Home & Design

The Frame TV by Samsung solves a vexing design dilemma: how to make a screen disappear when not in use. In Art Mode, the screen morphs into a digital display with a selection of more than 1,000 artworks —including paintings from the Uffizi Galleries and the Van Gogh Museum. samsung.com

For mere mortals who forget to pick up their socks: Ecovacs’ new Deebot Ozmo 960 is a smarter robotic vacuum. Unlike predecessors, it possesses artificial intelligence powers that recognize and avoid an expandable index of household objects such as shoes, socks and cables. And it can clean for 110 minutes on a single charge. ecovacs.com

Numi 2.0, Kohler’s sleek, next-gen smart toilet, is flush with special features. Think Bluetooth access to music, ambient lighting, and news and weather (via Amazon Alexa). Tucked discreetly under its automated, heated seat are hands-free hygiene options including deodorizer and spray with customizable water temperature and flow. On sale in late 2019.

Tasting Room Like the decanting of a fine vintage, the creation of a perfect wine cellar and entertaining space cannot be rushed. After a year and a half in the design phase alone, the transformation of a choppy, outdated Falls Church basement into a sophisticated lounge for an extensive wine collection exhibits excellent taste.

“There were a lot of technical pieces and the details were so specific, especially the finishes,” says Allie Mann of Case Design, the lead designer on the project. “We wanted to make sure we got those details right.”

Particularly elusive was the exotic wood the homeowner selected for the cabinetry. “He knows a lot about wood and requested a species called figured sapele that is harvested only a certain number of times a year—and then the cut of wood is only good for a period of time,” explains Mann. “Because our design details took a little longer to complete, we would lose the dates for the wood. We went through that process three or four times.”

The focal point of the redesign—a wall of sapele wood for displaying bottles—was worth the wait. It is housed behind pane-less glass that lends the space an airy ambience. Making the room even more dramatic was the homeowner’s choice of racks that store his collection of about 240 bottles horizontally so they appear to be floating. To achieve the owner’s vision, Mann brought together the creative expertise of Crystal Cabinets of Minneapolis and Vin De Garde, a Vancouver-based wine-cellar company that specializes in unique racking components.

Doors and walls from the old basement were removed to create the open space. In addition to the wine room, a media area now features a sofa and chairs gathered around a large-screen TV that’s been mounted on a wall of figured sapele cabinetry for continuity. The addition of a work area with a floating desk and shelves lends another functional element to the posh space.

Aside from the wall of glass, Mann devised other details that make the space, which is just shy of 700 square feet, live large. She selected dark porcelain flooring that camouflages any water that might get tracked in from the adjacent outdoor pool area. The tile grounds the room, which gets lighter “as the eye moves from floor to ceiling,” says the designer.

The seven-and-a-half-foot ceiling height might have felt stifling, but Mann opted for a lighter palette on the walls and directed all pendant sconces downward to reflect the light. “If we had a higher ceiling, we could’ve faced them up,” she observes.

Even potential setbacks became functional, complementary elements. A structural column that housed critical electrical equipment morphed into part of a custom tasting table, also sheathed in figured sapele. “The column was located close to the wine-tasting area so it worked out well,” Mann recalls.

Finishing touches, including a set of burgundy-toned leather chairs, draw attention to the homeowner’s love of wine—particularly his fondness for red varieties. He had purchased the set previously and stored them in a loft space awaiting the redesign.

“He knew he wanted to put these pieces down there, so we had to think about how they would most thoughtfully be arranged,” Mann explains. “They led the ultimate design and arrangement of the room.”

The end result is indeed toast-worthy. “We wanted to take the basement and make it feel like a lower-level lounge,” Mann says. The homeowner “is a wine enthusiast, not just someone who has a glass every weekend, and he also wanted it to feel like an entertaining space. I think we succeeded.”

Cathy Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria. Stacy Zarin Goldberg is a photographer in Olney, Maryland.

DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION: ALLIE MANN, Case Design, Bethesda, Maryland.

Gadgets Galore SURROUND SOUND  Bang & Olufsen celebrated its 90th anniversary by releasing BeoLab 90, a massive, sculptural loudspeaker that stands four feet tall, weighs more than 300 pounds and delivers 8,200 watts through an array of 18 speaker drivers. The unit’s smartphone-controlled technology adjusts the sound for factors like room composition, furniture location, listener location and the number of people in the room. A little over the top? At $40,000 per speaker, that’s exactly as it should be. bang-olufsen.com

KITCHEN ASSISTANT  The 10-in-1 Multi-Function Robotic Cooker from Gourmia boasts a self-operated stirring system that frees home chefs for more important tasks. When the stirring system is removed, the cooker can also roast, steam, slow-cook and bake. Self-monitoring and programmable, the machine packs a base-mounted heating mechanism that maximizes the searing effect. A hot-air circulation system cooks food with less oil (and fewer calories). $300. gourmia.com

