Home & Design

Tone-on-tone wall covering and a hand-woven Oushak dress up the dining room; a Hubbardton Forge fixture adds sparkle. Photo: Jenn Verrier

A work by Ning Lee enlivens the living room, painted in Sherwin Williams’ Web Gray. Photo: Jenn Verrier

A painting from Merritt Gallery hangs above a Bolier & Co. dining room buffet. Photo: Jenn Verrier

In the family room, Thala Beige limestone clads a fireplace wall. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

Vine Custom Homes fabricated the kitchen cabinetry. Tech Lighting pendants illuminate the island where the homeowners enjoy casual meals on Hickory Chair stools. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

In the adjacent breakfast room, wallpaper and drapes in Romo’s Inaya motif evoke an abstract landscape. Houck offset the Bolier & Co. table and host seats with contrasting Century dining chairs. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

Architect Warren Ralston designed the primary bath vanities. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

The tub area is screened by hanging glass panels. The porcelain flooring and wall surfaces are from B&F Ceramics. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

Designer Andrea Houck. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

A glass front door leads into the open-plan main level. A coffee table and console of Houck’s design grace the family room. The Hickory Chair sectional is covered in Fabricut velvet from Rue IV. Photo: Angela Newton Roy

Au Naturel

Andrea Houck channels a chic, organic vibe in a new Arlington abode

After purchasing a modern farmhouse already under construction in Arlington, repeat clients called on designer Andrea Houck to make it feel like home. Once she selected interior finishes and lighting, Houck got to work outfitting the residence with furniture and art, repurposing many pieces from their former residence.

Two busy professionals with one teenager still at home, the owners often host gatherings for their grown children, extended family and friends. “We developed flexible furniture plans to accommodate frequent crowds,” notes Houck. The generous, 7,900-square-foot house designed by architect Warren Ralston includes a living and dining room and an open family room-kitchen on the main level, five bedrooms upstairs and a lower level with a bar, party spaces and a guest room.

Houck’s interior scheme celebrates the home’s woodland views. For example, wall coverings in natural fibers, from cork to linen and abaca, evoke an organic feel.

“My clients wanted inviting, low-key spaces for daily living with enough sophistication to support high-level entertaining,” she reflects. “Comfortable, transitional-style furniture upholstered in luxurious performance fabrics helped us strike the right balance.” The following Q&A details the designer’s approach.

What inspired the look you were after?
We showed the clients three design schemes and they picked one that we called “the natural world.” It was fitting because the house sits on a wooded lot, which is in large part why they were drawn to it. Once they landed on that design, it was easy to start the project. We chose organic elements such as the custom family room cocktail table and consoles, literally made from slices of a tree.

Trace the story behind the cocktail table design.
I dreamed up the table and matching console with help from brothers Shawn and Ryan McCuen at Michael James Furniture in St. Michaels, Maryland. I sent them a sketch, but the tricky part was finding the right piece of wood. We landed on a slab of spalted maple because it had so much character. I specified stainless-steel legs instead of wood since I wanted the table to have an edge; mixing materials is always more interesting when you can pull it off.

How did you nail the home’s color scheme?
I knew blue was a big hit with my client. We picked a family room rug at Galleria Carpets with beautiful blues, grays and a bit of periwinkle, then presented the blue Hickory Chair sectional. Some people wouldn’t have had the nerve to go for that color, but I think it works because it’s a big room and helps connect to the kitchen. Blue also appears on dining room chairs and in the breakfast room wall covering and upholstery.

Tell us how the living room came together.
I found the painting by Ning Lee on a trip to Charleston and the homeowners fell in love with it. The chairs came from their former house and I placed them on a new rug, also from Galleria Carpets. The moody paint colors had already been selected so there was definitely some serendipity there. The room has a smoky elegance; it’s a great spot to enjoy morning coffee or read because it’s a little cocoon.

Why is original art crucial to a successful interior plan?
Art gives you a window into the homeowner’s personality. When a client values art and includes it in their home, it makes the difference between an A and an A++ project. It’s the cherry on top.

How did you elevate the dining room?
We surrounded the new Chaddock Furniture table with existing chairs re-covered in fabrics by Romo. A white-on-white wallpaper by Innovations adds a layer of texture that I think is vital to any project, while the tray ceiling is covered in blue Romo grass cloth with a metallic thread running through it. The crystal chandelier gives the space a bit of bling.

Explain your philosophy on repurposing furniture.
I tell clients to invest in quality because high-end furniture can always be repurposed, especially with the help of a designer. I remember during a presentation by designer Alexa Hampton, she mentioned that her father re-covered a favorite sofa five times. If you start with good bones, you can re-cover anything.

In this Arlington home, we refinished the client’s former dining table and placed it in the foyer where it makes a perfect entry piece. When the owners entertain, they open up the leaves and it becomes a buffet.

Share some examples of spaces in the home that revolve around nature.
In the breakfast room, the matching Romo wall covering and drapery fabric echo the landscape outside. The pattern is very fluid, like a watercolor painting with a lot of texture in it. And the owners’ bath celebrates organic materials with the custom, wood-fronted vanities and accent wall of book-matched porcelain in a Calacatta motif. The architect and builder did an amazing job on that space.

What are the benefits of working with repeat clients?
There’s a comfort level that allows you to take more risks and push the envelope because you already know each other. And there’s a rapport, which speaks volumes.

How do you like to unearth surprising finds?
My favorite time to browse is when I travel. On a trip to Charleston, I discovered a giant basket that looks like a bird’s nest; it ended up in a client’s DC home.

Name a design pet peeve.
Many people say, “I want neutrals with pops of color,” but I’m not sure they know what that means. When done correctly, people can get in a lot more color, so I’d like to see that catchphrase go away.

Share some of your signature moves when hosting a party.
To me as a southerner, it’s not as much about the look as how it makes guests feel. I always buy fresh flowers and arrange them low on the dining table, and I like a mix of plates and flatware—I’m not matchy-matchy.

What hot product are you excited to try?
I’m in love with Aux Abris wall coverings. My favorite patterns are Batik, Floratique and Garden of Eden.

Architecture: Warren C. Ralston, AIA, Ralston Architects, Chantilly, Virginia. Interior Design: Andrea Houck, ASID, A. Houck Designs, Inc., Arlington, Virginia. Builder: Vine Custom Homes, Arlington, Virginia.


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