Upsizing from a DC condo to a spec house in Kensington, Maryland, a professional couple approached designer Kirsten Anthony Kaplan to give its bland, builder-grade rooms a shot of sophisticated style. “The wife is in government and he’s an educator,” recounts Kaplan. “She drove most of the process because her taste is really specific. In fact, she sent me 10 pages of her likes and preferences.”
Nestled on a block of similar homes with traditional exteriors, the residence becomes more modern inside, with an open passage from the foyer back to the kitchen and family room. On one side, a small formal living area and larger dining area are separated by columns and a wide, cased opening. Stairs by the front door lead up to the master suite, guest room, home office and sitting room. “My clients didn’t want the house to feel cookie-cutter,” Kaplan says. “They were willing to take some chances.”
Describe your client’s aesthetic.
The wife gravitates to an industrial-modern look with occasional touches of glam. She’s very exacting in her design viewpoint—modern, spare and clean-lined. It’s about the look for her: She loves the lines of things.
Given that this was a spec home, how did you impart individuality to the interiors?
I added wainscoting in the living and dining areas and in the mudroom, where I used a patterned encaustic floor tile. I covered the dining room’s walls and cove ceiling with Phillip Jeffries vinyl grass cloth that I also used on the family room’s coffered ceiling to create contrast and connect the spaces. And the clients are bibliophiles, which made it easy because books add interest.
How did you incorporate an industrial-modern sensibility?
The inspiration for the design was metal-and-wood industrial shelving that the clients already had. They hold the books in the family room and are used for displaying objects in the upstairs office. Much of the lighting is industrial in style, with some furnishings made with metal and wood. We layered the spaces with vintage objects such as the antique letter press on the family room coffee table.
Describe your theory on color.
I always start with color; it tells a lot about what the metal finishes, lighting and fabrics are going to be. This client wanted a cool palette with a lot of gray-blues, so I had to think where the warmth was going to come from. I relied on the floor color (it has yellow/orange behind it), lighting and textures.
Did you try to persuade the client to add more color to her monochromatic palette?
No, I like the consistency. My designs tend to be more monochromatic, a little bit sleek. I never tire of creating this aesthetic because to me there’s plenty to look at in the variety of textures and the lines of things.
Explain your furniture choices.
The furnishings tend to be clean-lined and modern. In the breakfast area, Anziano chairs are paired with a McCreary Modern table base and a custom, beveled-glass top. And we designed sofas for the family room that have an unusual shape, with a tight back and a distinctive silhouette. The client likes that she has a sofa you’ll never see anywhere else. She often removes the pillows to keep the lines clean so you focus on the piece.
Is there a secret to determining furniture scale in a dining room?
For me, it always depends on how the table is being used. Since these clients host holiday meals and more formal occasions, comfortable, high-backed chairs made sense—and added visual interest against the tall wainscoting around them. The table and chairs were custom-made for the space by Lorts. I always warn clients about chair height; if chairs are very low, they’ll barely be able to see them above the table.
What are your thoughts on lighting?
Because of the scale of rooms and houses we do, there’s a danger the lighting will feel undersized—so we tend to oversize it. It’s such an important design element, you want it to make a statement. In this project, we mixed industrial fixtures, like the Currey & Company pendants over the kitchen island and the chandelier with Edison bulbs above the breakfast table. We chose crystal fixtures for a bit of glamour above the dining room table and in the family room.
How did you improve the builder-grade kitchen and powder room?
We replaced the original kitchen backsplash with marble tile and put in new, marble-look quartz countertops. The client wanted a farmhouse sink with an exposed faucet from Kohler that shows its workings; she likes to see the functionality of things. To enhance the powder room, we added millwork to the walls and a marble sink with exposed legs. The mirror was cut to fit the molding pattern.
What’s your distinguishing design element?
Clean lines and high color contrast, with crisp whites and deeper hues.
What’s your take on accessorizing?
Often a room doesn’t pull together without the right accessory. I tell clients we’re not adding an element to fill a space, but because it has a job to do.
Design pet peeve?
The “pop of color.” It often looks like an afterthought, versus having colors thought-out from the beginning.
Trend that interests you?
We’re just at the beginning of LEDs. In 10 years, lights will not look remotely like they do now. LEDs will be as revolutionary as going from analog to digital.
Kitchen design words of wisdom?
Ask yourself, will this be relevant in 15 years? It’s a huge investment and most people don’t do it
more than once.