A well-designed outbuilding can be a place for recreation and respite at home, in any season. On the following pages, four chic retreats—each with its own personality and style—offer inspiration for creating the perfect perch in your own backyard.
When asked to design a large guest house on a Wye River property in Queenstown, Maryland, Kimmel Studio Architects tapped into the rural vernacular of the Chesapeake Bay region. Principal Devin Kimmel envisioned a barn-like structure “that would harmonize with the landscape and history of the Eastern Shore,” he notes. “We wanted a modern building with traditional design influences that would be at home on its site.”
Vertical wood panels clad a_ gabled, post-and-beam structure. Small windows on the south and west sides protect against heat gain while larger ones on the northeast façade optimize natural light; the river-facing wall consists entirely of windows. Two-story barn doors welcome visitors into a soaring, double-height great room; a dropped ceiling in one portion of the space delineates the kitchen and dining area, where a more intimate vibe prevails. Inside an attached, corrugated-steel silo, a spiral staircase winds up to the lofted second story, which evokes a hayloft but is modern in style. There, two bedrooms overlook the main level.
The completed guest house serves as a comfortable retreat for the owners’ relatives with young children. Says Kimmel, “The open-plan first floor and loft above it maximize the interior space and create an atmosphere of togetherness perfect for visiting families.”
Architecture: Devin Kimmel, AIA, ASLA, Kimmel Studio Architects. Builder: Lynbrook of Annapolis.
ABS Architects and Bayview Builders overhauled a dwelling on Weems Creek in Annapolis, reimagining it as a classic, shingled home. Along with the residence, the project revamped an existing building as a pool house “similar to the main abode but on a smaller scale,” explains Bayview’s Chris Neumann. His team clad the structure in white-painted cedar siding to match the residence.
The pool house spills out to a pool and spa surrounded by ipe decking. A screened porch connects to a loggia with a Spanish cedar pergola overhead. A gabled roof and dormers add interest, as does a roof deck atop the porch enclosed by a decorative railing.
Inside, the two-story pool house contains two bedrooms, two baths and a full kitchen. A bath and changing room cater to swimmers.
Architecture: ABS Architects. Builder: Bayview Builders. Landscape Architecture: Campion Hruby Landscape Architects.
Clients who love to hunt tasked architect Christine Dayton with designing an outpost on their Easton, Maryland, farm overlooking the Wye River. The structure would double as a social hub and storage space. Dayton conceived a traditional pole barn with a high ceiling, open spaces and no basement. “We sited the building to enjoy views of the farm and river,” she recounts. “A portion of the space stores decoys and equipment while the living area houses an office, bath and mudroom. A loft with a balcony captures river views.”
Vertical board and batten in stained pine clads the exterior, with a standing-seam metal roof and Marvin windows. Inside, vertical pine paneling channels the feel of a hunting lodge. A custom barnwood wet bar with a granite countertop serves the loft entertaining space.
Architecture: Christine M. Dayton, Christine M. Dayton Architect, P.A. Contractors: O’Neill Development; Chance & Associates.
Tapped for the task of restoring and reconstructing a sprawling farm situated along the Miles River in St. Michaels, Maryland, architect Gregory Wiedemann developed a plan that encompassed numerous outbuildings as well as the main residence. Among the renovated structures: a former concrete-block dairy barn envisioned by the homeowners as a destination for entertaining.
In its new iteration, the barn is clad in a combination of stone and painted mahogany bevel siding and trim, with a cedar shake roof and custom windows by Dover Windows & Doors. An adjoining pergola-covered stone patio invites al fresco dining. Inside, the main gathering space is elevated by custom millwork in rift-sawn white oak, stone flooring and rustic-elegant furnishings. A full catering kitchen makes entertaining easy—as does a wall of built-ins for wine storage.
Renovation Architecture: Gregory Wiedemann, FAIA, Wiedemann Architects, LLC.
The prospect of waterfront sunsets lured a couple to purchase a 70-year-old cottage just 20 feet from Edge Creek in St. Michaels, Maryland. The dilapidated structure needed work, so they hired Amanda Friend to reimagine it as a welcoming destination for family and friends.
“I wanted to take advantage of the incredible view and close water access,” the designer recounts. “The entire cottage is only 1,000 square feet, so I decided to make the indoors and outdoors one unified space, to allow the owners to host big gatherings. Turning the outdoor area into a ‘room’ meant tripling the home’s square footage.”
