When it comes to real estate, the word “development” conjures images of bland neighborhoods stocked with cookie-cutter houses. Yet the DC area brims with charming residential enclaves that are, in fact, developments. Representing eras ranging from late-Victorian to Mid-Century Modern, many boast their own architectural vernacular. Case in point: a wide, tree-shaded street in Northwest DC lined with foursquare, post-Victorian homes. All are clad in painted stucco, adorned with gracious porches and bordered by picturesque picket fences.
A couple purchased one of these abodes in the mid-1980s, hired DC architect David Schwarz to update it, then got on with the chaotic business of raising four daughters. It wasn’t until the girls were grown and gone that they were ready to embark on a real change.
“When we had little kids, we didn’t want to invest in anything,” explains the wife, a photographer. “And when they were teenagers we felt the same. Things never really got pulled together.”
She and her husband, a lawyer, tapped designer Joe Ireland to redesign the interiors, requesting a fresh aesthetic that would maintain the spirit of their five-bedroom, circa-1908 home. “We went for classic style, but updated with a younger feel,” Ireland says.
Leaving the layout intact, he and his team transformed the house from the ground up, gutting and redesigning the basement, bathrooms, and kitchen, adding architectural flourishes and furnishing many spaces anew. “We introduced elements of the designs created by the architect into other rooms to keep the look consistent,” Ireland notes. “Consistency was one of the springboards for the design.”
For instance, the designer and his team brought cove lighting from the dining room into the living and family rooms and duplicated cabinet-door styles on additional built-ins. They squared off an archway that bisected the living room to match the openings to the entry hall, which are flanked by decorative columns—then added the same columns to the living room.
Ireland and his clients also took an editor’s approach to the material palette. The four-and-a-half baths all feature vertical-grain, honey-hued oak cabinetry, White Fantasy marble countertops and white-stone mosaic tile from Architectural Ceramics on the floors and tub and shower surrounds. The same marble also tops the anigré kitchen cabinets and clads the living room fireplace.
With new architectural elements in place, Ireland tackled the décor. Influenced by the wife’s penchant for purple, he introduced soft lavender, gray and cream, creating an understated backdrop for elegant yet comfortable furnishings. Twin Diamond Studios faux-finished the living and dining room walls: cream in the living room with a touch of mica to give it a little sparkle, and lavender glaze in the dining room to complement a large-scale, abstract canvas on one wall. Like the rest of the house, the dining room windows are dressed with both wood shutters and Roman shades.
Though his clients were ready to replace much of their furniture, Ireland found ways to incorporate a number of old favorites. In the living room, he took cues from matching Biedermeier chests already belonging to the owners that, he says, “exemplified their style.” At one end of the room, a Holly Hunt sofa faces a silk-velvet sofa and matching kidskin chairs by Josef Frank. At the other end, another Holly Hunt sofa pulls up to a custom coffee table with a sofa and chairs from The Bright Group in an abstract stripe. “We took things that were classic and put an updated spin on them,” Ireland explains. “We went contemporary but in a subtle way.”
Accent pieces from the online antique resource 1stdibs enhance the classically refined feel. These include Biedermeier occasional tables, Art Nouveau wood-framed chairs, graceful floor and table lamps and an Edwardian-era, glass-fronted cabinet beside the fireplace. A carpet by Stark was customized to fit the irregular space.
Ireland’s understated design allows the owners’ artwork—including a wealth of family and travel photography by the wife—to take center stage. The designer uniformly framed and hung pieces in galleries throughout the house.
Despite its formality, the home comfortably welcomes frequent visits from family members, including grandchildren. The guest bedrooms and renovated basement feature built-in daybeds. The sunken family room is all about comfort, with a Minotti sectional for TV viewing and a shag rug from Georgetown Carpet.
The owners are happy with the results of their makeover, which perfectly fits their changing needs as well as their idyllic, time-honored neighborhood.
Wall treatment: twindiamonds.com. 1930s Biedermeier Occasional Tables; Danish Modern Floor Lamps; French Blown-Glass 1040s Table Lamps; Edwardian Glass-Fronted Cabinet by Fireplace; Art Nouveau Chairs: 1stdibs.com. Window Shade Fabric: romo.com. Coffee Table by Fireplace & Biedermeier Chests: Clients’ collection. Twin Sofas: hollyhunt.com. Striped Sofa & Armchair: thebrightcompany.uk. Twin Armchairs & Velvet Sofa by Josef Frank: 1stdibs.com. Piping on kidskin chairs: samuelandsons.com. Brass-and-Parchment Coffee Table: Custom design by jdireland.com. Coffee Table Fabrication: woodsandstyle.com. Carpet: stark.com. Frames for Photos: Framesmith DC; 202-518-2500.
Glass-Topped Console: 1stdibs.com