Bethesda designer Diane Clements was finishing major projects for two couples when they suggested she meet their husbands’ boss, Bill Shaw, who was then president and CEO of Marriott International. The subsequent blind date changed her life: Then single and dedicated to work and her now-grown family, Diane was astonished by their mutual delight in each other. They fell in love, married in 2005 and started planning a home together. “Our lives changed for the better that night,” she recalls. “I vowed that the home we made would reflect our unique happiness.”
With 20-plus years of design experience, the exuberant Mrs. Shaw had no trouble envisioning their dream home. She found a house in a leafy Potomac neighborhood 12 minutes from Marriott headquarters that, with a renovation, would meet her requirements—the most important of which was a master suite on the first floor. “It was a priority because we intended to stay here,” she says. “Our house needed to grow old with us.” But after discovering that the 1950s Colonial on the property had major issues, they decided it would be more cost-effective to tear down the original structure rather than tackle its problems, and build anew on the two-acre lot, which is crowned at the back with towering, irreplaceable old trees.
Diane relates another serendipitous encounter when she was considering how the new house should look. “I was driving on MacArthur Boulevard when I saw a stone house with Georgian architectural features,” she recalls. “The stone gave it a sense of place and dignity.” After some research, she found its architect, Geri Yantis of Sutton Yantis. Once she hired him, they toured the residence, noting the relationship of the architecture to the interiors. It was a perfect segue to what would become a close-knit working relationship.
Yantis’s plans for the new house included major massing in back so as not to overwhelm the front façade. Using a U-shaped configuration to embrace a rear courtyard with a water feature was Diane’s idea. “Views across the courtyard and into the rooms personalize the grand architecture,” she explains.
“Diane concentrated on bringing the classical elements of the architecture inside,” adds Yantis. “She wanted to integrate a coherent design for the whole house.”
The scale of the rooms affected Diane’s approach to decorating them. “I challenged myself to bring intimacy and comfort to the grandness,” she says. “The colors, fabrics and things I love had to be well-orchestrated, not overdone.” She used the subtle architectural motif of reeding (a fluted look borrowed from the detailing on her antique Swedish furniture) to set the mood. “Its simplicity is beautiful, and I wanted to incorporate it anywhere I could—so it became part of the crown molding and cabinetry in most rooms.”
A calming palette of soft blues, greens, rusts and neutrals references a landscape painting the designer found at Jean Pierre Antiques in Georgetown. The limpid riverbank scene hangs in the living room, and the deft coordination of the colors from it allows chairs to be moved between rooms—no small matter when extra seating is required during holidays for an extended family numbering 22 (she and Bill, who’s now retired, have five grown children and seven grandchildren, combined).
When it came time to choose the furniture, Diane set aside 90 percent of the objects the couple had previously owned in favor of “design sources and antiques that are different and not expected,” she says. A first glimpse into the living room reveals her success. A John Saladino sofa was chosen for its asymmetrical arms; its blue matches the walls for an enveloping effect.
Preferring an eclectic look, Diane furnished the first-floor living, dining and family rooms in a range of periods and styles. A pair of 1960s metal wall sculptures keeps company with an 18th-century French monastery table in the dining room, where wine refrigerators are concealed behind sleek, mirrored doors. Harmonizing furniture from disparate eras are such details as the barley-twist riff on the table legs, sculptural lamps from Marston Luce Antiques and modern silver candlesticks by Ralph Lauren Home.
When she started to design her own home, Diane focused on two differing philosophies, both of which she lives by: Buy only what you need as you go, or buy what you love and find a place for it. It’s no surprise that her art imitates her life. “Creating this house from scratch was a gigantic puzzle,” she says. “I worked with what I love because that will always find a place in my life.”
Writer Susan Stiles Dowell is based in Monkton, Maryland. John Magor is a Stafford, Virginia, photographer.
ARCHITECTURE: GERI YANTIS, Sutton Yantis Associates Architects, Vienna, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: DIANE SHAW, Diane Shaw Interiors, Potomac, Maryland. BUILDER: Horizon Builders, Inc., Crofton, Maryland. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: AMY MILLS and GUY WILLIAMS, DCA Landscape Architects Inc., Washington, DC. LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR: Chapel Valley Landscape Company, Woodbine, Maryland.