Designers and collectors have been known to wait hours for the doors to open at Georgetown’s Marston Luce Antiques when one of its seasonal shipments arrives. Sourced by owner Marston Luce at fairs, flea markets and brocantes from Paris to Provençe, this precious booty has a devoted clientele. They come, one Connecticut-based designer explains, “Not just for the quality of the antiques, but to enjoy Marston’s eye for one-of-a-kind pieces and the unexpected ways he puts them together.”
Not surprisingly, Luce brings the same deft curator’s eye to the Northwest DC residence he’s lived in for 25 years. Though a private person, he recently opened the 1929 center-hall colonial to Home & Design following a decision to downsize. His house is full of mementos and antique furnishings collected with his late wife, Julie. But his life changed with a new marriage in 2017, and he has elected to start afresh. “I’m ready for a new chapter,” he says as he prepares for the move. “A bit of Biblical wisdom reminds me of what I’m taking along: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’”
The three-bedroom house he leaves behind abuts a quiet street near a wooded stretch of Rock Creek Park. Luce’s green thumb drew him to the tree-shaded residence, happily situated just a few miles from his Georgetown shop, yet away from the urban bustle. He designed a picket fence and gate after a style he saw and admired in New England, bordering it with a layer of boxwood for privacy. The sloping backyard was leveled with 30 truckloads of dirt to accommodate a secluded garden; Luce now enjoys the view with a glass of wine while sitting in the adjacent covered loggia, nestled below the kitchen wing.
Over the years, Luce made changes to the house that spanned its three stories. Small windows on one side of the dining room were replaced with longer, graceful models, while an addition remodeled and enlarged the kitchen to encompass a breakfast nook. Updating the bathrooms allowed him to incorporate antique panels he’d acquired in France in the master suite. Several fireplace mantels were replaced with ones of American provenance; visitors would never guess that the dining-room mantel—faux-painted to look like a limestone antique from France—is actually of American Civil War vintage. Wide-plank oak floors, previously stained black, were stripped and pickled to create a sense of lightness. Luce embellished the dining room with a coffered ceiling and subtly striaed walls, while walls in the front hall were scored to look like masonry.
Although he specializes in French antiques, Luce did not set out to create an authentic French abode. “I wanted to open the house to the outside for a sense of lightness, which the French do so well,” he says. “But a truly French house requires French architecture. My home is American and furnished with French antiques.”
Many of its furnishings are of period-French origin and rare—de rigueur for a dealer in the business since 1981. Luce also owns a country house in France’s Dordogne region and makes it his base as he combs the country for the special pieces that have clinched his reputation. Among favorites he’s kept over the years: a 1750 commode with its original green paint and a Roman-inspired chair from the pre-Napoleonic Consulate period. A circa-1800 map of Italy and a gilt dove—formerly a building finial—are examples of overscaled furnishings added for the moment of surprise they impart. His combinations are deft—a talent that comes, he says, from “buying because I respond to a piece and then figuring out how I’ll work it in later. Good things are good company for each other.” But he also likes oddities. “When it goes against convention, it says something interesting,” he observes, noting a pair of mid-20th-century linen angels’ wings bought at a fair in Brussels and probably used in a Christmas pageant. “Some people call me a dealer,” he remarks, “but I think of myself as the head of the lost-and-found department for things unappreciated and undervalued.”
Since the early 1980s, DC designer Ann Andrews has provided Luce with options for textiles, wallcoverings and finishes that freshen the backdrop for his collections. She adheres to a cardinal rule in the Luce decorating lexicon: “Even though antiques are intrinsically formal, never invoke a formal mood around them.” After helping him arrange his collection of green pottery on the living-room shelves, she provided swatches of fabric for slipcovering a favorite club chair. Luce’s choice of pale green punctuates the room’s verdant sensibility. “I credit myself with knowing him well enough to gather the right choices,” Andrews says. “He makes the decision in five seconds.”
Luce attributes the confidence of his eye for beauty to almost 50 years as a keen observer. The clients who regularly queue in front of his shop detect this high level of connoisseurship. “It’s my business to see more than most people,” he reflects. “An object should deliver as much pleasure to a client as it does to me.” What he buys, he treasures.
Interior Design: Marston Luce, Marston Luce Antiques, Washington, DC, and Ann Andrews, Ann Andrews Interiors, Washington, DC.
All antiques and furnishings through marston luce.com.