Once their kids had flown the coop, Liz and Jim Underhill decided to sell their perch in Bethesda and start anew in DC’s Foxhall neighborhood. “Our former home was very traditional,” says Liz Underhill, who now shares a newly built, four-bedroom house with her husband, CEO of a commercial real estate firm. “We really enjoyed our old place, but over the years, our taste has changed. We wanted a cheerful-looking home with lighter and brighter colors. We’re also drawn to Southern style.”
Building and designing a house from scratch went smoothly for the couple, who started with an able team that included George Myers and Luke Olson of GTM Architects, Fine Earth Landscape and Sandy Spring Builders. As the project broke ground, the owners hired Bethesda interior designer Erica Burns to help them select everything from cabinetry design, trim and millwork to paint colors and floor stains, while also creating an overall decorating plan.
Special details set the colonial-style house with a whitewashed red-brick exterior apart from its neighbors. “They wanted a Southern plantation feel,” says GTM project manager Luke Olson. “So in lieu of a standard front-porch roof, we designed a decorative Chippendale-style balustrade. We also paired up the porch columns to allow for a more open feel, as well as a through-view to the shuttered French doors.”
Inside, arched case openings instead of square ones lead from the foyer into the dining room and library, which can be sealed off by way of a glass-paned pocket door. “The homeowners requested a cozy library at the front of the house—not a formal living room—so we paneled the entire space and finished it off in a high-gloss lacquer,” says Burns.
Unlike the typical wood tones found in most libraries, this one is paneled in turquoise. In fact, shades of turquoise drove the color palette for the entire home, along with complementary hues of blush and chartreuse, set against a neutral white backdrop. “Turquoise is a tricky color,” Burns attests. “It has to be the right shade and used in the right way. While turquoise is a common thread in the main living spaces, it’s expressed in different mediums and doses.” For example, the library’s glossy, saturated turquoise softens as it travels via a matte turquoise-and-cream wallpaper in the foyer to the dining room, where chairs are upholstered in linen of the same powdery-pale turquoise hue.
“The front spaces—foyer, library and dining room—play off each other, so all three had to work together,” explains Burns.
This is true not only of the color palette, but also of the furnishings. Burns blended new and existing pieces throughout the home, giving some of the older furniture—mostly antiques—a renewed finish or purpose. “The old dining table previously had red tones, so we stained it a chic, dark ebony and paired it with freshly upholstered dining chairs,” says the designer. “In the foyer, I repurposed an antique French chest as a table, but added a sense of whimsy to it with a sculpted-leaf table lamp in gold.” The brass-and-gold accents in the more formal front rooms are also a nod to Old World—and Southern—aesthetics, but like the airy, newly sourced light fixtures, they have an updated vibe.
Though the overhead lighting and kitchen hardware turn to a dark, oil-rubbed bronze in the more casual back of the house, turquoise brightens up the kitchen’s hand-painted backsplash tiles. Other kitchen features include an extended marble-topped island, part of which is raised to function as a built-in breakfast bar/table paired with tall Chippendale-backed chairs. Countertops are white marble and, as in the rest of the house, flooring is bleached white oak. On one side, a bar is ready for entertaining.
The open-plan kitchen connects to an eat-in dining nook and a family room, where a coffered ceiling lends definition. Neutral furnishings in these adjacent spaces are enlivened with accents of turquoise and chartreuse.
The family room celebrates the property’s gardens. “Bi-fold patio doors allow you to open up the wall between the family room and back terrace, extending the space outdoors for entertaining,” says Luke Olson.
Though chartreuse is picked up in the upstairs master bedroom in a mohair-velvet bolster, turquoise hues are ever-present in accents, as are gold and glossy wood finishes. For example, the white-lacquered nightstands have shiny gold keyholes and custom turquoise tassels. One of the smaller bedrooms was repurposed as Liz’s dressing room, which picks up blush hues in a lacquered island with a marble top.
“The master bathroom has a pretty quatrefoil border and café curtains, letting in light while maintaining privacy,” says Burns of the marble-clad space.
Now that the home is complete, the designer reflects, “It was a great process to be involved in this project from the ground up, as we were able to do a lot of things to make the home cohesive.”
Liz Underhill agrees, “It’s fun and fresh, while classic and timeless. Erica was able to translate our wishes into design.”
ARCHITECTURE: GEORGE T. MYERS, AIA, principal; LUKE OLSON, project manager, GTM Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: ERICA BURNS, Erica Burns Interiors, Bethesda, Maryland. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Fine Earth Landscape, Poolesville, Maryland. BUILDER: Sandy Spring Builders, Bethesda, Maryland.
Architecture: GTM Architects, gtmarchitects.com. Builder: Sandy Spring Builders; sandyspringbuilders.com. Interior Design: Erica Burns Interiors; ericaburns.com. Landscape Architecture: Fine Earth Landscaping; fineearth.com. Kitchen & Bath Design: Amy Collins, LLC; Potomac, Maryland.
FAMILY ROOM Round Table: Owners’ Collection. Green Table Lamp: stephengerould.com through johnrosselli.com. Art above Fireplace: karensmidth.com. Rug: galbraithandpaul.com. Sofas: leeindustries.com. Sofa Fabric: janechurchill.com. Chair: crlaine.com. Chair Fabric: manuelcanovas.com. Coffee Table: lillianaugust.com. Lucite Console: Custom through ericaburns.com. Benches below Console: randomharvesthome.com. Bench Fabric: sisterparishdesign.com. Pillows on Sofa: lacefielddesigns.com (blue solids) and quadrillefabrics.com (pattern). Grass Cloth in Bookcases: thibautdesign.com.
LIBRARY Mirror: Oliver Dunn; 202-338-7410. Wall Color: Mill Springs Blue by benjaminmoore.com. Sofa & Wing Chairs: leeindustries.com. Sofa Fabric: manuelcanovas.com. Wing Chair Fabric: cowtan.com. Drapery: rogersandgoffigon.com. Lamp & Sconce: visualcomfort.com. Lampshade Fabric: fortuny.com. Chest, Art & Coffee Table: Owners’ Collection. Pink Chair Fabric: fschumacher.com. Rug: fibreworks.com.
KITCHEN Cabinetry: Brookhaven (wood-mode.com) through Amy Collins. Marble Countertops: marblesystems.com. Hood & Ovens: thermador.com. Custom Backsplash: tabarkastudio.com. Roman Shade Fabric: galbraithandpaul.com. Barstools: davidfrancisfurniture.com. Pendants: visualcomfort.com.
MASTER BEDROOM Headboard & Bedframe: Already Covered Interiors & Upholstery; 703-204-1040. Headboard Fabric: duralee.com. Bedside Chests & Tassels: oomphonline.com. Rug: fowlercarpet.com. Roman Shade Fabric: christopherfarr.com. Lamps: arteriorshome.com. Bedding with Custom Monogram: juliab.com. Lumbar: rogersandgoffigon.com. Lumbar Trim: samuelandsons.com.