A family relocating from New York to Washington decided to keep their Manhattan apartment. So when they moved into their 1940s colonial-style home in Georgetown with very few furnishings, their intent was to start anew.
One of the owners met DC-based interior decorator Colman Riddell at a dinner party and invited her to have a look at their three-bedroom house. Along with its good architectural bones, it had plenty of natural light via French doors and large windows, tall ceilings, simple but elegant trim work and a big backyard. The spacious side patio, with its flagstone paving and lacquered black gate, also struck Riddell as charming and full of potential.
Inside, the wood floors had already been stained dark, and all the walls, trim and moldings had been painted matte white, providing Riddell with a perfect canvas on which to design the home her clients wanted.
“The homeowner was looking for a minimalist feel and neutral palette, but with lots of textures and layers. Above all, she wanted everything to be comfortable for her young family,” says Riddell, who was soon hired for the job. “She and her husband often host informal gatherings, so rooms suitable for easy entertaining were also important.”
On the main level, Riddell began the design process by selecting two sizable Stark carpets—one for the dining room and one for the living room. Both are textured sisals with narrow twill banding; the one in the dining room has a subtle geometric pattern.
“I didn’t want the carpets to be exactly the same but to be compatible; I wanted to give the separate rooms different personalities right away,” explains Riddell. The two rooms lie across from each other, divided by a narrow center hall with a staircase leading up to the bedrooms.
The long living room proved a challenge. The rectangular space is anchored at one end by a fireplace sandwiched between built-in alcoves. To add symmetry, Riddell designed a wall of bookcases at the opposite end of the room; they house the well-traveled homeowners’ global collections and art books. “I wallpapered both the bookshelves and the alcove backs in a textured grasscloth,” says Riddell, who then layered in accessories sparingly.
“My approach for that—and for the rest of the design—was to integrate negative space balanced with solid blocks of interest,” the designer explains. “You can’t appreciate the accents unless you have a place for the eye to rest.”
In the living room, Riddell made the decision to split the floor plan into two separate seating arrangements that flow together as needed—ideal for hosting large groups. An eight-foot-long sofa slipcovered in Belgian linen grounds the fireplace end of the room, along with a pair of plush, velvet-upholstered armchairs. “I wanted it to be comfortable and cozy,” says Riddell. “On the opposite side, I used a six-foot-long matching sofa. The two seating areas are bridged by a couple of stools that can be pulled up to either side.”
Though the home’s overall palette is neutral, the spaces are far from boring. “To make neutral interesting you need layers of texture—not just in fabrics and textiles, but in furnishings and colors,” Riddell observes. In the living room, for example, she selected throw pillows in chocolate velvet mohair, ivory boiled wool and beige Belgian linen with contrasting coral tape. Materials are also highly varied, from a honed-travertine coffee table with wrought iron legs to a cerused oak side table.
“I find you can add a lot of character and individuality via side tables,” says Riddell, referring especially to a repurposed cylindrical gear block in its original wood finish that sits between the armchairs in the living room.
In the dining room, Riddell selected a repurposed trestle base and paired it with a new pine top to create a one-of-a-kind table. “For lighting, I wanted a moody atmosphere in the dining room,” she says. “The double metal chandeliers shed light up and down. They also have an industrial vibe,” she continues. “I find punches of black also add interest to a neutral space.”
On the patio, landscape architect Leslie Gignoux of Fritz & Gignoux designed a contemporary yet classic wrought-iron pergola above the teak dining table. During the warm months, the pergola is lush with wisteria, giving shade during the day and dispensing ambiance at night by way of pierced, canned lighting.
Riddell decorated this outdoor room with a mix of neutral materials ranging from wicker to concrete and also worked in global accents. The result is yet another textured and layered space for the homeowners to enjoy.
LIVING ROOM Sofas: rh.com. Matching Armchairs: leeindustries.com. Armchair Fabric: duralee.com. Wingback Chair: henredon.com. Wingback Chair Fabric: glant.com. Round Table by Wingback Chair: kravet.com. Coffee Table: Custom. Twin Ottomans & Upholstered Bench: bungalowclassic.com. Sisal Carpet: starkcarpet.com. Picture over Mantel: Mary Page Evans through addisonripleyfineart.com. Mirror over Sofa: Owners’ collection. Sconces over Sofa: Moss & Co.; 202-337-0540. Sculptures in Niches: luckettstore.com. Round Occasional Table between Chairs & Covered Woven Basket: palecek.com. Table Lamps: arteriorshome.com. Round Occasional Table by Sofa: centuryfurniture.com. Art between Windows: christousimis.com. Drapery Fabric: graylinelinen.com. Drapery Fabricator: Leang’s Interior & Distributor; 301-477-3065.
DINING ROOM Dining Table & Sideboard: Owners’ collection. Chairs: rh.com. Pendants over Table: urbanelectric.com. Lamp on Sideboard: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Art above Sideboard: douglasdavid.com. Art to Left of French Door: christousimis.com. Draperies: graylinelinen.com. Drapery Fabricator: Leang’s Interior & Distributor; 301-477-3065. Carpet: starkcarpet.com.
MASTER BEDROOM Bedstead & Night Tables: rh.com. Bedding & Window Treatment: graylinelinen.com. Fabricator: Leang’s Interior & Distributor; 301-477-3065. Bedside Lamps: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Art over Bedstead: callowayart.com.
COURTYARD Dining Table, Chairs & Server: janusetcie.com.