Friend replaced the dwelling’s creek-facing wall with sliding-glass accordion doors custom-fabricated by Loewen. She turned the formerly choppy interiors into an open and airy great room by razing a dividing wall and demolishing a section of dropped ceiling to expose the vaulted roofline. A small attic above the bedroom was finished to create a sleeping loft for the couple’s kids. The bedroom was brightened by additional windows overlooking the creek.
The kitchen lines up against the largest interior wall; a massive, quartzite-topped island serves as a hangout big enough to seat six. Removing a large, defunct fireplace made space to expand the nearby bathroom, now complete with a double vanity, roomy shower and soaking tub. “To create uninterrupted flow from the interior to the exterior, I chose a subtle palette that relates to the colors of nature,” notes Friend, “from the soft blue tones of water and sky to the grays and sand colors of the shoreline.”
Renovation & Interior Design: Amanda Friend, Associate ASID, Amanda Friend Interiors, Newark, Delaware. Renovation Contracting: K.H. Carpentry, Federalsburg, Maryland. Photography: Rebecca McAlpine.
For many years, designer Annie Elliott has enjoyed time at her family’s getaway in St. Michaels, Maryland, nestled along San Domingo Creek. “My husband’s grandfather, a naval architect, built the house in the 1960s,” Elliott recounts. “He and his wife chose the site because it gets such good wind; the point is ideal for sailing.”
Over time, the mid-century dwelling was expanded to include a second story, a first-floor primary bedroom and a sunroom with double-height windows. Elliott decorated the interiors with furniture and fabrics in a muted palette of whites, earthy oranges and light blues that reflects the home’s provenance.
The clean-lined, warm aesthetic spills out to the large side porch, reached from the sunroom via a rustic pine door. The outdoor area’s poured-concrete floor and framework remain unchanged, but Elliott adds color when entertaining with vintage rugs; lightweight and minimal painted-aluminum chairs from Woodard keep the focus on the view. Says the designer, “The house faces southwest, so no matter how muggy the day, there is always a breeze on the porch.”
Interior Design: Annie Elliott, Annie Elliott Interiors, Washington, DC. Photography: Markus Wilborn.
The owners of a home situated at the convergence of Harris Creek and Dun’s Cove on Maryland’s Eastern Shore hired Jennifer Gilmer for a kitchen overhaul. “The wife is a serious cook who enjoys hosting and was limited in her cramped and outdated kitchen,” reports Gilmer, who worked on the project with colleague Nancy McCarren. In addition to improving functionality and updating the outmoded aesthetic, playing up watery vistas was a priority.
The design duo partially razed walls separating the kitchen from both the dining and sitting rooms to allow for a series of connected spaces. Unnecessary bulkheads were removed for an airier feel and a neighboring closet was appropriated as a walk-in pantry. The new layout centers on two islands; the main one, embellished with carved, furniture-style legs, handles food prep and cleanup while the other, bordering the dining and sitting rooms, caters to entertaining.
The main island centers on a large bay that embraces an inviting breakfast nook (above). It features floor-to-ceiling windows from which expansive water vistas unfold beyond a landscaped rear yard.
Kitchen Design: Jennifer Gilmer, CKD; Nancy McCarren, AIA, LEED AP, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Chevy Chase and Easton, Maryland, and Ashburn, Virginia. Contractor: Shaw Contracting, Hurlock, Maryland.
After buying a circa-1916 home on Spa Creek in Annapolis, a couple hired designer Katherine Crosby of Jenkins Baer Associates to breathe fresh life into its outmoded interiors. Among the tasks: to revive a home office located off the primary suite. “It’s a quiet, contemplative space with a spectacular view and was intended for the wife’s use,” Crosby relates. “It’s set away from the main floor living areas and family hubbub.”
The room was already nicely outfitted with window seats and built-in shelving. This foundation in place, the designer was able to focus on aesthetics. “The client wanted a fresh and clean environment with a soft, warm palette—feminine but not floral,” Crosby says. “And she wanted us to maximize the views, of course.” Against the backdrop of walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s creamy Pompeii, a Hickory White desk and chair convey understated style. An Aerin light fixture from Visual Comfort is finished in Plaster White; natural silk Intex shades trimmed with Zimmer + Rohde tape frame the view.
Interior Design: Katherine Crosby, Jenkins Baer Associates, Baltimore, Maryland. Styling: Charlotte Safavi.
