Renting a pre-War apartment in the District’s Adams Morgan neighborhood inspired designer Rachel Dougan to refresh the spacious, two-bedroom unit with an eclectic mix of furnishings, new paint and edgy artworks. “Preserving the character of the space—not taking out molding details or changing the floors—was essential,” says Dougan. “But I didn’t want it to look like a rental.”
The residence is part of a 1926 cooperative apartment building located near Meridian Hill Park. “It is a grande dame of a building with good bones,” Dougan notes. The Neoclassical structure was designed by architect Joseph Younger, who later created the Kennedy-Warren on Connecticut Avenue.
In customizing the home for herself and husband Jim Dougan, an economic consultant, the designer abandoned the typical approach of embracing a neutral interior palette and accenting it with colorful accessories. Instead, she played up dramatic light-and-dark contrasts—including furniture in bright shades—to enliven the rooms and set off their graceful proportions and details.
“This apartment was the first instance where most of our things ended up out in the open, versus packed away in storage,” says Rachel. “During the process of pulling our home together, it was a challenge not to have it look like a yard sale, but I like the result, which is a very honest representation of us and how we live. What makes it work is celebrating juxtapositions and not taking anything too seriously.”
Dougan’s eclectic blending of high-end designs, big-box store bargains and flea-market finds—all in different styles, colors and textures—assembled into bold but livable spaces is the hallmark of her DC firm, ViVi Interiors. After partnering with the late Washington designer Jerry Copeland for several years, she launched her own practice in 2015.
The Dougans’ Adams Morgan apartment (the couple recently moved to a row house in Woodley Park) offered plenty of room for design experimentation. It opens to a 17-foot-long foyer leading to a corner living room with windows on two sides. “I loved the light in that room, the furniture, the breezes through the open windows in the spring and fall, and being surrounded by artwork and books,” says Jim.
Adjoining the living area are a guest room, bathroom and master suite. Next to the foyer is a dining room and at one end of that space is the kitchen.
To gain more storage space, Dougan turned the service entrance area in the kitchen into a pantry. A corridor between the foyer and master bedroom, originally intended for servants, became a walk-in closet.
Tall bookcases stretching along the foyer wall extend into the living area to create a library. “They look like they are built-in and architecturally intentional, but I bought them from Ikea,” Dougan reveals. “The wall behind the shelving and gaps between the units were painted black to disappear and give them a custom look.”
Intense hues and geometric shapes enliven each space. “At the core of my aesthetic is a leaning toward cleaner lines and spots of saturated color, which is the common thread I used to pull it all together,” explains Dougan.
Gold shimmers on the chevron-patterned metallic wallpaper on the foyer ceiling, panels inside the bookshelves and an Asian screen in the living room. A deep purple wall behind a contemporary four-poster bed anchors the master suite. A blue sofa, green swivel seating and vividly striped, upholstered chairs brighten the living and dining rooms.
Recycled from the Dougans’ previous homes, the furniture includes low-slung seating collected for a mid-century dwelling and traditional pieces and antiques purchased for an historic row house. “They all have curves and shapes that relate to each other,” explains the designer about her mingling of periods and styles. “But you can’t just throw things together. You have to consider the visual weight, proportions, scale and color of each element so they work in balance.”
Artwork adds another layer of visual interest. Jim collects comic book illustrations—an “under-appreciated art form, but there’s a whole realm of amazing artists working in the field,” he notes. Several of his favorite pieces are arrayed in the apartment, including a print by Sin City comic series artist Frank Miller. A statuette of superhero Iron Man is displayed in the living room bookcase and hanging on a nearby door are depictions of the character Sally Jupiter from the Watchmen movie.
“Rachel has a good sense of how to create a unified whole,” observes Jim. “She definitely reflected both of our tastes.” He adds: “If I feel something is not quite working, I’ll let her know. But generally, she’s right.”
Interior Design: Rachel Dougan, ViVi Interiors, Washington, DC.
Table: lexmod.com. Side Chairs: Vintage. Dining Chair Fabric: scalamandre.com. Swivel Chairs: Vintage. Center Table: curreyandcompany.com. Foot Stool: jonathanadler.com. Credenza: ikea.com. French Deco Antique Chandelier: artisanlamp.com . Photograph: tamarlevine.com. “Mascarpone” Paint Color: benjaminmoore.com.
White Sofa: bebitalia.com. Indonesian Coffee Table: Vintage. Table Under Coffee Table: molteni.it/us. Poufs: cb2.com. White Chairs & Blue Sofa: mgbwhome.com. Blue Sofa Fabric: fabricut.com. Gold Pedestal: target.com. Vintage Black Chest: goodwooddc.com. Sisal Rug: Sisal: floorson14.com. Fabric on Pillow & Josef Hoffmann Bench: kravet.com. Martini Table: americaneyewdc.net. Pillow Fabric on Blue Sofa: dedar.com. Floor Lamp: circalighting.com.
Rug: stark.com. Bed: cb2.com. Bedding: sferra.com. “Pelt” Wall Color: farrowandball.com. Slipper Chair: Vintage. Nightstand: ikea.com. Table Lamps: curreyandcompany.com. Drapery Fabric: fabricut.com. Drapery Fabrication: stevensonvestal.com. Antique Armoire: French Deco.