For two decades, the Georgetown couple walked past a Colonial Revival brick house near Tudor Place and wished it could be theirs. “We admired the simplicity and elegance of the architecture,” says the attorney husband. “The home is somewhat unique because it is freestanding rather than a row house. It came with one of the deepest gardens in Georgetown.”
When he and his wife, a telecommunications consultant, discovered their dream home was finally for sale, they jumped to buy it. The interiors needed updating so they turned to Rob Brown and Todd Davis, who had remodeled rooms in their previous house. “They know how to integrate clean, modern furnishings with older homes in which the preservation of the historic details is essential,” says the wife. Brown and Davis, who have offices in Bethesda and Miami Beach, are best known for decorating the Washington, DC, and Chappaqua, New York, homes of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as Hillary Clinton’s former Senate office.
Hardly the typical Washingtonians whose conservative tastes run to wing chairs and Oriental rugs, the well-traveled homeowners prefer more stylish, pared-down designs. “In essence, we are Bauhaus admirers,” says the husband. “We dislike clutter, excessive ornamentation and overly decorated spaces.” At the same time, he and his wife appreciate the historic charm of Georgetown and made sure renovations respected the architectural character of their 1883 home. “The challenge was to find the right balance between preserving the best of a 19th-century structure and furnishing it with designs that are clean, simple and elegant,” he says.
Brown and Davis addressed both modernity and history by setting sleek furnishings into rooms outlined in elegant architectural details of their own making. “The façade is gorgeous but the interiors did not match that,” says Brown. “To either side of the central hallway was a jumble of rooms. It was time to give the house new life.” On the main level, archways between the hallway and flanking spaces were widened and raised to improve flow. A small room behind the living space was replaced with a coat closet and a powder room with a sculptural stone sink.
At the rear, the kitchen was completely overhauled by Poggenpohl with contemporary cabinets, glass backsplashes and stainless-steel appliances. It now opens to the rebuilt back porch overlooking the terraced garden and pool. The room across the hall from the kitchen was framed in new paneling and built-in cabinetry to create a family space. Chairs and sofas were recycled from the couple’s previous home and reupholstered to provide comfortable seating for reading and watching TV.
Throughout the house, the décor reflects what Brown and Davis call “classical contemporary,” a luxurious but streamlined look that has become their signature. “One of our trademarks is the juxtaposition of old and new, and bringing colors together in unexpected ways,” Davis says.
The more formal rooms at the front of the house exemplify this mix of traditional and modern elements. In the living room, Brown and Davis replaced the fireplace mantel with a carved limestone surround and installed new architectural moldings to create a classical interior design
backdrop to stylized, Deco-inspired furnishings. Instead of pairing sofas around the fireplace, they arranged seating areas at either end of the room and connected them with a floral-patterned carpet of their own design. “It was inspired by a late 19th-century Chinese import rug for another client,” explains Brown. “The furniture has a Deco flair and in terms of Deco interiors, Chinese rugs were often used.” Ivory upholstery on the chairs and sofas provides a contemporary twist within the room’s traditional setting.
Across the hall, a similar contrast is evident in the dining room, which also serves as a music room for the couple’s three children. A baby grand piano faces upholstered chairs pulled up to a rosewood table and a banquette in front of the windows. As in the living room, the piano and furnishings are linked by a large rug in subdued tones to match the upholstery. In both living and dining rooms, marigold silk draperies add a jolt of color. “These rooms tend to be dark because they face north,” says Brown. “We chose a golden tone to warm them up.”
Abstract prints by noted American artists Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Serra, and large paintings by Spanish artists Miguel Angel Campano and José Freixanes underscore the contemporary feeling. “We think the art reinforces the importance of simple furnishings—the furnishings do not collide visually with the art,” says the husband.
Upstairs in his study, Brown and Davis extended the same strategy applied to the living and dining rooms, but reversed the approach. Instead of ornamenting the walls with intricate moldings, they used streamlined cherry paneling and shelving as a modern backdrop to traditional furnishings, including four chairs the designers originally created for the British Embassy.
Contrast continues in the master bedroom, where light-colored bedding, drapes and upholstery are set off by raisin-colored silk wallpaper. “We were asked to make it a cocoon,” says Davis. “So we used materials to absorb sound from the street.”At one end of the room, a print by British artist Henry Moore hangs over a fireplace framed in a simple stone surround. “It’s our favorite room, especially in winter with the fireplace burning,” says the husband. “We are often there, reading or working late at night when the house and the city outside are quiet.”
Washington, DC-based Deborah K. Dietsch is the author of Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work. Photographer William Cunningham is based in New York City.
INTERIOR DESIGN: Rob Brown and Todd Davis, Brown Davis Interiors, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, and Miami Beach, Florida.