hope you like little old lady prints, because that’s the kind of thing I like.” Jenkins had just been hired to redecorate the retired couple’s dream house: a Pennsylvania stone, Colonial-style home situated on five acres in Virginia. Designed for the couple 10 years ago by architect Bruce Hutchinson, it already reflected their love of period detail; the husband had worked with the architect to make sure elements like moldings and paneling were used to create character and scale.
Jenkins’s first visit to the house set her fears at rest regarding her clients’ taste. As the front door opened, a slender blond woman, ever so chic in jeans and a casual shirt, made it clear: Despite the presence of some “old lady prints,” there would be no stuffy atmosphere here.
The house was alive with color—but unfortunately, the color was orange, no longer the homeowners’ preference. They were hoping to impart a rosier palette of reds swinging into the pink realm in their updated décor. They also wanted to weave in furnishings that would be compatible with their collection of family antiques.
Jenkins, a seasoned designer well versed in 18th-century design, drew on her knowledge and experience to create a period-style home that would reflect the personalities and wishes of her clients—traditional but au courant and alive. “We decided to make it as authentic as possible with real things, no shortcuts, no imitations,” explains the homeowner. This philosophy prevailed throughout the project. Jenkins mixed luxurious fabrics and newly acquired antiques with existing pieces—treasured heirlooms and newer, upholstered furniture. A color scheme of rose with blue and green accents evolved, while taupe was chosen as a neutral background color, a foil to the white woodwork throughout the home.
In the living room, taupe is the prevailing color in the floral Aubusson rug that elegantly grounds the space. The loveseat, a family piece, is upholstered in a Scalamandré silk stripe—blue and rose on a taupe background that matches the taupe stripes painted on the wall. The stripes are so subtle as to be almost indiscernible in daylight, yet come vibrantly to life at night.
Jenkins selected a Fortuny cotton damask for the living room sofa and draperies. The subtly luminescent fabric is still manufactured in Venice using a secret process developed almost a hundred years ago by Mariano Fortuny. Between the windows, an antique clock that’s been handed down through the family sits atop an antique American chest the husband acquired some years ago. To complement these pieces, Jenkins acquired an English George II secretaire, as well as a Dutch Queen Anne coffee table, both of which add to the elegance of the room.
In the dining room, raspberry-colored walls contrast with white, built-in cabinetry that displays the homeowner’s collection of Anna Weatherly china. Over the mantel, an 18th-century English portrait of an officer in the Dragoon Guards looks out over the English Regency-style dining table and a set of hand-carved Chippendale-style chairs. Both the table and chairs were handcrafted in the U.K. from old mahogany timber. On the sideboard sits a silver tea service that the husband gave to his mother when he was a young man.
Jenkins was also able to adapt existing pieces to the new décor. She notes that often, “it’s just a matter of moving furniture around.” For example, in the light-filled solarium, a sofa was moved from the family room and combined with McGuire wicker chairs to create a more contemporary look. Jenkins had the walls faux-finished to create a textured surface and tinged the ceiling a delicate sky blue.
With help from their designer, this couple was able to create a home that exemplifies their taste in fabrics, furnishings and art objects. It is traditional and sophisticated, lively and livable, yet not so precious that it can’t be enjoyed. Annie, their standard poodle, has the run of the house. As the homeowner says, laughing: “It’s Annie’s house; we just live here.”
Contributing editor Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photographer Bob Narod is based in Sterling, Virginia.