At least since Thomas Jefferson built Monticello, American architects have used their own homes as testing grounds for various design philosophies. So it comes as no surprise that Carmel Greer—an architect with an equal passion for interiors—would try out ideas while building a house for her family. Make that plural: A decade out of school, she’s on to her second residence in Washington’s Kent neighborhood.
One day in early May, Greer is home from her studio at District Design, leading a Zoom tour to comply with covid-19 restrictions. She opens sleek, black-painted mahogany doors to an airy white foyer furnished with a Korean chest, a gift from bosses at her first architecture firm. The staircase is understated, even as it floats overhead to a third floor. “I didn’t want the house to be about the staircase,” she says. “The look I wanted was simple—no cantilevers or glass. I didn’t want it to be datable.”
Greer, who passed through the University of Virginia at Charlottesville on her way to an architecture degree at Yale, treads a tempered path between modernism and tradition. The four-level, six-bedroom house demonstrates the clean lines of a contemporary thinker, balanced by honest materials, recognizable forms and touches of inspiration from France. The first residence she designed for herself was defined by its gray-stone façade. This one is clad in pale-ochre stucco, inspired by the simple mas, a quintessential farmhouse in Provençe.
“You don’t know who designed it or when,” she says, describing the essence of this vernacular. “It just seems perfect in its surroundings.”
A spare black-and-white palette clearly dominates, upstairs and down, but Greer can splash color. The showstopper is directly left of the foyer: a salmon-pink living room with green tub chairs. Walls are inset with niches—for a mirrored bar, for a stack of firewood or simply for added dimension in the 310-square-foot parlor. Nine-foot-high windows are left bare.
“It’s a weird architect thing,” Greer reasons. “An architect only covers a window when there’s a real need for privacy.”
To the right of the foyer, she designed a study for her husband, Dan Baum, CEO of the public relations and communications agency Multiply. He is on a video call, but permits a peek. Creative work is surely emboldened by the floor-to-ceiling wall covering replicating Henri Rousseau’s 1909 painting, “The Equatorial Jungle.” (The much smaller original hangs in the National Gallery of Art.) Chocolate-brown cabinetry carries a high-gloss sheen, the better to show off a gilt-framed Joan Miró lithograph hanging behind a carved-wood desk.
Back to the foyer, then two steps down, tradition gives way to modernity as soft north light floods the very contemporary and open dining, kitchen and family zone through “a tremendous amount of glass.” Ceilings jump from 10 and a half feet in the parlor to 12 feet here. Extra-thick walls curve to meet the ceiling, a feat accomplished by a plasterer employing a French technique. “I like the way a really old house feels heavy and solid,” Greer says.
The kitchen glows with black marble and mosaic. Open shelves substitute for upper cabinets so Greer can “make room for art;” a grid of nine pendants lights the way to the adjacent dining room. For a family with four children ranging in age from six to 17, the spacious corner banquette is practical. “With little kids, I can fit 10 in there,” she quips.
In the dining room, a pair of contemporary chandeliers is suspended over a table set for 10. “I loved them immediately because of their scale,” Greer says. “I also liked that they are glamorous without being overly saccharine.”
The mood downshifts in the adjacent family room, where a child-sized Panton chair and dollhouse share space with gray-velvet sofas and a black-and-white patterned rug. Stairs lead to a lower-level gym with yellow light fixtures and words to live by stenciled on the wall: “Never give up.”
Throughout the house, natural-grass rugs are scattered over distressed-oak flooring cut in 10-and-a-half-inch-wide planks. Bare wood extends into the master bath on the second floor. “I think it feels warmer, more part of a living space,” the architect says.
Abstract paintings by Greer enliven many rooms. “Architects often enjoy painting because buildings take so long, and much of the work is out of your control,” she observes.
Being homebound in the light-filled residence has its charms. The 6,500-plus-square-foot abode was built on part of Greer’s former backyard; she and her family occupied the home next door until construction was complete. The subdivided lot proved big enough to accommodate the new home, plus a pool, cabana over the garage and a vegetable garden planted with “every herb you can name.”
Asked whether to expect a third house, the architect demurs. “We’re done.” Like Jefferson at Monticello, she’ll be tending her garden.
Architecture & Interior Design: Carmel Greer, AIA, LEED AP, District Design, Washington, DC. Builder: Quality Carpentry Group, Rockville, Maryland.
Windows: loewen.com through thesanderscompany.com. LIVING ROOM
Paint Color: Peach Blossom; benjaminmoore.com. Art Above Fireplace: Luca Bonfigli. Art Above Sofa: Carmel Greer. Green Chairs & Coffee Table: anthropologie.com. Cowhide Chairs: Corbusier LC1. Mesh Chairs: dotandbo.com. Chandelier: williams-sonoma.com. Stool: Eames. Sofa, Table Lamp: Owners’ collection.
Doors: Custom mahogany. Vintage Korean Chest & Antique Mirror: Owners’ collection. Paint Color: White Dove; benjaminmoore.com.
Chandelier: sunpan.com. Rug, Table & Chairs: Owners’ collection. Paint Color: White Dove; benjaminmoore.com.
Cabinetry: Custom through districtdesign.com. Cabinet Color: French Beret; benjaminmoore.com. Stone/Source: Honed Nero Marquina Marble Countertop & Backsplash: lasermarblegranite.com. Plumbing Fixtures: rohlhome.com. Black Hexagonal Nero Marquina Tile on Island: architecturalceramics.com. Hardware: rejuvenation.com. Range: aga-ranges.com. Refrigerator Brand/Source: true-residential.com. Bar Stools: Owners’ collection.
Light Fixture: scovillebrown.com. Sofas: tovfurniture.com. Coffee Tables: dwr.com. Art: Carmel Greer. Rug, VintageTable Lamp, Vintage Chrome Pedestal & Brass Pedestals: Owners’ collection.
Tub: kohler.com. Faucets: waterworks.com. Honed Nero Marquina Marble Tub Surround: lasermarblegranite.com. Rug & Chandelier: Owners’ collection. Art: Carmel Greer. Carrara Marble Shower Tile: architecturalceramics.com. Paint: White Dove, benjaminmoore.com.