After earning a degree in interior design, Michael Roberson spent 18 years creating window displays for Neiman Marcus in her native Texas and, later, her adopted hometown of Washington, DC. The experience not only taught her how to execute projects on time, but also how to infuse them with a sense of drama—a skill that still comes in handy today as she runs her own interior design firm.
Roberson’s studio occupies a light-filled wing in the Arlington home where she and her husband Rob, a retired technology management consultant, raised their son and now entertain three grandchildren. Just as she does for her clients, Roberson has distilled a fresh, clean-lined look in her home that captures her style in a carefree, seemingly effortless way.
The house and surrounding landscape have evolved over the years with the couple’s lifestyle and aesthetic. “Houses should be like people and families, and have generations,” says Roberson, referring to the mix of contemporary and antique furnishings and art that prevails throughout her interiors. “You don’t want it all modern—you want to mix things up. But most of all, it has to be comfortable.”
Between the enveloping forest of Donghia botanical wallpaper and the designer’s disarming Southern charm, visitors immediately feel welcome upon arrival in her foyer. There, a framed serigraph of a doll’s face “gives some people the creeps,” Roberson admits, “but I love it.”
She contends that her sizable art collection “varies hugely, but there’s always a rhythm to what appeals to me. Because I was an art student for so long, I respond to composition—but at the same time, I’m very intrigued by the lack of structure.” In the living room, French etchings and a Fritz Scholder work share space with a piece by Washington Color School artist Gene Davis. Beneath the latter, a modern, armless sofa of Roberson’s design is paired with an antique armchair that belonged to her grandmother and a coffee table made from a vintage Japanese hibachi.
“If anybody’s eclectic, I am,” says Roberson. “But I can truly say that everything I have, I love.”
Beyond the living room, a modern addition completed seven years ago enlarged and updated the kitchen and dining room and forged a stronger connection between the home and its lush backyard. Roberson, who enjoys “cooking and feeding people,” turned to architect Charles Moore to design the renovation, which would also include a bold staircase and a screened porch. Moore bumped out the entire rear of the home. On the main level, the new dining room is framed by a wall of windows and French doors that spill onto a balcony.
A long dining table allows Roberson to seat up to 20 for family dinners. A carefully designed lighting plan combines pendants and recessed lights to illuminate the tabletop without casting harsh light on diners. “It’s important to light the table and the perimeter,” says the designer. “You can see what you’re eating and everybody looks beautiful.”
Roberson designed her dream kitchen in space that once housed the kitchen and dining room combined. A picture of efficiency with marble countertops and easy-on-the-feet cork floors, it features enough cabinet space to store dishes and barware within easy reach, an 18-foot-long island that accommodates food prep and buffet meals, a six-burner Dacor range and an eat-in breakfast area. Roberson is so delighted with her new kitchen that she calls it her “playroom.”
A seating area for two between the dining room and the vaulted staircase is the owners’ favorite spot to read the morning paper or enjoy an evening aperitif. “We spend a lot of time right in this little corner,” says Roberson. “We call it the tower; it’s really magical.”
Though the designer happily entertains parties large and small in the sun-dappled addition, she also enjoys the interplay of light and shadow throughout her home. “I’m not afraid of a dark space,” she says, pointing out the library off the foyer painted in Duron’s Sealskin brown. “We turn a lamp on in there and it’s this cozy little safe place. And the living room is fairly dim. In the summertime, it’s so comforting to have that.”
The warmer months are also prime time to enjoy the lower-level screened porch, where two Niermann Weeks chaises with luxurious cushions beckon. “I sit out here in the summer and read for hours,” says Roberson. The screened porch opens to the family room, which was also revamped during the renovation. This cozy hangout is furnished with clean-lined furniture, folk art Roberson has collected around the world—including several Hokkaido bear sculptures—and a wall of bookshelves built by her husband.
Throughout her home, neutral colors derived from nature create a calm backdrop that offsets Roberson’s bolder art and accessories. She advises clients not to underestimate the power of a neutral palette. “People talk about natural colors being boring, but they’re not,” she insists. “I tend to think that my favorite colors—the greens and gray-browns and blue-grays—are the colors of nature. I think that, subconsciously, they anchor us in some way.”
Though she is thrilled with her updated house, Roberson is probably most content in her impeccably manicured garden. She nurtures her flower beds all spring and summer and often enjoys lunch under the shade of a favorite crape myrtle.
“Gardening occupies your mind without causing any stress,” she says. “It’s like painting with living things. I love that sense of quiet when you’re outside. When I come home and get out in the yard, it’s like a mini vacation.”
Photographer Morgan Howarth is based in Reston, Virginia.