When a couple with two young children bought a vintage home in DC’s Observatory Circle neighborhood, the Tudor-style dwelling was move-in ready, having recently undergone a major update. A new, marble-clad kitchen opened to a rear addition housing a light-filled family room with a master bedroom above. The 3,566-square-foot abode already included five bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths.
The owners, both lawyers, lived in the house for a couple of years without making any changes. But they knew from the start that the tastefully neutral interiors were missing something: a sense of character that would make the home their own. Eventually, they tapped DC-based J.D. Ireland Interior Architecture & Design to transform it by introducing the bespoke touches they desired.
“My clients liked what was there and wanted to stick with the bright, neutral palette, yet they wanted a new aesthetic,” principal Joe Ireland recalls. “The images they provided had a coastal vibe, with colors like blue and beige that you might find in a waterfront home—light, simple and a little preppy, but still clean and neutral.” Ireland and his team retained the off-white palette and dark-stained oak floors—and relied on furniture, fabrics and accessories to do the rest.
Did you take cues from the existing kitchen and interior architecture?
I treat a kitchen like architecture. We have to follow that and the interior moldings and architectural elements; in this case, it all has a traditional feel and we considered that in our design.
Was there a springboard for the colors you introduced?
The home has its original front vestibule, with exposed brick walls and a tile floor. It turned out everything was in that tile: the blues and earth tones of the upholstered pieces, accents and woods. It all tied in nicely.
Throughout the house, bold moments make an impact. How did you choose them?
I’d say the theme of the whole redesign was pattern. In what was otherwise a quiet house, we injected bits of pattern to kick it up—in the living room shades, in the mirrors in the owners’ bedroom. In the family room, the bamboo chairs act as a pattern.
How do you decide when to go bold?
I think that’s an instinct. In my opinion, every house should incorporate quirky, one-of-a-kind pieces; they’re what give a room character. For instance, the bamboo chairs look like they could have been inherited from a grandparent or purchased on a trip overseas. They impart an inherited quality.
How did the concept for the living room develop?
The rug came first. After that, the clients wanted plain upholstered pieces, so I thought I’d put more emphasis on the window treatments and make them pop.
Why does the unexpected combination of a traditional Oriental rug work with modern, geometric Roman shades?
I think it’s because it’s such a style and scale change. The rug has a tighter pattern and the Romans are graphic with a larger pattern that’s very visible in the room. The scale change is what makes them work together.
Is there a reason the living room furniture plan is very symmetrical?
The sofa is centered with the fireplace, but the bay is off-center and I wanted to counteract that. Also, placing cabinets on either side of the fireplace was an opportunity to present ambient light evenly in the room.
What’s your view on lighting?
I pick lighting while I’m picking furniture. To me, lamps are little pieces of sculpture. I mostly base my choices on shape and texture. We always consider how rooms will look in the evening, when you want warmer light. You need soft illumination—even if it’s a warm LED.
Describe the design elements in the dining room.
The 60-inch Mitchell Gold table opens up with one or two leaves. It only comes in a dark finish, so we had Billet Collins faux-finish it in a lighter shade. The chairs are vintage, reupholstered with indoor/outdoor Pindler fabric. All the fabrics in the house are kid-friendly.
How did the dining room rug evolve?
There’s a bump-out in one corner of the room, so we chose a custom square carpet, but clipped all four corners of the rug rather than just one. This way, the rug can be rotated for even use, as the room gets a lot of sun.
How did you make the family room more functional?
The garage is at the back of the house so the owners usually come in through the family room. In an otherwise useless corner by the door, we created a mudroom area with a built-in bench, coat closet and drawers. A big mirror keeps it from looking like a solid block of wood. We also added built-ins along one wall for the television.
How did you adapt the master bedroom to the family’s needs?
The parents spend a lot of time there with the kids, who are young enough that they still want to come in and climb in bed. So they wanted space for that. There was room for chairs, an ottoman and a TV too.
How important is accessorizing?
Accessories are super important. My advice is to pick up way more than you think you’ll use; you’ll be surprised that things you didn’t think would work do. Plants are also important because every room should have some green.
How do you find the right accessories?
Staying power: That’s the difference between something special and the stuff you pick up at a retail chain. A designer will know the difference but the trick is living with it for a couple of weeks before you pull the trigger. If you’re like “eh,” then it should go out the door.
What’s your go-to source for unexpected treasures?
GoodWood and Miss Pixie’s are where I find a lot of quirky things. I also like to look at Etsy, which is where the dining room chairs came from.
Name a current design trend that you embrace.
Color. I’m happy to see people wanting color again—and pattern. I think it’s truly what will make your house stand out.
What design element is often overlooked?
The next level of detail. For instance, every time I put wallpaper up, I trim it with just a little fabric cord at the top or bottom. That tiny addition makes the wallpaper look like you paid twice what you did for it.
Is there something fresh and new that your firm is up to?
We’re enjoying doing colorful custom window shades.
Interior Design: Joseph Ireland, principal, J.D. Ireland Interior Architecture & Design, Washington, DC.