CHEF-TESTED  Say goodbye to soggy casseroles and burnt cookies with Jenn-Air’s dual-convection Connected Wall Oven, which lets you control cooking wirelessly via an iOS or Android app from a smartphone or tablet. A seven-inch touch screen on the oven front runs the Culinary Center, an advanced cooking system that utilizes chef-tested programs designed to help cooks achieve their desired results. $3,599 for a single-oven model. jennair.com/connect

THE HUB OF THE HOME  A 21.5-inch HD LCD screen on its exterior door gives Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator a new level of connectivity. From simple tasks like posting lists and updating calendars to streaming music and watching programs by connecting to your Samsung Smart TV—the sky is the limit. A Samsung Smart Home app checks what’s in your fridge via three internal cameras—while you’re at the store. Or, if grocery shopping isn’t your thing, a MasterCard app enables you to order from multiple vendors. Available in May 2016. $4,999. samsung.com

ON THE NOSE  Sensorwake, the first “olfactory alarm clock,” wakes you up with pleasant aromas instead of jarring sounds. Conceived by 19-year-old Paris inventor Guillaume Rolland, the clock comes with scent capsules; insert one, program a wake-up time and one of seven aromas including chocolate, espresso, croissant and peppermint will rouse you. The only shortcoming so far: There’s no bacon on the menu. Available in the U.S. in June 2016. Preorder for $89 at sensorwake.com.

PHOTO OP  Snag burglars, loiterers or even the neighbor’s dog wreaking havoc in your garden with Presence to relieve his dog boredom, an outdoor camera from France-based Netatmo. The camera’s smart zone feature allows you to select specific areas for alert, while its sensors distinguish between people, pets and cars—day and night. An app live streams whatever the camera sees to your smart device. And a floodlight can be switched on to light your way in—or help keep intruders out. Available in April 2016. $300. netatmo.com v

Gadgets Galore!
Beyond Bright
Though most of us barely have our heads around the concept (and price tag) of 4K televisions, Sharp’s AQUOS Beyond 4K Ultra HD certainly takes this year’s prize as most jaw-dropping. The 80-inch TV employs 4K imagery—four times the resolution of hi-definition—to create a picture that is bright and lifelike, with an uncanny sense of depth not far from 3D. Out later this year, the Beyond 4K Ultra HD has not yet been priced—but expect some serious depth there, too. sharpusa.com

Coffee Break
Smarter’s new WiFi Coffee Machine, with built-in WiFi and an iOS- and Android-compatible app, enables the bleary-eyed to brew the perfect cup from afar. The machine is a grind-on-demand drip brewer that can be instructed by a regular timer or at the touch of a button; once the coffee is ready, it will notify you via the app on your phone. This single-serve coffee maker, priced at $150, is scheduled to hit stores in May. smarter.am

Recipe for Success
Dacor remains a front-runner in oven evolution. This year, the company added voice control to its already Jetsonian Discovery iQ line of dual-fuel ranges. Starting this spring, iOS and Android users will be able to turn the oven on and off, alter settings, set timers and activate lights via voice commands using their Dacor iQ iOS apps. The 48-inch oven costs $12,000; the 36-inch model costs $9,300. dacor.com

Washed Up
The laundry room remains a bastion of consumer-electronics innovation. This year’s winner: the TWIN Wash System from LG Electronics. Though no bigger than LG’s front loader, it accommodates two loads simultaneously thanks to the transformation of its base drawer into a mini washer (inset). While not large enough to handle a heaping load, the drawer will do the trick when, for instance, some items call for a different cycle—without stealing capacity from the main washer as some side-by-side models do. The mini washer drawer can be retrofitted in an existing LG model. Price and release date to come. lg.com

In From the Cold
For those weathering uneven heating systems in their homes, the Keen Home Smart-Vent offers customization via app-enabled vents that can be opened and closed remotely—or can do the job themselves using automated temperature and pressure sensors. The possibilities of these $80 battery-powered gadgets are endless: Closing off rooms when not in use, focusing heat on bedrooms overnight, warming the kitchen before dawn. Debuting this summer. keenhome.io

Cathy Applefeld Olson is an Alexandria, Virginia, freelance writer.          



Upon learning that a developer was planning to purchase the lot adjacent to their home overlooking the Potomac, Dick and Jane Stoker did what most homeowners only dream about. They bought the property—and got a bonus: Along with preserving their pristine river view they gained a century-old cabin in desperate need of preservation.

The Stokers rose to the occasion, enlisting the help of Kai Tong, director of architectural services at Hopkins & Porter. The challenge was to maintain the cabin’s historic integrity while turning it into a 21st-century guesthouse. The task, initially envisioned as a relatively straightforward update, swelled to include replacing the entire exterior back wall with glass and infusing the rooms—a bedroom loft and an open first-floor sitting area, game room and kitchen/dining space, all centered around a massive, free-standing stone fireplace—with the whimsical style of its new owners.

