Any designer will tell you that trust is pivotal to a successful project. Nowhere is this important ingredient more evident than in a Logan Circle condo where the owner gave designer Dane Austin carte blanche. The eye-catching and ingenious results are a tribute to both the designer’s skill and his strong relationship with his client. “This was the third project we worked on together,” observes Austin. “There was a lot of trust between us.”
When the homeowner, a communications executive, purchased the two-bedroom unit in a vintage brownstone, he tapped Austin to overhaul the kitchen and bathrooms and make the space more livable, planning on an extensive redesign when he could afford it. However, fate played a hand when, shortly after the renovation in 2017, a fire in the building virtually destroyed the home.
“He was devastated at first, but then realized he’d have the opportunity to do a lot more,” recalls Austin. “He said, ‘Remember all those great ideas you had? Let’s go for it.’” During the subsequent gut renovation, they sought out unique details—from flooring and tile to hinges and trim—that would create a much more personalized space.
The renovation retained the unit’s original layout, where visitors enter on the ground floor. From the front door, a short hall leads to the living/dining area and kitchen while an adjacent staircase descends to the master bedroom and den on the lower level, partially below grade.
In the small kitchen, custom cabinetry was installed in lacquered white and stainless steel with frosted-glass doors, along with a wine fridge. The green-marble countertop and backsplash are a stand-out, picking up a subtle olive hue in the Schumacher vine-and-leaf wallpaper, which was a holdover from the kitchen’s previous iteration that the client loved and re-ordered.
“I always presented what I called vanilla, chocolate and strawberry options,” relates Austin. “Vanilla being safe; chocolate being rich and sophisticated; and strawberry being the ‘joyful verve’ option. He always went for the verve. He liked the wow factor—unexpected whimsy within a design.” Thus, white countertops (vanilla) and soft, blue-gray stone (chocolate) lost out to eye-catching green (strawberry).
The “joyful verve” option was applied throughout the home, coming across in playful mixes of materials, colors and textures that are surprising yet were carefully considered. In the living area, Austin explains, he made the builder-grade fireplace a focal point by cladding it in a faux three-dimensional veneer by Phillip Jeffries that “adds gravitas and gives it presence.” Wall coverings deliver pattern and interest, juxtaposed with disparate fabrics, rugs and art that somehow create a unified whole.
Color provides connectivity. “I think it’s very important to have threads that run through your spaces; these threads are always color in my designs,” Austin notes. “Any color can be neutral if it’s used often enough.” In the living area, moldings and trim painted china blue, a shade drawn from an Asian-inspired artwork hanging by the stairs, combine with robin’s egg blue shutters and a pale-blue Thibaut wall covering flecked with gold; these hues also appear in the powder room’s ikat wallpaper by Schumacher.
The same colors crop up downstairs, where the master bedroom’s Phillip Jeffries grass-cloth wall covering hints at a layer of light blue that Austin had back-painted under it, while olive-green molding trims the space.
The designer pulled out all the stops in the den, where a graphic Seabrook wall covering makes a surprisingly complementary backdrop for mid-century art in deep, primary hues. “The wallpaper has all the shades of blue found throughout the house in it,” he says. “It made an interesting pairing with the art.”
Furnishings and accessories in a mix of styles and eras invigorate every room. “We plan for about 80 percent of the furniture and let the other pieces show themselves,” Austin explains. “Things are collected from travels, shopping and markets. They can’t all come from one place at one time because it will feel that way.”
In the main living area, a vintage burlwood dining table and leather-upholstered chairs are tucked into an alcove by a chinoiserie commode; a custom Landry & Arcari rug anchors an adjacent seating area with an iron-and-stone coffee table and a velvet sofa. “The steel-and-bamboo light fixture by Ironies was a great find,” recounts the designer. “Encased in white resin, it feels like a digitized cloud. The client fell in love with it.”
The front entry also reflects his vision. He commissioned Stacey Tranter of Twin Diamond Studios to faux-paint the drab front door in vivid red and gold, shaded in a pattern that looks three-dimensional, then installed a colorful runner that echoes the door’s geometric motif. Three Urban Electric pendants introduce the olive-green hue, and gold-leaf accents adorn the nearby china-blue banister. Like everything else, it works—though Austin can’t quite explain why. “I wish I could say there’s a magic formula, but it’s instinct,” he comments. “I often think of what I do as conducting an orchestra. I pull all these different elements together in a way that looks cohesive and feels harmonious.”
Sofa: boconcept.com. Barrel-Back Chair: mgbw.com. Leather Occasional Chair: roomandboard.com. Rug: landryandarcari.com. Coffee Table: globalviews.com. Chinoiserie Commode: chairish.com. Milo Baughman Dining Table: Spanish-Style Armchair: Vintage. Folding Screen: Custom. Screen Fabric: fortuny.com. Dining Chairs: henredon.com. Chair Leather: barbarabarry.com. Onyx Ceramic Lamps: bunnywilliamshome.com. Wall Covering: thibautdesign.com. Chandelier: ironies.com through hollyhunt.com. Art over Sofa: goodwooddc.com. Fireplace Veneer Wall Covering: phillipjeffries.com. Trim Paint: ppgpaints.com.
Wallpaper: seabrookwallpaper.com. Sofa: Custom by daneaustindesign.com. Artwork, Coffee Table: Vintage. End Table: henredon.com. Eames Lounge Chair: dwr.com. Armchair on Wood Base: kravet.com. Rug: carpetimpressions.com.