“I don’t have a designer bone in my body,” states a Chevy Chase homeowner. “But I know what I like.” For example, she knew she didn’t like the exterior of her once-boxy, 1940s residence before its recent renovation. “The original architect designed the WTOP radio tower,” she explains, “and our house looked like that radio tower. We needed help.”
As luck would have it, the owner won a charity auction bid on a consultation with interior designer Lorna Gross-Bryant a few years ago. After an hour on the phone, the two had bonded. “Lorna is from Louisiana and my mother is from Louisiana,” the owner says. “I’m from Houston and Lorna has family there. When I started talking about types of homes and the look I wanted, we had an ‘aha’ moment.”
When the busy executive and her husband, a physician, eventually decided to overhaul their home, they knew Gross-Bryant was the one for the job. They hired architect Robert Nehrebecky to handle the structural side. It was clear that they did not envision a typical “Washington” look. They wanted the exterior to reflect the homes they admired in Houston, with stonework, porticoes and wrought iron details, while the interiors would evoke points even farther south: the islands of the Caribbean.
“The islands are our favorite getaway,” says the mother of two young boys. “There’s a relaxing, peaceful vibe that you get the minute you get off the plane. I wanted that serene feeling when I come home. It’s effortless beauty.”
According to Nehrebecky, “the challenge of the exterior was re-envisioning it to be something that met their desires.” He devised a plan that would add a portico to the entry and unify “disjointed” elements, including a flat-roofed addition built onto the garage by previous owners. “I designed a hip roof on top of that which matched the slope of the existing house and tied it into the entry,” he says. After its brick was painted, its new pathways paved with stone imported from Texas, and stucco quoins complete, the house finally took on the character and curb appeal its owners were after.
Nehrebecky’s other grand gesture was to bump out the kitchen and create a breakfast room to give the family more space to spread out. Above this addition, he created a gracious sitting room off the master bedroom. Throughout the house, doorways between rooms were widened, plaster repaired and new infrastructure and electrical systems put in place.
For the interiors, Gross-Bryant honed in on details that would set her clients’ home apart—starting with the wrought-iron scrollwork on the front gate and the imposing new front door with hardware of her own design. “The house needed something a little more grand,” says the designer.
The challenge was to celebrate her clients’ love of the Caribbean without being too literal. “Some influences are more subtle than others,” Gross-Bryant says, “but I brought the tropics into every room.” Walls the color of pearly sand and textures reminiscent of foliage create a neutral, organic backdrop. On the main level, she peppered the calm with splashes of red—her client’s favorite color—to suggest strong sun, while upstairs she employed turquoise accents in homage to the sea.
The foyer opens to the dining room, where an Emanuel Morez chandelier of intertwined acrylic leaves reflects light and appears to “meander” above the table, says Gross-Bryant, who discovered the piece with her client at the Washington Design Center. Wallpaper with a tone-on-tone bamboo motif creates texture on one wall. Gross-Bryant alternated wood-backed chairs with upholstered ones. “Mixing in the textiles softens the room and makes it more lush,” she explains.
The living room to the left of the foyer receives guests with a West Indian embrace. Like a great room on a grand estate, it accommodates two conversation areas that Gross-Bryant envisioned as “guys’ and girls’” sides. “Near the fireplace is the Jamaican rum side,” she explains, pointing to the two oversized armchairs and Century coffee table. “The ladies’ side is a bit lighter and more delicate.” A Savonnerie-style rug ties the two spaces together.
A tropical mood prevails in the adjacent solarium where the boys hang out and watch TV with friends while the grown-ups socialize. Caribbean-inspired art and kid-friendly furniture and fabrics create a relaxed vibe.
The boys also enjoy time spent in the newly renovated kitchen and breakfast room. “I wanted a place where they can sit and do homework,” says the wife. “The kids can be in the pool and we can see them from here.” A glass door opens to the pool terrace, recently paved with limestone the owners imported from Texas.
While the floor plan on the main level remains unchanged, Nehrebecky reworked the second floor, eliminating one bedroom to give the master suite more space. Here, sand meets surf, with vibrant turquoise accenting muted, softly textured fabrics. A wrought-iron balcony and large windows overlook the pool below.
The homeowner credits Gross-Bryant with respecting her vision. “Lorna understood what I was looking for and made it so easy,” she says. “She let me channel my inner Texan.”
Now that the home is finished, the owners enjoy entertaining and have frequent “family play dates.” With its cohesive new style, the property is a real departure for their guests. “People feel like they’re someplace else—not Washington,” says the wife. “They come over and never leave.”
Photographer Angie Seckinger splits her time between Potomac, Maryland, and Spain.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: ROBERT NEHREBECKY, AIA, Re:New Architecture, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: LORNA GROSS-BRYANT, ASID, Savant Interior Design, Bethesda, Maryland. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: JASON FRANKLIN, Franklin Renovations, Germantown, Maryland.