A couple looking for an Eastern Shore getaway settled on a bucolic slice of farmland overlooking Eastern Bay on Maryland’s Kent Island. They hired a team that included architect Christopher Pattey of Becker Morgan Group and designer Erin Paige Pitts to overhaul an existing 1980s house on the lot, imparting a coastal-traditional vernacular both inside and out.
The completed, 8,100-square-foot project enlarged the residence to more than twice its original size—and features a 2,500-square-foot owners’ suite on the main floor with its own columned approach. When it came time to furnish the house, Pitts turned to the estuary environment for inspiration. “I tried to mix the colors of the bay and sky with the textures of the property,” she says. In the primary bedroom (above), she emphasized serenity with soft blues and creams that give the panoramic bay vista center stage. A custom rug of Pitts’ design grounds furnishings that include an inlaid night table, bench and upholstered bed from Bernhardt.
Renovation Architecture: Christopher L. Pattey, Associate AIA, Becker Morgan Group, Salisbury, Maryland. Interior Design: Erin Paige Pitts, Erin Paige Pitts Interiors, Annapolis, Maryland. Contractor: John W. Coursey and Son, LLC, Centreville, Maryland.
About 15 minutes after seeing it, a couple house-hunting in Bethesda was ready to make an offer. The 1993 abode was uninspiring from the outside—but inside, the potential was obvious.
“We loved the flow, light and tall ceiling height,” recalls one partner, a retired university administrator (his husband is a former corporate executive). “It was well constructed; the building envelope, systems and appliances were in very good shape.” As a bonus, the home is an easy walk from downtown Bethesda and from family who live nearby.
However, the 7,000-square-foot, center hall residence had its drawbacks—first and foremost, a problematic approach to the front door and an oversized driveway that left no room for a garden. Inside, an overwrought aesthetic was characterized by Roman-style columns, excessive crown moldings and strong, saturated colors in each room. The kitchen was dark, the layout of the owners’ bath was strange and there was not enough indoor-outdoor connectivity.
After purchasing the seven-bedroom dwelling, the owners enlisted architect Eric Hurtt and contractor Fajen & Brown to carry out their vision for improvements. In terms of the exterior, “they were concerned with how the house presented to the street,” recounts Hurtt. “They wanted to make it more approachable and pedestrian-friendly.” His plan added a welcoming front porch and narrowed the driveway. Landscape designer Patricia Miller devised a wide stair from the street up to the front entry; a retaining wall; and a garden of boxwood, ferns and textural plants.
The interiors also got an overhaul. “The goal was to increase the connections between interior spaces and the backyard,” Hurtt explains. “The basic structure remains the same, but we changed how rooms interact, tweaking cased openings and building out drywall corners to create a sense of flow or to clarify spaces.”
At the back of the house, an open-plan family room/kitchen accessed the patio via a set of doors on the family room side. Hurtt installed a second door by the kitchen and enhanced the breakfast nook bay by adding transoms and lowering the sills to let in light and views of nature.
To dial back the grandiose sensibility, the architect stripped out excess trim and heavy ceiling coffers; removed the outmoded columns; and modified overscaled fireplace walls in both the living and family rooms with understated soapstone surrounds. At the same time, he added new architectural elements to impart character—case in point, a small front room became a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and cozy window seats. Tall, clean-lined wainscoting now elevates the dining room.
With much of the architectural work complete, the owners tapped interior designer Paul Corrie to spearhead furnishings and finishes, and to collaborate with Hurtt on kitchen and bath renovations. “We worked with the clients to develop a cohesive and thoughtful design,” Corrie relates. “They wanted a gentleman’s abode that would incorporate their art collection and existing furniture.”
To create the look they were after, the designer embraced an earthy, neutral palette, adding visual interest via strong, nubby textures in upholstery and draperies and a grass-cloth wall covering in the dining room. Muted Oriental rugs ground the main areas, where numerous mid-century pieces belonging to the clients have been re-covered in knit and woven fabrics. To make a statement in the large front entry hall—a connector to the library, living and dining rooms—Corrie selected a massive, 17th-century Italian walnut table from 1stDibs. “It was the first piece I found for them and they loved it,” he recalls, “so I knew we were off to a good start.”
