When Mindy Frankel decided to renovate her circa-1940s house in Bethesda, it turned out to be more cost-effective to tear down the outdated residence and start afresh. She hired architect Mark Giarraputo of Studio Z to design a new home that would reflect its vintage neighborhood while giving her the conveniences she desired.
During the planning stages, Frankel—a sign-language interpreter and single mom—tapped Erica Burns to help guide her through the process of selecting furnishings and finishes. “I wanted an updated traditional look,” she says. “I prefer things that are classic and timeless.”
This was familiar turf for Burns, who leans towards this sensibility in her work. “I love things rooted in traditional style,” she explains.
Burns and her client conceived a plan that would build “a tailored, classic foundation” in a soft, neutral palette punctuated by colorful rugs and artwork. To create a visual interplay, the designer chose traditional custom furniture, then blended it with Urban Electric light fixtures with an industrial edge. Details, such as window treatments fabricated by Gretchen Everett with delicate contrast stitching, finish each room.
The result is just what the owner wanted—and more. “It was bittersweet when the project was over,” Frankel reflects. “This was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Erica really made this place feel like a home.”
What was the starting point for the project?
The kitchen cabinets. I arrived just as the kitchen design was happening and Mindy had already picked out Thermador appliances. She is a good cook and kitchen function was very important to her. She had inspiration photos to get us started. We chose cabinets from Stuart Kitchens painted in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove.
What kitchen features stand out?
We commissioned a rolled-steel hood from Custom Metals of Virginia and selected soapstone peripheral countertops that will darken over time. The ceramic subway-tile backsplash is from Architectural Ceramics. The six-by-seven-foot island is dark-stained, topped with a huge slab of honed Absolute Black granite. I love the woven-leather counter stools from Holly Hunt.
What aspect of this project was most challenging?
Mindy did not want any “wow” moments in terms of color or pattern, so I integrated tones and textures in neutrals to keep the rooms interesting. I did it by layering elements. It was a challenge I enjoyed!
How do you create a timeless patina in a home that isn’t old?
We picked materials that look aged, like the kitchen backsplash tile, which is handmade and doesn’t have that fabricated look. The floor tile in the master bath is made of tumbled slate with natural chips in it that make it feel older. The imperfections in materials create that sense of age.
How would you distinguish an updated traditional look from a transitional one?
A transitional look is more on-trend, with pops of color. A traditional look can be a little fussy or ornate, which was also not what Mindy was looking for. She wanted something timeless. I think of updated traditional as more tailored with a classic foundation. It’s what I do a lot of—that “new traditional” look.
Can you talk about the fireplace?
The fireplace selection was a process. We didn’t want something that looked out-of-the-box, and Mindy didn’t want glass or metal cluttering the front of it. This is a prefabricated unit made of cast stone, but it looks like masonry. It’s a wood-burning firebox with a gas log insert.
What is special about the floor?
The floor is wide-plank white oak with a custom stain that mixes white and gray. The stain is unusual and has a lot of depth. It really creates interest.
How did you choose the furnishings?
Part of what made this project work so well was the amount of customization we were able to do. All the furniture is custom-measured so it fits the spaces perfectly. The fabrics are beautiful linen or linen-and-cotton blends, but we used stain-resistant Perennials indoor-outdoor fabric on the Lillian August dining chairs and Schumacher performance linen on the Lee Industries sofa.
What are the highlights of the master bath?
We paired heated, tumbled-slate floors with marble surfaces. For an MTI soaking tub in the window niche, we used plumbing fixtures by Newport Brass. The double vanity features Kohler sinks and a beautiful Valley Gold marble countertop from Marble Systems. I really pushed for a curb-less shower, which looks so clean. The shower has Calacatta Chablis marble tiles from Architectural Ceramics and a marble floating bench.
How did you select the art?
The art and rugs bring color into the interiors. Mindy had art from her family and we also commissioned some. The painting over the mantel is by Michelle Armas in Atlanta. We sent her a piece of wallpaper Mindy loved and she created the art based on that. The modern piece in Mindy’s home office was commissioned from Kayce Hughes.
Can you name a favorite design element in the house?
The window treatments by Gretchen Everett are beautiful—custom pleated and cross-stitched. It’s those subtle details that make the difference. I love this house because it feels like it’s been here a long time. It’s the combination of architecture, materials, furnishings. It’s homey.
What is your personal style?
I would call myself a ”new traditionalist.” I use classic pieces, but with fresh colors and patterns layered in a way that keeps things interesting yet timeless.
Advice for clients?
Never do one room in your house at a time. Even if you’re going to purchase for only one room, you need an overall plan or you’ll end up redesigning spaces.
How do you create a cohesive space?
Look at the house as a whole. Try to repeat similar colors or moods in different ways in each room. Don’t use the same colors everywhere; you can be subtle.
Design pet peeve?
Things should be contemporary or classic. That in-between space often doesn’t stand the test of time.
What about trends?
They can be fun. My advice is, just don’t put too many trendy items in the same space. A little editing can go a long way.
Architecture: Mark Giarraputo, AIA, Studio Z Design Concepts, LLC, Bethesda, Maryland. Interior Design: Erica Burns, Erica Burns Interiors, Bethesda, Maryland. Builder: Doug Monsein, Douglas Construction Group, LLC, Potomac, Maryland.