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Georgetown Charm

Susan Beimler creates a sense of relaxed elegance in a quaint 1938 row house

JULY/AUGUST 2010

When designer Susan Beimler and her husband were relocated to Washington from Rochester for his banking job in 1995, their real estate agent assumed they’d end up in the suburbs of McLean or Potomac. But the couple gravitated to Georgetown instead, where he could walk to his office and Susan could work in close proximity to some of the city’s top antiques shops and galleries. “I decided if you’re in a city, you should be right in the city. Our youngest was in college,” says the designer. “I thought, ‘It’s a new chapter of life, so why wouldn’t we have a new experience?’”


The couple chose a three-story 1938 row house for its integrity and authenticity. “It’s an exact copy of a townhome in London,” says Beimler. “Even the hardware, the railings and the ceiling medallions were shipped over from England. And the bricks came from a Maryland manor house that was 225 years old when it was dismantled in 1938.”


Beimler set out to furnish the well-preserved home in an “updated classic” style, starting with the collection of art and antiques she brought down from New York. “I believe in relaxed elegance,” she says. “Comfort and chic can co-exist.”


Beimler soon discovered that buying opportunities abounded in the blocks surrounding her new home. “In Upstate New York, antiques are mostly American. The access to really wonderful European antiques is here,” she says. Her dining room, for example, combines an 18th-century French sideboard in pear wood with a table made in Lyon and very old French chairs she discovered in New Orleans. 


“Antiques make a more interesting environment because they add history,” she says. “They show an evolution of life and a patina. Life should constantly be evolving.” 


Beimler speaks from experience. She transitioned from teaching French to designing homes for clientele across the country—without a day of formal training. As she describes it, some force compelled her to walk into one of Rochester’s top design firms and apply for a job when she was in her late 30s. 


“I had no portfolio, no coursework, no exposure,” she recalls. “The woman who had the studio took a chance on me.” A longtime painter, Beimler had a feel for color, scale and proportion. In one year, she outsold her partner and has never looked back. 


An expert at blending paint colors and creating subtle yet confident interiors, Beimler believes a home should reflect the owner’s personality—and not the designer’s. “My goal is to expose clients to things and put them together in a way that makes them feel like they’re in their own skin, not mine,” she explains.


Beimler has also mastered the art of hospitality. She loves to create a warm, welcoming ambiance—whether she’s hosting out-of-town guests or opening her doors for the Georgetown House Tour (which she has done twice). Her formal dinner parties gather in the second-story living room and dining room, while smaller, more intimate groups cozy up in the first-floor family room, where Beimler has converted one of the home’s two fireplaces to gas for instant warmth on crisp nights. 


Upstairs, the master bedroom is a tranquil retreat with soft, neutral wallpaper and a four-poster bed Beimler commissioned in New York. A former second-floor bedroom now serves as her office where shelves are stacked neatly with fabric swatches and sample books. 


This is where Beimler creates design schemes. But she still loves to paint—a pastime she saves for her second home in Vero Beach, Florida. The couple’s condominium on a barrier island is the aesthetic opposite of their Georgetown home. “It has endless breathing room. The whole focus is water and sky and sand,” Beimler says. There, she paints watercolors. “It’s really a relaxing escape for me. It’s another way for my creative energy to come out.” 


Photographer Angie Seckinger splits her time between Potomac, Maryland, and Spain.


INTERIOR DESIGN: SUSAN BEIMLER, Susan Beimler Interior Design, Washington, DC. 

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