The original kitchen had an L-shaped layout, dark-wood cabinetry and a small, insufficient window. Hurtt designed a more open layout around a large island with an oak base and quartz countertop; the window became a French door with sidelites and a transom. Cabriole Studio cabinetry was designed by Hurtt to span the back wall, and Corrie selected the soft beige cabinet color, along with lighting, stools and breakfast nook furniture. A tight butler’s pantry between the kitchen and dining room was overhauled with widened door openings and new cabinetry.
Hurtt and Corrie also revamped the primary bathroom, part of the second-floor owners’ suite. In its original iteration, the space was oddly organized, with two WCs, facing vanities and a shower enclosure stuck in the middle of the room. “It was a convoluted layout,” Hutt explains. “You had to walk around the shower.” The architect eliminated one WC and anchored an oak vanity topped with soapstone on one side with the shower opposite. A soaking tub is centered between the two zones. Large- format marble clads floors and shower walls and lighting chosen by Corrie conveys a vintage-modern look.
With the renovation complete, the owners are thrilled with their reimagined abode. “Despite its size, it feels warm and cozy. It has really been transformed into a home,” observes the former executive. “The design has allowed us to combine our eclectic art, book and furniture collections—the things we’ve collected over time that bring us joy. And there’s nothing better than sitting on the front porch and connecting with passing neighbors.”
Renovation Architecture: Eric B. Hurtt, AIA, NCARB, Hill & Hurtt Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Paul Corrie, Paul Corrie Interiors, Washington, DC. Renovation Construction: Fajen & Brown, Hyattsville, Maryland. Landscape Design: Patricia Miller, PL Miller & Company, Inc., Laytonsville, Maryland.
Sofa: dmitriyco.com. Sofa Fabric: pierrefrey.com. Armchairs: Owners’ collection. Armchair Fabric: dedar.com. Coffee Table: 1stdibs.com. Bench by Fireplace: olystudio.com. Bench by Fireplace Fabric: dedar.com. Painting over Fireplace: Owners’ collection. Drapery Fabric: larsenfabrics.com. Rug: mattcamron.com.
Bedding: rh.com. Chairs: Owners’ collection. Chair Fabric: rogersandgoffigon.com. Round Occasional Table: 1stdibs.com. Bench: lawsonfenning.com. Bench Fabric: pierrefrey.com. Rug: mattcamron.com. Drapery Fabric: calvinfabrics.com. Low Table & Candle Holders: 1stdibs.com. Art Above Low Table: Owners’ collection.
I love color and having meaningful things around me,” declares Dana Schwartz, standing in her chic and playful Adams Morgan abode. The designer’s surroundings perfectly speak to her preferences, as family pictures and beloved finds pop against a deep-blue backdrop.
Schwartz followed up design school with stints working for local mainstays Swatchroom, Erica Burns Interiors and Anthony Wilder Design/Build, then hung out her shingle in 2019.
She fell in love with her current digs two years ago while apartment hunting; the building was new, and her ninth-floor unit boasts drop-dead city views—including a closeup of the Washington Family Church National Cathedral and the Capitol on the horizon.
“The unit was just an empty white space when I moved in,” recounts the designer, who uses one of the two bedrooms as a studio. “I started with neutral basics to ground it, then let my accessories do the talking.” A Q&A with Schwartz chronicles her approach.
Would you call yourself a maximalist?
I’d say my personal style is maximalist. I love the things I’ve collected so much and they make me happy. But in the same way I want my home to reflect my style, I believe in designing for my clients and their personal styles. I’m there to bring their style to life.
How did you select the blue paint for your walls?
I thought of navy as a neutral here; there is so much natural light, I felt I could go dark. The color, Sherwin-Williams’ Indigo Batik, is perfect—it reads as dark yet brightens up in the light. With the white linen curtains and furniture, patterns and other colors can come to life.
What is your philosophy on color?
The key is that it has to flow together. Balance is important; I won’t have a lot of color in one spot without making sure it crops up again somewhere else. That’s the stuff we learned in design school: symmetry, balance and light. I take photos of spaces as I’m installing them and look at them at night to map those things out.
What inspired the quirky gallery wall in your main living area?
During covid I became obsessed with vintage shopping online. I love ’70s style so when I found the rattan console and stool, I had to have them. They’re out of scale with the Samsung Frame TV, but I thought I could get away with it if I built a gallery wall around the console and the TV, which looks like art anyway. I already had most of the framed pieces.
Share the story behind the neon quote.
