In search of the perfect art for her clients’ dining room, designer Barbara Hawthorn struck up a conversation with painter John Matthew Moore. “I mentioned I was looking for an abstract of a tree,” she recalls, “and Matthew said he had been waiting for years to paint an abstracted birch.” This serendipitous exchange led to an exceptional piece of art—one of many collaborations that make Hawthorn’s now-completed design resonate with homeowners Sherry Edwards and Paul Denis.
After moving into their McLean residence—formerly home to CBS News anchor Scott Pelley—Edwards and Denis needed help with more than just artwork. The mélange of furniture brought from their previous house was practically lost in their much grander new one. A stately Cape Cod, it had been expanded by the Pelleys about a decade ago with help from the original architect, Bill Sutton of Sutton Yantis Architects, and Great Falls Construction. The renovation added a new wing comprised of a sunroom with a dining area and a great room built around a large outdoor pool and terrace.
“The house had so much potential,” Edwards says, “but what we had wasn’t cutting it. We wanted a fresh start.”
She contacted Hawthorn after spotting her work in a local magazine. “Most of their furniture wasn’t suited for a house of this scale,” Hawthorn agrees. “It wasn’t inviting. And the music room was totally empty. I love that kind of challenge.”
She immediately began helping Edwards, a retired Federal Reserve economist, and Denis, an anti-trust attorney, to hone in on a shared aesthetic. “I help people articulate and identify what it is they like to have around them,” says the designer. “In programming meetings, I always do ‘gestalt’ tests on color, fabric and styles of furniture. I get a great sensibility of where that person is coming from—traditional, eclectic or modern. Then we translate that into reality.”
They settled on a serene color scheme of soft greens, blues and neutrals, and a fairly traditional, but not overly ornate, furniture profile. “As I am trained as an artist, color is usually where I begin,” says Hawthorn. “Once we got a sense of the color palette they both loved, we were able to bring color throughout the house.”
An art acquisition reinforced the color scheme. Denis’s aunt, who has lived around the world, offered them a large, abstract canvas, Milky Way Dreaming, by Aboriginal artist Janet Forrester Ngala. They fell in love with the piece and hung it in the living room where it could be viewed from the home’s main entry. “When you walk in, you’re drawn to it,” says Edwards, pointing out that this “anchor” piece sent their art decisions in a slightly more modern direction.
Hawthorn bridged a contemporary and traditional aesthetic throughout the house, commissioning custom pieces to impart a more personal, artisanal quality to the interiors. The intimate space to the left of the main entry is a case in point. It had been empty for years until Hawthorn and Edwards decided to create a music room where the couple’s teenage sons could play the piano. A seating arrangement by the fireplace, along with a two-sided sofa of Hawthorn’s design, can accommodate a large group during a party, or provide a cozy family gathering spot. A blend of rich fabrics and a wool and silk rug, along with a commissioned abstract by Virginia artist Lisa Tureson, add the finishing touches.
Hawthorn designed a custom cabinet to house Sherry Edwards’s beloved teapot collection, which before had been scattered throughout the house. Working with Indiana-based artisan Keith Fritz, she embellished its glass doors using a motif reminiscent of the transoms in the home’s foyer. “It fit in beautifully because it had those subtle cues of other things going on in the house that were classic, but in a more modern way,” says Hawthorn. The owners additionally commissioned two consoles that now grace the living room, designed and fabricated by Keith Fritz in a rare antique veneer.
Denis and Edwards, who own a Canadian lake home and enjoy the wooded surroundings of their Virginia residence, gravitated to art and accessories that celebrate nature. Hawthorn evoked the outdoors in the dining room with an antique garden armillary displayed on a pedestal, decorative spheres made of oyster shells, a large mother-of-pearl bowl—and John Matthew Moore’s dramatic birch painting.
The nature theme plays on in the breezeway connecting the sunroom to the great room. After hanging a painting of a loon in the space, Hawthorn and her clients decided to pay further homage to avian life. They commissioned a collection of lifelike decoys to adorn the shelves and found antique prints of duck eggs at Avery Fine Art. “We live near Great Falls National Park and thought we’d put pieces in here that give us a feel for nature,” says Edwards.
The great room is a cozy gathering spot where four recliners get plenty of use during hockey season. A custom ottoman makes the perfect footrest or table for casual meals by the fire. The room’s vaulted ceiling, wooden beams and stone hearth lend it a rustic feel, which Hawthorn reinforced by painting the white walls in warm ochre.
Edwards and Denis are thrilled with their finished home, which suits their needs whether they are hosting a charity fundraiser or reading in one of their comfortable seating areas. Edwards credits Hawthorn with pushing them out of their comfort zone in furniture and art selections. “I spent my whole life in numbers as an economist at the Federal Reserve—not thinking about art,” she admits. “Working with Barbara has opened up my horizons.”
Kenneth M. Wyner is a Takoma Park, Maryland, photographer.
INTERIOR DESIGN: BARBARA HAWTHORN, Barbara Hawthorn Interiors, McLean, Virginia. ARCHITECTURE: BILL SUTTON, Sutton Yantis Associates Architects, Vienna, Virginia. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: GREAT FALLS CONSTRUCTION, Great Falls, Virginia.