When it comes to art and design, there’s no underestimating the power of a strong image.
Designer Raji Radhakrishnan underscored this notion on several occasions while decorating a client’s new two-bedroom apartment in DC’s stately Kalorama neighborhood. A public health advisor for a non-profit agency who frequently travels to developing countries, the owner had a few simple goals in mind. She wanted a soothing retreat where she could recharge after months on the road. And she needed help combining the beloved paintings, sculptures, and photographs she’d collected all over the world.
“My client has a lot of great pieces but was never able to display them,” the designer explains. “She had them packed in the same boxes she bought them in years ago.”
In her approach to the décor, Radhakrishnan bridged styles, centuries and continents, creating interiors that respect the past in boldly modern ways. Though the condo has an open plan that combines living, dining and kitchen areas in one space, its sleek new building is surrounded by Federal-style and Beaux Arts architecture. “I wanted to bridge the gap between the historical district and the fact that it’s a contemporary space,” the designer says.
The designer also studied her client’s art collection, which ranges from ancient to modern. “She’s got sculptures from India, Cambodia, Africa, Indonesia and many other places,” Radhakrishnan notes. “To complete the story, what was missing was Europe—and that’s how the mural came into the picture.”
Poring over hundreds of photographs she’s taken on her own global journeys, Radhakrishnan zeroed in on one of an 18th-century painting by French artist Louis-Léopold Boilly entitled “Young Woman Ironing.” The image would become what Radhakrishnan describes as her “linchpin to Europe,” as she and her client decided to make it a focal point in the living room.
But rather than displaying the work in a classical way, Radhakrishnan applied her own techniques: enlarging, cropping and color-correcting the photograph to achieve a fresh, timeless look. Later printed in a lab and hung like wallpaper, the mural is now the first thing guests see when they enter the residence. Says Radhakrishnan, “We needed something like that to draw you in and soften the contemporary side a bit.”
Throughout the apartment, she combined new, old and vintage pieces while emphasizing the property’s simple, modern architecture to avoid clutter. “I wanted the shell to be quiet, which allows you to do whatever you want on top of it,” she explains. Pale cream walls and drapery, greige floors and a carpet from Radhakrishnan’s newly launched rug collection provide the simple backdrop needed to set the stage for a carefully edited selection of furniture and art.
Vintage sofas from Spain cohabitate with a sculptural Hans Wegner chair in the living room. “All of these pieces were very thoughtfully picked out,” says the designer. “Brass tables soften other contemporary pieces with a golden glow.” An oblong dining table of Radhakrishnan’s design is large enough to accommodate family gatherings.
She selected artwork sparingly, suggesting that her client rotate pieces rather than showcase too much at a time. “I had to set the pieces apart in a way that gives them space to breathe,” she explains as she points out a bronze replica of a 16th-century sculpture of the Indian goddess Uma, mounted on a modern pedestal beside the living room mural. “There’s just enough negative space between them so that they actually can have a good conversation.”
In the master bedroom, comfort was first and foremost. “I wanted her to sleep in a bed that feels like a cloud,” says Radhakrishnan, who suggested luxurious, all-white bedding offset by a calm gray palette.
Tapping into the travel theme again to find a statement piece for the room, she honed in on an etching of fountains at Versailles in one of her many art books. The designer enlarged and colored the bookplate image to create a large mural with a silver gelatin effect. A third mural depicting ancient cave drawings in India adorns the powder room.
Such powerful images helped designer and client weave together past and present and East and West. Peaceful and alluring, the now-completed residence pays homage to modern and classical beauty.
As she reflects on how it all played out, Radhakrishnan concludes, “The vision was quite simple to me: It’s a travel story. If you can find the heart of that story, the vision comes automatically.”
Photographer Rikki Snyder is based in New York City.
INTERIOR DESIGN: RAJI RADHAKRISHNAN, Raji RM & Associates, Washington, DC, and New York, New York.
LIVING AREA—Sofas: Client’s collection. Rug: rajirm.com/rugs (coming in January 2016). Jean Prouvé Chair: vitra.com through yliving.com. Hans Wegner Chair: 1stdibs.com. Drapery Fabric: robertallendesign.com. Brass Tables: controlbrand.com. Floor Lamps: sergemouilleusa.com. Mural: rajirm.com.
MASTER BEDROOM—Bedding: scandiahome.com; sferra.com. Mural: rajirm.com. Credenza & Rug: Client’s collection. Drapery Fabric: robertallendesign.com. Vintage Chair: 1stdibs.com. Table Lamps: controlbrand.com.