I’d seen a picture of a room with a funny movie quote in neon lights. I thought it was a cool idea, so I picked this iconic, hilarious quote by LuAnn de Lesseps from “The Real Housewives of New York City” because I’m a huge fan. I had the sign made on Etsy. I like that it shows I don’t take things too seriously.
Share the story behind the front hallway’s gallery wall.
I wanted to do something special with the hallway. I started collecting burlwood frames a few years ago to use for older family pictures that have meaning to me. The black frames hold rotating friend and family photos. I love to walk in and see people I love.
How did you make the builder-grade kitchen your own?
I switched out cabinet hardware and added a fun, tactile chandelier. I had the counter-height table made to go under it because there was no island. It’s custom-colored to match a silver- and-turquoise box I bought in Santa Fe that is one of my favorite pieces; it sits on the coffee table.
Explain your furniture plan.
The main goal was to keep the space open. I wanted to be able to entertain— I can actually seat up to 17 people.
How did the look of your bedroom evolve?
I had a studio apartment before with a huge electric panel on the main wall. I covered it with curtains from Anthropologie and loved how they softened everything. I also love black and white, so when I moved here, I decided to recreate that space in the bedroom, with the curtains on the wall behind the bed. Though the view is amazing, I chose to lean a big canvas against the window to allow more privacy but still let in the light. Plus, there was no wall space to hang it.
What if you find something else you want and there’s no more room?
These spaces are ever-evolving, so I guess I’ll need to rotate things out. Luckily, I haven’t gotten to that point yet!
Interior Design: Dana Schwartz, Dana Schwartz Design, Washington, DC.
Tips for creating a gallery wall?
It’s a real undertaking. The one in my hall took a year of planning, curating and mapping out, then about five hours to hang. Having a cohesive subject can be helpful.
What’s your process for collecting?
If something speaks to me, I will trust my gut, particularly if it’s a vintage item. If I don’t have space for it, I might get it and hold onto it or see if it will work for a client.
Check out RH Teen and RH Baby & Child—their stuff is playful and fun.
Describe a recent furniture rehab.
I finished an old brass headboard in high-gloss blue and gave it a whole new life.
Favorite color or brand?
Benjamin Moore is usually my go-to. I just paired Elephant Gray, which has a hint of purple, with a Phillip Jeffries wall covering. Going bold, Bainbridge Blue looks great on bunk beds I installed recently.
After updating their décor, Bethesda homeowners enlisted Four Brothers Design + Build to revive the abode’s outmoded kitchen. “They wanted more storage,” recounts project designer Kristen Mendoza. “And they really use this kitchen, so counter and prep space were a must.” Though large enough, the existing kitchen was awkward, with a heavily sloped ceiling that limited cabinet height. Window and door openings interrupted every wall, and a peninsula bisecting the room restricted flow and work areas.
The new plan replaced the peninsula with a central island; it houses the cooktop beneath a paneled, white-painted hood that serves as a focal point. Walls of cabinetry and appliances offer abundant storage and quartz countertops allow plenty of workspace.
Collaborating with designer Cynthia Allan, who furnished the rest of the house, Mendoza devised a crisp black, white and gray palette that conveys a timeless sensibility. Cabico cabinets are painted in Farrow & Ball’s dark-gray Down Pipe, offset by black peripheral counters and backsplash and a white quartz island countertop with a waterfall end. The kitchen ceiling was already clad in beadboard, so the team extended it to the walls for texture and interest. Says Mendoza, “Since kitchens can last upwards of 20 years, we wanted to ensure a classic feel.”
Interior Architecture & Kitchen Design: Kristen Mendoza; Jose Paranos, lead carpenter, Four Brothers Design + Build, Washington, DC. Interior Design: CG Allan Interior Architecture + Design LLC, Potomac, Maryland.