“We look at projects as an opportunity to make a big transformation, and this was certainly a transformation,” says Tong. “But in a certain sense, it really remained a log cabin.”

In fact, the cabin’s exterior façade stayed almost entirely intact down to its original logs and white mortar. Tong and his crew added a welcoming, curved concrete slab porch and upward-tilting overhang—a first hint to guests that this is not your grandfather’s cabin. They also created a new front door of tempered glass, set between imposing stone piers that abut the original wall; this juxtaposition mingles old and new elements, something Tong did consistently. “Throughout the project, I looked at how to bring opposites together in a graceful fashion,” he says.

He also emphasized the contrast between dark and light in the house; for example, additional lighting filters between the slatted stairs, highlighting the play between dark and light. “Cabins by their nature are dark and opaque structures, so there was the question of ‘How to do we open that up in a skillful way so we bring in light but still remain true to the cabin’s nature?’” Tong recalls.

The concept of contrasting elements is most grandly realized through the massive expanse of frameless glass at the back of the home that overlooks a new outdoor amphitheater/gathering space and the natural beauty beyond. Accentuating the panorama is the slight upward tilt of the rear roofline, which naturally lifts the eye to the sky. Recessed pockets in the ceiling conceal remote-controlled opaque shades that filter glare while preserving the view.

“As you enter the cabin and walk back through it towards the river, the structure begins to dissolve around you and disappear,” Tong says. Although the renovation necessitated removing interior partitions to open the space, he preserved several of the original log corners that serve as a whisper to the past.

Tong installed a new, wide-paneled, old-growth Eastern pine floor and restored the original rustic fireplace; otherwise, space is notably lacking in traditional, heavy cabin décor. The furniture, most of it custom, was selected by interior designer Barbara Hawthorn, who had previously worked with the homeowners and knew how to realize their sensibilities. Because they planned to spend a lot of time entertaining their grandchildren in the cabin, she added an abundance of playful colors and shapes, including an entryway bench with indentations for small, medium and large posteriors; oversized, brightly hued chairs in the sitting room; and two egg-shaped Lucite chairs that dangle from the ceiling in the playroom. The dining table is constructed from a single piece of curvaceous wood complete with bark and beautiful imperfections, surrounded by an assortment of creative seating.

Like a relief wall in the playroom—where wood slats reveal a subtle map of the river’s course—the bathroom also pays homage to the Potomac. An undulating countertop and cabinetry “melts” into the original wall, complemented by a pattern of river stone flooring that creates the appearance of a shoreline leading into the large, door-less shower. In another effort to bridge the old with the new, the shower is backed with glass that encases the original log wall.

Tong utilized an assortment of sustainable elements. Rainwater drips from the copper roof and is collected in old whiskey barrels for watering plants on the property. The cabin’s new cooling system is a hidden, high-velocity, small-duct system.

Walking through the cabin on a recent winter day, Tong acknowledges the importance of adventurous homeowners and a strong team of craftsmen in creating this all-custom space, which won both a 2010 COTY award for creative design and the Home & Design Award of Excellence. “Having an interesting and creative design concept energizes the entire team, including the owners,” he says. “The wonderful operating team was one of the most gratifying things about this project.”

Catherine Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Kenneth M. Wyner is a photographer in Takoma Park, Maryland.

RENOVATION DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE: KAI TONG, AIA, Hopkins & Porter, Potomac, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: RAY HORNSBY, production supervisor, and DON LOWERY, lead carpenter, Hopkins & Porter. INTERIOR DESIGN: BARBARA HAWTHORN, Barbara Hawthorn Interiors, McLean, Virginia.

From Beds to Bots IT DOES WINDOWS
First came automated vacuums, then their scrubbing, kitchen and bathroom floor counterparts. But the newest kid on the robotic cleaning block is the Ecovacs’ WinBot 7—a squat, square-shaped robot that suctions onto window panels and does the dirty work for you—no ladders, no mess. The model that detects edges starts at $399. ecovacs.com 

It looks more like a toy, but Swedish company Foreo’s ISSA is the first electric toothbrush to tout silicone bristles, which are nonporous and ultra-hygienic. And it’s not bad looking, with models in fuchsia and turquoise. The ISSA also boasts amazing battery life; Foreo says it can be used 365 times on a single charge. Available in the U.S. later this year; price to be determined. foreo.com/issa

When FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was asked to name his favorite gadget at the show, he pointed to the Mimo baby monitor—a smart choice for this grandfather of seven-month-old twins who doesn’t want to miss anything. Mimo attaches tiny sensors to a baby onesie and collects a variety of data, from breathing rates to temperature to body position. Information is sent in real time to a smart phone, providing the baby’s vital signs and more. If junior is hungry, for example, the device sends a signal to warm up a bottle. $199; mimobaby.com

