After purchasing a builder-grade, 1990s condo in Reston, the owner approached designer Alison Giese to give it an overhaul with an eye on sophistication. As Giese recalls, the newly single client said, “This is going to be my forever home; I want it to be my haven.”
The two-bedroom corner unit was blessed with high ceilings and plenty of natural light, but lacked character. “She wanted it to be feminine but not ‘grandma,’” the designer explains. “Once or twice, she mentioned the feel of a Parisian apartment—that became our jumping-off point.”
To set the scene, Giese replaced bland wall-to-wall carpet with low-maintenance, pre-finished wood floors and created gravitas with upgraded doors and millwork.
She revamped the kitchen, evoking a timeless look with pale-gray cabinetry and subway tile. An enlarged pass-through opens to the dining area, where a niche lined with bookshelves acts as a “walk-through library.” In the reworked master bath, an outdated corner tub and second sink were traded for a soaking tub and enlarged shower clad in marble. Eclectic furnishings and accessories—from the live-edge dining table with a metal base to a hand-knotted Stark rug that riffs on ancient Persian motifs—were carefully curated to suggest they’d been collected over a lifetime. “I wanted it to be cool without looking like we were trying to be cool,” Giese remarks. “Isn’t that the essence of a French woman? Her style seems effortless.”
Is there a secret to creating a cohesive look in an open floor plan?
Your eye should carry through the space in a way that isn’t jarring; in this home, I wanted to blur the lines between the different zones. I didn’t think too many patterns were appropriate because they would stop your eye. The fact that the window treatments are the same in each zone makes you focus on pieces that have more interest.
What drove the millwork designs?
Ceilings in the apartment are at least nine feet high, which allowed us to add substantial trim and give it some body. We wanted a stronger profile on the crown molding and baseboards, but knew we couldn’t go over the top. We didn’t want anything too heavy or colonial-style, so we chose clean and tailored profiles that felt special without being overly ornate.
Explain the color palette you were going for.
The taupey-linen color of the client’s original sofa drove a lot of our selections. We were looking for softness, adding blush tones in the pillows and rugs. But we didn’t want it to look sweet, which is why the media cabinet is black. Anything else might have started looking “syrupy” with the pink elements. Because it’s not a really big space, it was important that the coffee table be clear. Visually, it doesn’t take up a lot of real estate and feels more ethereal.
How do you combine styles and eras in a furniture scheme?
I think it’s easier to mix periods when selecting iconic, classic pieces. We use a lot of Tulip tables because they work with almost any kind of chair. As long as you’re not picking the most obscure things from each period, it works.
Name a strategy that keeps a client’s budget in check.
A client may not have thousands of dollars to spend on an original, one-of-a-kind rug. One solution is to buy a neutral, base-layer rug that’s not quite as expensive, then layer a smaller, one-of-a-kind rug on top.
What is your philosophy on mixing metals?
It’s always a bit of a dance to convince clients that it’s okay to mix metals. Sometimes brass tones are hard to match if they’re not true brass. In the kitchen, we offset brass and stainless-steel accents with a faucet in polished nickel, which has a little more warmth and plays nicely with brass.
What role does lighting take on in the apartment?
We chose lighting that adds to the home’s eclecticism. Even though none of the lighting is actually vintage, we made it look like it was collected over time, that she had just found things she loved and brought them into her apartment. There’s nothing that really “matches,” and that’s on purpose.
How do you create an authentic, personalized look with accessories?
It’s not about me coming in and saying, “You have to have this; it’s the new hot thing.” It’s about finding what’s best for the design and putting those things together. We didn’t want the home to look like it was newly furnished. I try to gather objects over time to avoid a mad dash to the store to fill a space. Accessories should feel very thoughtful and be pieces the client thinks are cool and unique. The final layer finishes the picture and lets the vision come to life.
How do you create drama in a space?
By painting elements black. Like putting on eyeliner, it dresses everything up.
Design trend past its time?
If there’s trend I’m tired of, gray would be it. But that’s not to say I don’t love gray—I have it in my home.
What’s your take on timeless design?
When clients say they want timeless, they’re speaking my language. It’s not about what’s flying off the shelves; it’s what they love and what we can put together cohesively.
Favorite go-to furnishings?
I’m excited about handmade items. Consumers are seeking out something that looks original and not like everybody else’s.
Classic look making a comeback?
Cane detailing and wicker. I love seeing these elements back again.
Interior Design: Alison Giese, Alison Giese Interiors, Burke, Virginia. Contractor: Robert Hoaren Licensed Contractor, Inc., Haymarket, Virginia. Styling: Stylish Productions.