Many designers will tell you that the greatest professional compliment they can receive is a repeat client. Mary Drysdale—a venerated star in DC’s design constellation—boasts a stable of clients who hire her again and again to work her magic in their homes.
After collaborating with Drysdale on 11 projects over the past 20 years, one particular couple, now empty nesters, turned to the designer for help on their latest abode: a penthouse apartment in Bethesda with great views and a bustling, downtown location but underwhelming, builder-grade interiors. “Mary has a wonderful ability to bring together a project as a whole,” comments the wife. “She brings a natural flow between spaces that gives a home a sense of beauty and comfort.”
Drysdale began the transformation while the apartment was still unfinished. The original floor plan had called for a small entry vestibule and door into the living room, a short hall with closets off the entry and a separate kitchen. However, Drysdale and her clients envisioned a more open plan. “My goal was to create a sense of individual rooms in an open, light-filled space designed to show art well,” the designer says.
To bring in light and openness, she removed a wall separating the entry and hall. She also removed a bulky closet structure and in its place added an architectural room divider just large enough to accommodate a concrete structural column and plumbing lines. The change allows for easy circulation among spaces while also providing an opportunity for varied art display. The unit’s top-floor location made it possible for Drysdale to raise the ceiling height; she also eliminated bulkheads that obstructed the windows. Niches and recesses in the walls impart interest and frame artworks while glossy, white-lacquered built-ins below the windows offer storage and display space.
In the original plans, the kitchen was closed off and poorly laid out. Drysdale designed a new plan with a working island for food prep and one for gathering and casual meals. The kitchen flows into the living area, but concealed wall panels pull out to create a Dutch door-style barrier that contains the owners’ dogs when necessary. Decorative painter Tom Hickey complemented deep-gray custom cabinetry and gray quartz countertops with vertical gray-on-gray stripes of varying widths on the walls—a signature Drysdale decorative element that has cropped up in more than one of this couple’s homes.
A short hallway off the entry leads to the laundry and powder rooms, guest room and master suite, which was reconfigured to accommodate spacious his-and-her baths, closets and a home office. Drysdale designed glazed-maple panels that clad the walls of the master bedroom and deftly conceal storage, as well as matching, built-in glazed-maple nightstands. The room is an uncluttered study in restful neutrals, with the light wood tones offset by cream-colored bedding and Colefax & Fowler drapes. “It’s designed to be sort of quiet,” she explains. “It’s not a big room, but the light colors make it feel larger.”
The apartment offers vistas on three sides; roofs, softened by treetops, frame a wide expanse of sky. Balconies off the kitchen and master bedroom emphasize the views, but the star of the apartment is the spacious terrace, accessible through double glass doors in the living room. Designed by Guy Williams of DCA Landscape Architects, the outdoor oasis features containers of boxwood that frame living and dining areas. Clean-lined furnishings, a gas fireplace and a water feature lure guests outside to relax.
Drysdale and her clients have completed a range of residences over the years, from a cozy and traditional Shingle-style Maine cottage (their first project together) to a grand and formal 16,000-square-foot Potomac manse. By contrast, the penthouse is sleek and contemporary, showcasing dynamic modern art and low-slung furnishings that emphasize the views. “The story of the building dictates what you do for the house,” Drysdale comments. “I am not so interested in a particular style; I like the problem-solving within a space. I feel a personal connection to all the projects I’ve done.”
Now finished, this latest project perfectly reflects its owners’ vision. “We have a comfortable collaboration that has made each of our projects unique and exciting,” the wife notes. “As we’ve progressed through life, Mary has supported us with designs that fit our changing lifestyles.”
Drysdale concurs. “It’s not styles that have changed over time so much as how everyone is living their lives,” she says. “When we first met, my clients had young children. Now the kids are off to college and they’re ready for the next chapter.”
She adds, “I am the lucky person who gets to live their lives with them, respond to their needs and help them fulfill their dreams. It’s a really wonderful thing.”
Architectural & Interior Design: Mary Douglas Drysdale, Drysdale Design Associates, Washington, DC. Developer & Contractor: Toll Brothers, Horsham, Pennsylvania. Landscape Design: Guy Williams, DCA Landscape Architects, Washington, DC.
LIVING ROOM/DINING ROOM
Art above chest: donaldsultanstudio.com. Sculpture: through marydouglasdrysdale.com. Art over Black Stool: hemphillfinearts.com/artists/pat-steir. Sofa, Dining Table & Dining Chairs: theodores.com. Custom Pillows: marydouglasdrysdale.com. Pillow Fabric: romo.com. Custom Rug: marydouglasdrysdale.com. Custom Coffee Table: mitchellyanosky.com. Swivel Chairs: davisfurniture.com. Dining Stools: janusetcie.com. Demi-lune Chest: Clients’ collection. Art: hemphillfinearts.com/artists/linling-lu. Wall Piece: linnmeyers.com. Art above Demi-Lune: hemphillfinearts.com/artists/steven-cushner.