Sleep Number has won over millions seeking the ability to customize mattress conditions for optimal sleep. Now the company has a smart memory foam bed that claims to track sleep activity like snoring, and soothe you back into a peaceful slumber. The X12 bed reacts to voice commands or a remote and will give you a massage, adjust firmness on each side of the bed, and even curb snoring by gently adjusting the mattress to help open the sleeper’s airwaves. $8,000; sleepnumber.com

CTA offers a suite of iPad kitchen accessories; this one keeps recipes front and center. The bamboo cutting board includes an attachable stand that raises the iPad away from chopping debris, plus built-in knife storage and a matching bamboo stylus to keep the screen clean. Compatible with iPad, iPad Mini and iPad Air. $35; ctadigital.com

This bowling pin-shaped little darling from Russia-based Sen.se is touted as the world’s first programmable “mother.” Motion Cookies placed around the home enable Mother to monitor and report on a variety of household activities, from temperature control and security to tooth-brushing and watering the plants. Over time, the Wi-Fi-enabled device will master the needs of your home and its inhabitants. Creepy? A little. Helpful? Perhaps. $222; sen.se/store 

Cathy Applefeld Olson is an Alexandria, Virginia, freelance writer. 

few years after renovating their master bedroom suite, a Great Falls couple was ready to embark on a new remodeling phase. They were unhappy with their kitchen, which suffered from poor traffic flow and dated appliances and fixtures, and they wished to establish a better connection between the kitchen and the rest of the house.

The couple turned to Sun Design Remodeling for the kitchen renovation, and tapped interior designer Margery Wedderburn to transform all the other public spaces. The goal was to create cohesive interiors that would flow into one another throughout the ground-floor level. 

Sun Design’s first move was to demolish the wall between the kitchen and family room. “In these older houses the kitchens tend to feel small and tight,” Wedderburn says. “It needed to be opened up.” Other structural changes included closing off an awkwardly placed powder room door and moving it so that it would open to the renovated mudroom. As Sun Design project manager Liz Lee recalls, “They had a lot of doors off the kitchen. There was a garage door, the door to the mudroom, the powder room door and a pantry door. When we were finished the only door left in that space was the one to the mudroom.” 

While the existing kitchen offered ample space, older cabinetry and outdated appointments made it feel cramped and dark. Sun Design enlarged the window in front of the sink to provide more light and ambience, as well as expansive views of the private backyard. Fresh, white-painted cabinetry and a white subway-tile backsplash keep things bright and sparkling.

While the renovation necessitated replacing the existing tile countertops and the stubbornly dingy grout surrounding them, Lee could not deter her client from selecting another potentially troublesome surface: white marble. “We don’t recommend doing marble for the countertops in the kitchen because they can stain so easily,” Lee explains. “But she had a vision and she really wanted it, so we went with it.”  The owner’s vision paid off: The result is a classic kitchen in a timeless style.

Meanwhile, Wedderburn looked for ways to connect the new kitchen with the rest of the interiors. She found that an open-plan kitchen/family room offered an opportunity for additional synergies. The wood surface on the island carries over to a custom bookshelf in the kitchen, which complements a bookshelf in the newly refurbished office and another new shelving unit in the mudroom. The design also called for open shelving for plates and bowls and a generous farmhouse sink.

While the owners were able to retain the existing hardwood floor in the family room, the original kitchen floor was a laminate that differed from the nearby wood floor in both color and texture. Sun Design replaced the laminate with hardwood, sanded and stained to match the family room floor. “It now has a continuous flow,” Lee says.

The union of kitchen and family room allowed for more counter space and a sightline that extends across the family room to the living room beyond—a configuration that fosters together time for the homeowners and their teenage son. Wedderburn chose a sectional sofa from Sherrill for the family room that would not overpower the space. “It’s not a huge room,” she says. “But we were focusing on comfortable seating so decided the sectional was the best way to go.” She had it covered in ultrasuede from Fabricut, then added pillows in fabrics from Schumacher and Scalamandré.

The designer also rethought how best to display the owners’ burgeoning art collection. “When you have such nice artwork, it really needs to tie into all the fabrics and finishes you’re working with,” she says. “We ended up moving pieces around into other rooms to tie in with the colors—lots of blues and green-blues.” 

Throughout the house, Wedderburn selected soothing, complementary Farrow & Ball hues that she repeated in different rooms to unify them: The family room wall color, for example, shows up on the living room ceiling, while Matchstick, the color in the kitchen/family room, was also used on the ceiling in the office.

In all, it’s the continuous flow and openness of the renovated home that are the greatest improvements, according to the homeowners. “That openness to the family room is important so they can be together as a family,” Lee says. “And on top of that, the client got the kitchen she’d always envisioned.”

Writer Cathy Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Photographer Timothy Bell splits his time between Washington, DC, and New York.

