The interiors of the ’40s-era Arlington home shared by husbands John Palmer and Ray Taylor were showing their age. A tight layout within the compact, Cape Cod-style abode, which Palmer purchased in 1997, compounded the problem and inevitably prompted action. “The format wasn’t working for us,” recalls Taylor, a real-estate appraiser. “It wasn’t about making the house bigger. It was about making it more livable and functional—and giving it grown-up flair.”
Interior designer Paul Corrie accepted the challenge. The owners had previously enlisted him to decorate a couple of rooms and trusted his keen eye to guide a major renovation and redesign. “Paul figures out what we like,” says Palmer, a software executive. “Then he takes us down a road that works for both of us.”
The first step was reconfiguring the layout of the 1,200-square-foot house. The team started by flipping the positions of the dining room and kitchen, so the kitchen moved to the back of the house while the dining room was relocated in front. Removing an entryway wall improved the flow between the dining and living rooms, which are used for entertaining. “John and Ray wanted an open floor plan that would be more conducive to their lifestyle,” reveals Corrie. “We wanted to modernize the space without disrupting the original bones too much.”
Taking advantage of a bedroom and hall bath at the back of the first floor, the team shifted the bathroom’s doorway from the hall to the bedroom to create en-suite guest quarters. Upstairs, walls shifted to establish a more spacious master bedroom and an office. A lower-level recreation zone received a décor refresh during the recent undertaking.
With the new layout in place, Corrie introduced architectural elements that lean toward modern. For example, he traded the existing wood stair banister for one of his own design featuring black, wrought-iron balusters that provide “a particular level of detail and high contrast,” he explains. An ebony-walnut finish revived the original hardwood floors.
In the new kitchen, custom cabinets, painted a putty-gray hue, extend to the ceiling for maximum storage. Honed-soapstone countertops and a farmhouse sink “create a timeless aesthetic that fits with the rest of the house,” Corrie notes. A vintage, flea-market ladder adds another layer of charm.
A full-gut makeover transformed the first-floor guest bathroom. With honed-marble subway tiles and unlacquered brass fittings, it illustrates Corrie’s use of materials and finishes to instill a sense of luxury, even in modest quarters. As the designer points out, “You see a consistent theme, a masculine-chic vibe, throughout the house.” His dominant palette of black, white and warm neutrals supports that feel.
So does the masterful mix of new and old furnishings. Corrie has a knack for blending laid-back retail pieces with antiques of various provenances. The living room provides proof: an RH leather sofa and linen-covered, tufted chair sit companionably with a French armchair and an American butcher-block side table, both from the 1800s. “The number-one priority was that the spaces be comfortable and livable, but they also had to reflect a certain taste and sophistication,” maintains Corrie.
“We wanted a casual but adult environment, nothing super fussy,” Palmer concurs. “You can put your feet up here and relax.”
The couple also sought interiors that tell their story. In response, Corrie deftly incorporated meaningful possessions into his carefully balanced schemes. For instance, he paired vintage dining chairs (one of the couple’s first purchases together) with a new zinc table inspired by a 1940s Belgian design. “There’s a subtle juxtaposition but I didn’t want to take it too far in a modern direction,” he explains. “I respected the pieces they already had and created an eclectic mix of things that quietly marry well.”
According to the designer, his clients enjoy being “surrounded by things they love.” In the living room, RH étagères display Taylor’s trove of 19th-century French confit pots. Corrie also framed black-and-white family photographs and scattered them throughout the home. A trio surrounds an antique, giltwood mirror in the hallway and two hang above the guest bedroom’s metal headboard—kept company by a flea-market, taxidermic find.
“I do a lot of layering,” notes the designer. “I try to present it in a way that looks lived-in, not museum-like. I worked to find the right environment to showcase each of these collections in their best light.”
There’s talk of more layers to come. An antique Oushak rug for the master bedroom tops the couple’s 2020 wish list, and the pair plans to call Corrie when they are ready to invest. So what first drew them to the casually elegant aesthetic of their designer, who they discovered on Facebook? “We both lead stressful lives at times,” says Taylor. “Paul’s work looked very soothing but very luxe. It looked like something we would want to come home to.”
Interior Design: Paul Corrie, Paul Corrie Interiors, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Aaron Daley, Remodeling & Restoration Services, Arlington, Virginia.
Sofa, Tufted Chair, Etageres: rh.com. Curved-Back Chair: foxgloveantiques.com through 1stdibs.com. Side Table: spindlerantiques.com through 1stdibs.com. Table Lamp & Wall Sconce: industrialartifacts.net.