Architect Carmel Greer, principal of the six-year-old firm District Design, doesn’t impose a particular style on her residential projects. Instead, she lets a home tell her what it wants to be. “I never fight a house,” says Greer. “The house will always win.”
Her design approach is to play up the best architectural features of a home while creating spaces for contemporary living. In a recent DC row-house renovation, she salvaged the old floor joists and turned them into bedroom wall paneling. For another townhouse redesign, she converted the library into the dining room, but preserved the wood shelving and repainted it. “I try to leave some of the original characters of a house intact,” says the architect.
Greer treated her own home the same way, enhancing the good bones of a 1950s brick colonial in DC’s Kent neighborhood that she and husband Dan Baum, CEO of a public relations firm, purchased and remodeled in 2016. “It had been on the market forever,” she recalls. “No one else wanted it because it was so bizarrely chopped up and had not been updated since the 1970s.”
With its six bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms, the center-hall colonial was spacious enough for the couple, their four children and dog Aida without the need for an addition. “It is fundamentally a sturdy, well-built house and on a tremendous amount of land for the city,” notes Greer.
In renovating the home, her biggest move was to reconfigure the rooms along the rear of the main level to create a family zone. The original kitchen was expanded by taking over a former bathroom, closet, and hallway. Greer then updated the space with custom Shaker-style cabinets and a marble-topped island. Brass fixtures and hardware were chosen “to create a warm and glamorous look,” she says.
Next, to the kitchen, a walk-in closet and a bathroom were demolished to create a casual dining area. A custom-built corner banquette provides storage under the seats and a bar fitted with a wine cooler is topped by a walnut shelf.
The library next to the dining area was repurposed as a TV lounge and hang-out space. In contrast to the cream-colored rooms in most of the house, its walls and shelving are painted a deep blue. Modern pony-skin chairs, a tufted-leather sofa, and a brass drum coffee table reflect Greer’s eclectic decorating style. “I like a dark, intimate room that can be cozy at night,” says the architect, who helps most of her clients design their interiors.
In the front of the house, the living and dining rooms were largely preserved intact with only cosmetic changes. Furnishings in gray and neutral colors combine with a mix of textures—including metals, marble, velvet, and fur—to create a moody atmosphere in the living room.
Linen slipcovered chairs and a wooden table in the dining room rest on a practical rug designed for outdoor use. Among the artwork in the space is The Rattlesnake, a bucking bronco sculpted in bronze by Frederic Remington.
Greer established a more gracious introduction to the home by combining two small chambers into a single entrance foyer. She moved the original dining room’s crystal chandelier to this space and mounted brass fleur-de-lis-shaped hooks on one wall for hanging coats. Plastic “marble” tiles were replaced by wood flooring in a herringbone pattern to complement the original oak floors in the living and dining rooms.
After removing skimpy, builder-grade trim, Greer installed more substantial moldings and raised the doorways between spaces to make the main-level rooms feel taller. “Enlarging these openings sounds like a small thing,” she observes, “but it makes a big difference in the house not feeling claustrophobic.”
Upstairs, part of an oversized bedroom became a large closet serving the master bedroom, which is simply furnished with a streamlined canopy bed and mirrored nightstands. The master bathroom was enlarged by incorporating a former sewing room into space. The same Calacatta Vagli marble used in the kitchen clads the shower and tops the vanities, which feature hammered-metal sinks. The architect added a sculptural, freestanding soaking tub, but admits that her three-year-old daughter Gracie is the only one who regularly uses it.
While Greer, who studied architecture at Yale, respected the formality of the original house, she didn’t take it too seriously. Whimsical vintage pieces, stripped-down furnishings, and abstract artwork keep the design upbeat and modern. As she notes, “I wanted to take the stodginess out of the colonial.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Stacy Zarin Goldberg is a photographer in Olney, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: CARMEL GREER, AIA, LEED AP, District Design, Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: Quality Carpentry Group, Rockville, Maryland.
LIVING ROOM Sofas: tovfurniture.com. Klismos Chair: Owners’ collection. Coffee Tables: dwr.com. Photograph over Fireplace: Michael Bonfigli; mbonfigli.com. Wire Chairs: dotandbo.com. Corner Bench: Antique. Rug: therugcompany.com. Side Table: Owners’ collection. Table & Floor Lamps: Vintage.
ENTRY Chair: restorationhardware.com.
DINING ROOM Sideboard: luckettstore.com. Sculpture on Sideboard: Frederic Remington. Art above Sideboard: Artist Unknown, from Maine. Green Vase: Vintage from Paris. Dining Table & Chairs: Owners’ collection. Rug: dashandalbert.annieselke.com.
KITCHEN Cabinetry: Custom. Countertoplasermandg.com. Pendants: circalighting.com.Desk Chair: Vintage. Range: lacornueusa.com through williams-sonoma.com. Microwave: bosch-home.com through ajmadison.com. The painting above Desk: Owners’ collection. Painting, Right of Desk: christchilddc.org. Ceiling Lights: industriallightelectric.com. Sink Fixture: rohl-home.com through ferguson.com.
LIBRARY Sofa: westelm.com. Coffee Table: anthropologie.com. Glass Table: eileengray.com through dwr.com. Floor Lamp: Vintage. Art: Carmel Greer. Cowhide Chair: Vintage, Le Corbusier LC2 collection. Rugs: Cowhide from Argentina. Paint Color: Clark & Kensington’s Midnight Oil; acehardware.com.
MASTER BEDROOM Bed: roomandboard.com. Bedding: horchow.com. White Rug: overland.com. Black Rug: dashandalbert.annieselke.com. Large Painting: Artist unknown. Nightstand & Lamp: horchow.com. Small Sketch: Carmel Greer. Wooden Stool: Eames through hermanmiller.com.