INTERIOR DESIGN: MARGERY WEDDERBURN, Margery Wedderburn Interiors, LLC, Vienna, Virginia. KITCHEN DESIGN/BUILD: LIZ LEE, project manager, Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, Inc., Burke, Virginia. 

Back to the Future LAS VEGAS, January 8, 2013—It’s possible Wallis Simpson was actually referring to futuristic television sets when she issued her famed “You can never be too rich or too thin” dictum. The newest must-have sets for your Super Bowl or Oscars viewing party boast if-only-real-life-looked-this-good picture quality and are thin enough to actually bend. LG Electronics and Samsung each unveiled 55-inch, curved OLED (organic light emitting diode) sets at the Consumer Electronics Show with Duchess-esque pricetags of over $10,000.

Apparently, you also can never be too smart—if you’re an automobile, that is. We saw cars equipped with technologies that predict traffic patterns, anticipate road danger, protect against nearby objects and more. One fully automated, futuristic model from Lexus will even pilot you to work in the morning. We’ve ordered one in black; here’s what else caught our eye while we awaited delivery:  

A New Dimension

Long-awaited 3D printers are now a reality. The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer lets amateur and professional designers alike create complex models, utensils, toys, prototypes and art by layering thermoplastic filament in a rainbow of colors. Users create designs with CAD apps or easy-to-use, open-source modeling programs. $2,200; makerbot.com


Dig This

Not all of us were endowed with green thumbs. That’s where Parrot’s Flower Power plant monitor comes into play. When inserted into a pot, this sensor—designed to blend in with the foliage—monitors such environmental variables as sunlight, temperature, pH level and humidity. Now in prototype stage, Flower Power (which can be moved from pot to pot and works outside) sends data to the Cloud so users can access it via a mobile phone, tablet or other smart device. Price and release date to be determined. parrot.com


Digital Diet

As if your mother weren’t enough, now there’s a utensil that tells you when you’re eating too fast. Makers of the HAPIfork claim it helps users watch their weight by tracking every time the fork touches their lips. Eat too fast and the utensil starts to vibrate. The idea is to discourage the tendency to continue eating before the brain has a chance to signal that the diner is full. The product also monitors other eating habits and can send the data to a smart device. Made in France, it will hit the U.S. in late 2013. $99; hapilabs.com


Green Light

GreenWave Reality’s new Connected Lighting Solution enables consumers to easily control and automate lighting using a handheld remote, tablet or smart phone. Simply plug the GreenWave box into your router and set up controls on your smart phone and this system becomes a powerful energy- and money-saver that will even respond to motion sensors, illuminating rooms only when light is needed. Four-bulb kit with wireless controller box and remote control sells for around $200; greenwavereality.com


Oh Baby

Let’s face it, parents can never get enough information about their little ones. Belkin’s WeMo baby monitor not only allows parents to use their iPhone or iTouch as a receiver, but it works in conjunction with an app that detects sleeping and crying patterns. Parents can then track and analyze data and provide an optimal sleeping environment.  $89.99; belkin.com

Hi-Fi Fridge

Not yet available in the U.S., Whirlpool’s CoolVox refrigerator streams music via Bluetooth to a robust speaker in its door. It’s quite the space saver for homeowners who prefer not to clutter their countertops with speakers. Time will tell if this product will make it to the U.S. whirlpool.com 

Cathy Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia. 



A Common Thread There are homes we admire from a distance, and then there are homes where we feel—well, right at home. They have a natural cohesiveness that invites us in, no matter their particular style. This welcoming sensibility is a trademark of interior designer Kristin Peake, and it’s in abundance in the Georgian-style Potomac home she decorated for a couple and their three young daughters.

After moving from a cramped, chaotic townhouse they had clearly outgrown, the wife wanted a serene, tranquil environment that would also be kid-friendly. She had been drawn repeatedly to pictures of Peake’s work; finally she contacted her, confident that the designer would understand her vision. 

Peake began by selecting neutral colors that would prevail throughout the house. Not only was this palette restful, but it would set the tone for a cohesive design plan. “The way this house works is we can pull a thread through every room; every piece is flexible,” explains the designer. “If you’re entertaining in the dining room and need a few chairs from another room, we can do that. If you’re redecorating the living room, you can move the existing chairs to the master bedroom and they fit right in.”

Right away, Peake noted the home’s interior architectural details—in particular, the coffered ceilings that embellished most rooms. The designer took her cue from the symmetry of the ceiling designs in creating furniture groupings, which convey a harmonious symmetry throughout. She also painted the coffered ceilings with subtle accent colors that “made them pop instead of just disappearing,” she says. “Before, you couldn’t appreciate them.” 

The peaceful coexistence of palette, furnishings and textures is galaxies away from the home’s former look, with its dark hues and strong patterns. When Peake first walked into the house, she could envision how to get from there to here almost immediately. However, she still hired high-tech imaging firm 3DStormStudio to create a three-dimensional presentation of her vision.

