After touring a designer show house, who hasn’t wondered, “What happens to it now?” These spacious, often palatial homes do have a life after the spotlight, to which Virginia-based interior designer Ame Gold can attest. After the 2005 National Symphony Orchestra Decorators’ Show House closed to the public, one of her clients purchased the McLean property, and they set out on their second residential design project together—this one much larger in scope than the first.
Going from a 6,000-square-foot home to the 10,000-square-foot estate gave the homeowners lots of wiggle room. What they challenged Gold to do was to make it comfortable and livable for their family of four.
As with most designer show houses, this one bore the remnants of each and every designer involved in the project. But before putting the house on the market, the previous owner had painted many of the bolder spaces in neutral shades. “That actually made it a bit easier for me,” says Gold, whose clients “saw the house, fell in love with it and bought it.”
Gold was determined to “let my clients’ lifestyle determine how the house would look.” Some of the homeowners’ furnishings, carefully chosen for their former residence, would easily make the transition to the larger home. Others would not.
Likewise, they preserved those elements of the home that fit their aesthetic of relaxed elegance, but chose to create new features as well. For instance, they decided not to alter the marble floor in the foyer, but painstakingly painted and stenciled the walls. “The stencil is an original design that the homeowner and I collaborated on. Unfortunately for my painter, a new stencil template had to be re-cut after every eight or so uses,” says Gold. It’s a lovely backdrop for the distinctive occasional chair by Century that came with the homeowners from the previous house.
The custom, glass-top dining table and silk-upholstered chairs from the previous dining room now grace their new one. The owners also replicated the color scheme of their former dining room, with red walls and a metallic ceiling and trim. “The red works well here because it offsets the cool feel in the room from the silver ceiling and paint below the chair rail, which the homeowners wanted to keep,” explains Gold. A motif of birds and branches inspired by toile fabric was projected onto the wall and then gilded free-hand by her talented decorative painter. “It was a great way to do it. We could all see what it was going to look like in the end,” says Gold. The chandelier conveyed with the house, but was relocated from a different room, and a new credenza and lamps were selected to complete the look.
Throughout the house, Gold balanced traditional and modern elements. Nowhere is that tension and play more dramatic than in the living room, where an oversized, contemporary art installation hangs above the traditional fireplace. At that end of the room, which is most often used for social gatherings, sleek tables share space with a comfortable roll-arm sofa, and period chairs happily mingle with a modern, open-back chaise. Other accessories in the room give a nod to various periods and styles and engage a visitor’s senses with their variety and harmony.
The opposite side of the room provided an ideal setting for the family’s piano, which their daughter plays. “I divided the room into two areas because it’s so large and I wanted easy access to the French doors in back,” says Gold. “Design inspiration came from the carpet. It’s a Wilton from England, and they [the homeowners] just love it, so we picked the wall color from it, and coordinated the sofa with the color of its border.”
Since the owners’ previous home did not have a formal living room, all furniture choices were made specifically for this space. Gold achieved a subtle interplay of textures and hue, introducing shots of color in the upholstery and accent pillow fabrics. The draperies—gimp-edged, linen blend semi-sheers—are neutral in color and create little more than a scrim at the windows, even when drawn across the French doors.
Gold did very little to the existing kitchen, which features Clive Christian cabinets and granite countertops. “It meets the needs of a family of four with two children in elementary school,” she says. The changes were purely decorative and included new art over the cook top, a simplified chandelier and new stools at the center island, which provides counter space for a quick meal.
The most recent changes to the house took place in the back hall of the kitchen, where Gold created a kid-friendly space between the indoors and out. With a big backyard, an inviting swimming pool and a deck, the house is often the center of activity for the children and their friends.
They needed a place to change into swimsuits and a mudroom that would provide space for coats, backpacks and toys. So Gold designed a cheerful powder room that opens to a new mudroom featuring plenty of shelves, beadboard walls and benches that open to store family belongings.
It was the main-floor master suite that was perhaps the easiest for Gold to design. “We had just finished the master suite in their other house when they decided to buy this one,” says Gold, “so all we really did was to paint the walls and re-create the goblet-pleated draperies. Everything else was from the other house.” It is one of the most serene and relaxing spaces in the home—an ideal place to end the day.
Jeanne Blackburn is a writer in Montgomery Village, Maryland. Photographer Gwin Hunt is based in Annapolis, Maryland.
INTERIOR DESIGN: Ame Gold, PG Interiors, Fairfax Station, Virginia.