The stately Northwest DC neighborhood of Foxhall Crescent first cast its spell on Carmen and Mohammed Osman in the 1980s. As students at nearby American University, the two would drive by and dream of someday owning a home there. Fast-forward to 1997: The Osmans, by then married with three kids, were able to realize that dream.
Years later, they still loved their location in the heart of the city, and their Mediterranean Revival-style home’s curb appeal. But its interiors felt stale and out of sync with the family’s needs. “These houses were meant for formal entertaining, and we don’t live like that,” Carmen says. “We have a very casual lifestyle, and I wanted the home to reflect that but still be elegant and urban-chic.”
Like others in the neighborhood, the 4,500-square-foot house was designed in the 1980s. The Osmans, who own three other homes on as many continents, used it primarily as a summer getaway until 2007, when they decided to make it their primary residence so their children, then teenagers, could attend school in the area.
They lived in the residence for several years, developing their wish list, before turning to interior designer Basha White for help. White and her associate, Tom Preston, had just outfitted the couple’s apartment in London (where Mohammed frequently travels as a consultant on global farming) and were fully up to speed on Carmen’s aesthetic, which they dubbed “comfortable couture.”
White invited architect Christian Zapatka to collaborate on updating the layout and look of the DC home. The goal of the “near-gut” renovation was to make the house “very usable and inviting,” explains Zapatka. “It was kind of dark before. Nothing felt very generous. There were too many rooms for the footprint.”
The original floor plan included a U-shaped kitchen, a narrow dining room, a small family room and an awkwardly long living room that spilled out into the front-to-back passageway. Removing and shifting walls liberated the once-tight layout; combining the kitchen and dining room into one integrated space was a daring but appropriate first step. “We don’t need a formal dining room,” maintains Carmen. “It’s not practical for us. It’s like that room when you were a kid that you couldn’t go in. I wanted to be able to talk to people while I cook.”
Zapatka’s program included other changes that would update the home’s 1980s sensibility. Pulling back an interior wall in the family room added volume to this primary gathering spot. The opening on that wall to the kitchen/dining area was shifted and widened to seven feet to ease the flow and create a stronger connection between the two spaces. To delineate the living room and hallway, Zapatka introduced a screen of columns and limestone floor tiles, which visually separate the spaces. And at the end of the hall, where an obtrusive set of sliding doors used to be, a picture window provides a view of the rear landscape from the foyer.
“Now there are fewer, bigger, brighter rooms, but it’s by no means a free plan. There are still very defined rooms,” Zapatka points out. “One big space is sometimes hard to understand. Delineated space often appears bigger.” Pocket doors provide the option of closing off the kitchen from the family room and main hallway but disappear when open.
With the bones in place, Zapatka and White turned their attention to embellishing the home’s architectural details. They kept the original egg-and-dart crown molding with rosette accents, but added “wider, heftier door casings and taller, heftier baseboards to stand up to that crown,” explains the architect. “The paneled segments [such as those over the windows] lend gravitas.”
White then devised a scheme of harmonious hues that flows from space to space. “We used a lot of mineral tones,” she says. “The palette is light, and we mixed warm and cool grays together.” Colorful accents stand in bold relief against the largely neutral backdrop.
The client’s preference for tactile, natural materials dictated many selections. Case in point: the wheat-colored grass cloth that warms the family room walls. To capture an eclectic, urban-chic vibe, White deftly mixed marble and metals with lacquered and natural woods. “We have a careful balance, “ she says. “We pick one thing and then reevaluate how it works with other pieces in the room.” The designer incorporated many vintages finds into the mix—including the hall’s bronze and limestone sculpture. “Vintage pieces add character and create a timeless look,” she says.
However, comfort trumped all in the design. Carmen Osman personally tested all the seating before giving it a nod. The fabrics are durable and family-friendly (the chairs in the dining area are even covered in an indoor-outdoor textile). “I wanted a casual house for the kids to come back to,” says Carmen. “We’re all over the place, but this is home.”
Writer Catherine Funkhouser is based in Arlington, Virginia. Gordon Beall is a Bethesda, Maryland, photographer.
Hallway—Chests: henredon.com. Two Mirrors: niermannweeks.com. Sculpture, 1920s Chinese Vases on Chests: David Bell Antiques; 202-965-2355. Drapery Fabric: jimthompsonfabrics.com. Drapery Fabrication: Atelier Draperies; 301-589-0362. Flooring: architecturalceramics.com.
FOYER—Small Sculpture: David Bell Antiques; 202-965-2355. Green Settée: Custom through Basha White Interiors. Settée Fabric: duralee.com. Mirror: bashawhiteinteriors.com.
Living Room—Custom Sofas: ef-lm.com. Sofa Fabric: jacquesbouvet.com. Custom Cocktail Table: hollyhunt.com. Custom Rug: starkcarpet.com. Mirror: niermannweeks.com. Floor Lamp, Drum Table, Painting & Square Table: David Bell Antiques; 202-965-2355. Swedish Chest: 1stdibs.com. Chairs & Fabric: hickorychair.com. Pillow Fabric: leejofa.com; kravet.com. Table Lamps: carlingnichols.com.
Kitchen—Cabinets: Karen Hourigan, CKD; kitchenbathstudios.com. Light Fixture: niermannweeks.com. Pendants: unionhardware.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Table, Chairs & Chair Fabrics: hickorychair.com. Marble Countertop: rbratti.com. Backsplash Tile: architecturalceramics.com.
Family Room—Sofa: ef-lm.com. Sofa Fabric: pearsontextiles.com. Chairs: rjones.com. Chair Fabric: jimthompsonfabrics.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Drapery & Pillow Fabric: leejofa.com. Drapery Fabrication: Atelier Draperies; 301-589-0362. Stool: bakerfurniture.com. Credenza: andbeige.com. Art above Credenza: Karen Silve through callowayart.com. 1970s Cocktail Table: David Bell Antiques; 202-965-2355. Grass Cloth Wallcovering: kravet.com.