“You can promise all you want, and show a client photos and numbers. But there’s nothing like animation and 3D to really bring it to life,” Peake says. “For people who don’t get it and really can’t see it—and that’s most of our clients because that’s why they hire us—it’s worth its weight in gold.”

Peake’s clients were also sold on her utilitarian approach. A mother herself, Peake is a realist who knows that a room’s beauty must be more than skin deep. “We live in houses that don’t have glass walls; we have children who are going to bring friends over and spill Kool-Aid on a pillow that cost $300,” Peake says. “We try not to think about these things every day, but it’s real life.” 

To aid in the battle against sticky fingers, Peake made ample use of stain protectors and stain-resistant fabrics. “They’ve all come leaps and bounds with indoor-outdoor fabrics,” she observes. “A lot of the furniture in this house is wipe-able.” 

A comfortable and inviting vibe pervades the house; visitors notice it the moment they step through the front door. The first thing they see? A plush, round settee, upholstered in an airy, whimsical floral.

“Every typical builder home has a 20-foot stairwell and a big round table with flowers, which I hate,” Peake laments. “I said, ‘Can we please not do that? You have little kids, let’s make this a focal point that feels a little softer and can serve as a sound barrier to the space rather than being a big echo chamber.’” On the curved staircase, Peake installed a floral stair runner that enhances the room’s design while softening the sounds of little feet running between levels and cushioning potential falls. 

The adjacent dining room houses a focal point of its own: an oversized wood-bead chandelier from BoBo Intriguing Objects that floats over the round dining table and invites guests to gather. It’s a favorite room of both the homeowners and their designer.

While the family room is a haven for lounging, Peake carefully appointed the living room both for intimate family time and large-scale entertaining. “That was probably my most challenging space because they wanted so many functions in there,” she says. Complementary plush chairs, sofas and tables are arranged in precise but fluid groupings. A freestanding bar—an eleventh-hour client request—looks as if it was an integral part of the room from the start.

Peake updated the existing living room draperies with new hardware and banding. It’s a trick she also employed for the draperies in the master bedroom, a room whose long, rectangular dimensions offered their own challenge. 

“It was almost like a ballroom because of the way it was positioned before,” she says of the bedroom. “I definitely needed to rework the existing floor plan and modify it to fit the clients’ wants and needs.” 

Also in need of special attention were a few cherished collectibles—notably, a menagerie of unusual Russian vodka bottles that now are displayed in the husband’s office. Peake selected accessories and art throughout the house using the same guidelines that unite the furnishings: Most would be equally at home in any of several rooms.

“I pride myself on full-service installation—not only designing the space and picking out the furniture, but having everything come together,” says Peake, who enjoys creating the finishing touches. “The final layer is ultimately what we all want to do. We worked so hard to create the space, it’s great when we get to finish it.” 

Cathy Applefeld Olson is a writer in Alexandria, Virginia. Photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg is based in Olney, Maryland. 

INTERIOR DESIGN: KRISTIN PEAKE, Kristin Peake Interiors LLC, Rockville, Maryland.


A Fruitful Collaboration Too many cooks in the kitchen? Not for a Maryland couple with two young daughters, who transformed their bland galley kitchen into a spacious, warm and light-filled space that fosters family time and casual entertaining. The project, which was implemented by Edgemoor Custom Builders, not only reconfigured the existing kitchen to accommodate state-of-the-art appliances and a generous island, but also saw the addition of an elegant new breakfast room.

Although this new octagonal space measures only 12 by 12 feet, the breakfast room lives large in the new design. “Sometimes it’s a matter of inches to make an enormous difference,” says interior designer Alexander Baer, who previously decorated the clients’ home and collaborated on the kitchen re-do. “It works so well because it changed the whole circulation of the space and added access where you didn’t have any before.”

Architect Rui Ponte designed the addition with French doors leading outside. “They didn’t have a proper breakfast room before,” he notes. “Now, [the space] affords better views and more convenient access to the deck and side yard. The kitchen is the gatekeeper to the yard; there was a real opportunity to make it special.” 

The existing kitchen got its share of updates, including two new windows to funnel more natural light into the space and full-length cabinets that tower thanks to a newly raised ceiling. While granite tops the peripheral counters, Baer suggested that the owners install a concrete countertop on the island for contrast. “Concrete is an extremely practical surface,” he says, “and you can get it in any color, any edge.”

From the get-go, the project flowed like a blue-ribbon recipe thanks to seamless communication among all parties involved. “We came in during the design phase,” says Edgemoor president Jean Assuncao. “We worked with all of the [vendors] to ensure they had a chance to offer suggestions, and we had regular meetings with the clients.”

