Old World Modern
When Mariana and Jack White moved into their 1988 center-hall Colonial in Fairfax Station, Virginia, they loved their home’s spaciousness and bucolic setting. Over time, however, their aesthetic changed and they began to feel that the house lacked the visual impact they wanted. The family room was dark; the living and dining rooms were a mishmash of colors. “We had what I called an Easter egg house,” Jack White recalls. “It was full of Colonial colors like blue and pink.” The Whites wanted to lighten the space, to create a more sophisticated palette. They also wanted the house to have a sense of architectural detail, yet feel fresh and modern.
To accomplish this challenging list of goals, the couple turned to McLean, Virginia-based interior designer Barbara Hawthorn, whose work Mariana White had seen in the pages of HOME & DESIGN. “I said to Barbara, ‘I need light,’” Mariana says. “She said with the right colors it would be sunny every day.”
The Whites put their faith in Hawthorn, who devised a plan that would emphasize the home’s classic lines while infusing it with a modern flair. As the designer explains it, Jack White had gone to Oxford and loved the ornate woodwork inside its venerable buildings. Hawthorn was inspired to create a space “reminiscent of Oxford, with a sense of Old World craftsmanship, but do it in a modern way.”
The result is an interior in which intricate millwork and architectural finishes such as moldings, cornices and friezes all figure heavily into the design scheme. At the same time, clean-lined, simple furnishings communicate a more contemporary aesthetic and offset the elaborate backdrop of walls and trim.
The architectural finishes are particularly prevalent in the entryway, a two-story space that feels both airy and elegant. To achieve the effect they wanted, Hawthorn and her clients pored over catalogs, choosing a mix of Greek-, Roman- and Victorian-themed cartouches in the shapes of grape leaf clusters, flowers and acanthus leaves. “Each cartouche is different,” Hawthorn says.
All the decorative moldings in the entryway, and the door frames, were handcrafted by Warrickshire Woodcrafters of Reston, Virginia, using Indonesian mahogany. Hawthorn added large-scale dark-stained frames to the wide doorways leading into the living and dining rooms, integrating the existing window transoms above them into the design with faux-paint treatments. In fact, the interior doors in the foyer area are all “plain old builder doors,” says Jack White. Rather than replace them, Hawthorn saved money by having them faux-painted to look like heavy mahogany with an inlay of lighter fruitwood. “I had to find just the right value that was golden and had depth,” Hawthorn recalls. She turned to decorative painter Paul Levy for the job.
Though the designer carried the Oxford theme into the rest of the house, the living and dining rooms were transformed largely through paint (trading the “Easter-egg” colors for soft creams), upholstery and new, more modern carpets. “We took the traditional furniture and reupholstered it in modern fabrics,” says Hawthorn. “They have beautiful pieces that weren’t showcased enough so I created vignettes with the furniture and their art to draw attention to them.” Decorative wood moldings over the fireplace in the living room were shadowed and glazed to bring them into relief.
The family room, which adjoins the kitchen, underwent a major transformation. “We wanted to lighten the space and make it feel bigger,” Hawthorn explains. She replaced the traditional fireplace with a wider, more contemporary one, which has the effect “of making the room seem stretched out.” The new fireplace surround is made of eye-catching honey onyx and Walker Zanger glass tiles, and the hearth is limestone. Columns to either side are actually pull-out-drawers that hold videos. Laser-cut lattice doors above conceal a 62-inch TV.
The walls were painted a soft yellow and woven Conrad shades replaced the draperies so as not to obstruct the natural light. Wherever possible, Hawthorn installed LED lighting.
Prior to the remodel, knee walls had separated the kitchen area from the family room. Under the auspices of Cabin John, Maryland, architect Robert Wilkoff, these half-walls were replaced by columns, which served to open up the room. The door to the powder room was strategically moved out of kitchen view and tray ceilings trimmed with architectural accents were added above the dining and kitchen areas, along with chair rails and crown moldings to connect the family room and kitchen with the rest of the house. Wilkoff drew up an elevation of the family room area to show the Whites how the room would look.
Back in the entryway, a huge chandelier hangs from the second-floor ceiling. It epitomizes what Hawthorn was trying to create: a perfect balance of old and new. “It had to be simple so as not to interfere with the moldings,” she says. In its elaborate setting, it is simple and elegant and a little bit modern. “At night,” says Jack White, “the chandelier disappears, and all you see is lights.”
Photographer Kenneth M. Wyner is based in Takoma Park, Maryland.
RENOVATION ARCHITECT: Robert Wilkoff, NCARB, Archaeon, Inc. Architects, Cabin John, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: Barbara Hawthorn, Barbara Hawthorn Interiors, McLean, Virginia. LIGHTING DESIGN: Wayne Hinson, Hinson Design Group, Washington, DC.