The collaborative relationship stretched beyond the interiors as well. “The plans were really detailed,” recalls Edgemoor vice president Bill Rambo, who served as project manager. “We tied in the landscaping and hardscaping, and sketched out things like irrigation and lighting with the landscaper early on. Every detail was planned, down to the bushes.”

Of course, no matter how carefully conceived, every renovation holds an element of surprise. In this case, existing ductwork forced a rerouting of the kitchen exhaust through the house and out the roof—a change that ended up yielding a nice result. “We reworked a closet upstairs and ran the exhaust up through the house,” Rambo says. This meant using a remote fan in the kitchen, which makes it much quieter. “Everyone wants these industrial-grade cooktops, but that means you also need an industrial-grade fan, and they’re noisy.”

Bobby Caras of Multi-Systems, Inc.,  also worked some magic behind the walls, with the installation of a Control 4 integrated audio/video and lighting system. “The kitchen is such a gathering area, this was the next step in bringing the family together,” says Assuncao. 

While the working kitchen radiates natural tones and textures, the breakfast room is awash in vibrant gold. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box,” Baer says. “This color accentuates the beautiful kitchen. It almost hugs you.”

Cathy Applefeld Olson is a writer in Alexandria, Virginia. Photographer Kenneth M. Wyner is based in Takoma Park, Maryland. 

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: RUI PONTE, AIA, LEED AP, Ponte Mellor Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: JEAN ASSUNCAO, president; BILL RAMBO, project manager, Edgemoor Custom Builders, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: ALEXANDER BAER, Jenkins Baer Associates, Baltimore, Maryland. LANDSCAPING: CHAPEL VALLEY LANDSCAPE COMPANY, Woodbine, Maryland. 

Home Tech: Gadgets Galore MARCH/APRIL 2012

Armed and Ready
There are a lot of gadgets out there that combine one aspect of fitness and wellness with technology. BodyMedia’s FIT Armband seems to cover them all. Wear it on your arm and it will track and trend an expanse of information including physical activity, calorie intake and sleep patterns. The FIT Armband is relatively unobtrusive yet packs a powerful punch: It uses IBM software to corral the information, then goes a step further by providing personalized coaching on fitness and weight-loss goals. The LINK model offers Bluetooth capability so users can link data with a smart phone. $179 to $199; bodymedia.com

All Ears
The age of the home robot is upon us, but if you’re envisioning an R2D2-like clunker, think again. From France comes Karotz, a delightful little lapin-shaped electronic friend. Not only does Karotz interface with a variety of Internet-based activities, but it can learn its owner’s voice, read emails, weather reports, stock updates and more. $130; karotz.com

Lights, Camera, Action
The home security field has never been more crowded with products, some of which seem to require a PhD to use. Y-Cam’s new camera-ready system is pretty basic: Wi-Fi Internet security cameras send a motion alert with photo to your mobile device every time someone comes in or out of the house. The cameras come with AC power packs and provide a high-quality image up to 15 meters, even in pure darkness. $200 to $280; y-cam.com

A Wrinkle in Time
It looks like a fridge, but acts like a dry cleaner. Currently only available in Korea, the new LG Styler is a pro-style dry cleaning closet, complete with a variety of subtle aromas and programmable steam cycles for clothes that need a little de-wrinkling. The Styler can accommodate shirts and suits on hangers, and has shelves for ties and other items. lg.com

Play It by Ear
Scosche Industries announces three new additions to the REALM by Scosche line of premium headphones. Pictured here, the RH 1056mdbt on-ear headphones offer Bluetooth capability and a wireless range up to 33 feet. Like Scosche’s other additions, this one works with a free tuneQ graphic equalizer app for iPhone and iPod Touch that allows users to adjust the low, mid and high frequencies of songs through an on-screen display. The REALM headphone line starts at $120; scosche.com

Sweet Dreams
Tired of waking when your alarm jolts you out of sleep instead of when you’re ready to rise? UK-based Gear4’s Renew SleepClock, a base station/clock that works with the iPhone, iPod and iPad, monitors users’ breathing rates and records sleep habits from their bedside. Not only can it note trends in sleep cycles sans cumbersome patches or wires, but it can also be programmed to wake you at the optimal time during a half-hour window that you program. $200; gear4.com

Rose-Colored Glasses
Sure, 3D technology is great. But those unwieldy and—let’s face it—unattractive glasses have given many of us pause. Enter stylish eyeglass manufacturer Marchon, now a maker of 3D glasses that are decidedly high-fashion. Available in a variety of styles, the EX3D shades work universally with any passive 3D set. $20 to $75; marchon.com 

Cathy Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia.

**Out of the array of interior design magazines, Home and Design magazine stands out as a primary idea source for luxury home designs and coverage of luxury living.  Wonderful visuals of luxury getaways and dining options are combined with inspired decor to provide a fundamental reference point for bringing luxury to life in home interiors and beyond.

Casual Chic MARCH/APRIL 2012

few boxes already line the upstairs hall as the family of seven prepares to move. But the decidedly unfussy yet chic style of Mary Amons, known by many as the most genuinely real housewife of “The Real Housewives of DC,” still emanates from every room of the house she’s called home for the past 18 years.

Describing her style as “relaxed Ralph Lauren Colorado,” Amons gravitates to a neutral palette and layered textures that foster complementary pops of color. The home today is a far cry from the pink-mortared brick and stucco Dutch Colonial with a red sponge-painted kitchen that Amons first encountered when she began house hunting in the McLean neighborhood near where she grew up.

“I saw tremendous potential,” Amons says of the house, which she’d personalized to the point where all it needed was a landscaping facelift before she began filming the 2010 Bravo reality series. “My favorite house is Diane Keaton’s in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, and that’s what I wanted to recreate here.” 

The first order of business was to neutralize the exterior—“There was just way too much going on,” she deadpans—by painting it a single calming color, and adding a front wing that houses a gracious entry, plus the dining and living rooms. She and her husband, wireless communications consultant Rich Amons, later undertook other additions, including finishing a large attic space to make an apartment for the oldest child living at home and adding an expansive flagstone patio that grounds the glassed-in sunroom and provides a perfect space for warm-weather entertaining. 

An artist whose own paintings—as well as works by oldest daughter Lolly—adorn several rooms, Amons clearly understands the aesthetic of creating a unifying backdrop. The hardwood floors throughout the first floor are painted black (just like in the Keaton film), and all hard surfaces—from kitchen counters and backsplash to the vanities in all six bathrooms—are Carrara marble. Walls throughout the first floor soothe in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove and white orchids, Amons favorite flower, grace numerous tabletops.

“I heard the best piece of advice once, which is to design your house around the way you dress,” Amons says, gesturing to her black leggings, white t-shirt and black cardigan for emphasis. “I wear very little color.” 

With her penchant for layering, Amons’s neutral palette is anything but cold. Just the right amount of decorative molding brings additional depth to several rooms, including the tray-ceilinged family room. It is adorned with a sisal rug and natural hides—another Amons favorite—on the floor and draped over the couch.

With three daughters and two sons to keep up with, Amons has deliberately avoided the trend of letting an oversized television dominate the family room. Instead, a recessed flat-screen rises from a Carrara counter at the touch of a button, and disappears just as seamlessly. The other common rooms are free of TVs and their accompanying gadgetry altogether. 

“I didn’t want to give the kids too many options,” she says. “The heart of the home is the living area where we can sit and gather.”

In keeping with this mantra, Amons recently removed a large table and surrounding chairs from the kitchen, freeing the space to become another intimate seating area warmed by a wood-burning fireplace that more often than not is lit during the colder months.  “This year has been particularly unified,” Amons says. “Our kids are always developing and changing and the dynamics around here are developing and changing with them. But I’m always all about family first.”

The living and dining rooms—-only a tinge more formal than the other rooms—reveal a combination of pieces the Amons family has collected over the years, complementary Baker furniture, and photographs and other family keepsakes. In a nod to her mother, who deplored window treatments, Amons left most of the windows on the first floor unadorned.

A flirtatious manifestation of her recent embrace of modern décor is a Cappellini chair covered in a Pucci swirl of gray, black and dusty rose that holds court in the living room. Together with the round marble-topped Minotti table, the pieces from DC’s Contemporaria hint at the design direction that Mary Amons’s next home may take. “I’ve definitely been more interested in modern lately,” she says. 

Upstairs, the master suite is centered around an over-scaled wooden bed created by a family friend to maximize the view from the bedroom window.

Adjacent to the bedroom is the master bath, a luxurious sea of Carrara that also serves as the gateway to his and hers closets, the latter the site of the biometric lock Amons had installed that created a buzz on “Housewives.” 

Although she says a number of factors find the family ready to take up a new residence—they were looking at a variety of properties at the time of our interview—it’s clear that Amons has mixed emotions about the impending move. “It’s bittersweet to leave; it’s hard to let go,” she says. “But I’m excited for changes and new opportunities.” 

Amons’s career, too, is branching out in new directions. She’s purchased the rights to produce two films based on real-life stories with releases planned for late 2012 and is expanding Labels for Love (labelsforlove.org), the nonprofit she founded several years ago that stages fashion events to raise awareness and funding for women’s and children’s causes. 

And of course the move provides a chance for Amons to continue down the path of modern design. “Let’s just say most of the upholstery will not be coming back the same,” she says. “I’m excited to decorate a new space.” 

Cathy Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Stacy Zarin Goldberg is a photographer in Olney, Maryland.

**Out of the array of interior design magazines, Home and Design magazine stands out as a primary idea source for luxury home designs.  Wonderful visuals of inspired décor and lush landscapes are combined with expert advice to provide a fundamental reference point for bringing amazing home interior design ideas to life.


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