Heat & Glo has debuted new digital flame technology in its vent-free SimpliFire Inception Electric Fireplace. It includes a realistic flame in a 36-inch, remote-controlled viewing area; the Chateau Forge front is pictured. heatnglo.com
The Plodes Geometric Firepit from Design Within Reach creates a sculptural silhouette. Designed to burn seasoned wood or charcoal, the Corten steel vessel comes in two rectangular sizes; a steel grate and cedar top are sold separately. dwr.com
ON THE MANTEL
Evoking the look of limestone, Kindred Outdoors & Surrounds’ engineered-stone fireplace surrounds come in four colors and two finishes; the Carmela, with a plinth block foundation and bull nose detailing, is pictured in honed Oak Barrel. mykindredliving.com
SET IN STONE
Island Stone’s Mini Split, a scaled-down, textured-stone ledger panel, creates a natural-look fireplace surround ideal for transitional and contemporary spaces. The line now comes in three additional hues: Moonlit, Alabaster and Charcoal Glint (pictured). islandstone.com
THE ART OF FIRE
The Alluravision sleek, linear electric fireplaces by Napoleon boast an almost-frameless viewing area showcasing colorful flames and glass embers. Recess or hang on a wall; available in a range of color and brightness options. napoleon.com
Riffing on a classic starburst form, the Finch Chandelier by Arteriors delivers an organic touch with wooden branches emanating from an iron center. The eight-light fixture comes in a natural, white-washed or dark-gray-washed finish. arteriorshome.com
SUSPENDED IN AIR
Castro Lighting’s Safari Suspension assembles a cascade of lights encased in brass plates, each handcrafted with a motif mimicking a giraffe’s spots. Layers of bronzed glass temper the fixture’s glow. Find as a chandelier, pendant, sconce or lamp. castrolighting.com
SOUND OF MUSIC
Canadian design studio Yabu Pushelberg has teamed with Lasvit on Miles, a lighting collection that conjures musical instruments in blown glass. Fluted shapes resembling horns are encased in graphite-hued glass cylinders to create pendants and floor lamps. lasvit.com
The U.K. brand lights&lamps has launched an online shop in the U.S. Part of its collection, the Orta 1-Light Table Lamp crosses Scandinavian style with an industrial vibe. A tall base finished in Antique Silver is paired with a wide, shallow cone shade in Burnished Brass. us.lightsandlamps.com
Hammerton Studio’s linear Fiori Modern Branch Chandelier reinterprets mid-century style. Opaque artisan-blown glass bulbs in the shape of buds adorn a base that comes in a choice of eight finishes. Six, eight and 10-light fixtures are available. studio.hammerton.com
Hand-sculpted out of cast iron, Uttermost’s Spruce Floor Lamp mimics the look of distressed branches with black and silver undertones. Find with a light-gray linen drum shade at Belfort Furniture in Sterling, Virginia. belfortfurniture.com
Muuto’s Under The Bell Pendant Lamp designed in conjunction with Copenhagen-based Iskos-Berlin boasts a felt-like shade crafted largely from recycled plastic fibers. It comes in black, gray, white or green, a recent addition. dwr.com
Italian lighting brand Formaminima handcrafts chic pendants with simple rectangular silhouettes. A crystal glass diffuser is accentuated with Limoges porcelain sheets, then paired with a base of marble, wood or brass; pictured above in olive burlwood. formaminima.com
Sarah Sherman Samuel’s Kukka Sconce for Lulu & Georgia sports a curvaceous arm gracefully cupping an opal-glass orb. Choose between a brass or black finish; a chandelier and floor lamp are also part of the collection. luluandgeorgia.com
Overlapping brass plates echo flower petals in the Cynara Chandelier, conceived for Visual Comfort by lighting designer Chapman & Myers. Find at Dominion Lighting locations in a choice of sizes and finishes; White & Gild is pictured above. dominionlighting.com
Iconic Home: Interiors, Advice, and Stories from 50 Amazing Black Designers
Black Interior Designers, Inc., unites, connects and promotes designers of color. This book by June Reese, vice-president of the nonprofit, reveals the experiences, challenges and work of 50 industry stars, including local pros Lorna Gross, Laura Hodges, DuVäl Reynolds, Byron Risdon and Saudah Saleem. Abrams, 2023; $50.
My Neighbor Saw Me Naked and Other Reasons You Need Drapes
This illustrated handbook self-published by DC-based designer and popular TikTok-er Annie Elliott is a lighthearted, conversational guide for novice decorators. Elliott, a former art historian, shares tips on window treatments, rugs, furniture, lighting, color, wallpaper, art and accessories. 2023; $25.
Furnishing the White House: The Decorative Arts Collection
Curators document two centuries of changing presidential taste, hospitality and lifestyle via 375 images of decorative objects from the White House collection. The authors examine the symbolism behind these treasures and the roles they play in diplomacy and national pride. The White House Historical Association, 2023; $65.
Farrow & Ball: How to Redecorate
A color primer by Farrow & Ball color curator Joa Studholme and creative director Charlotte Cosby contains more than 340 photos and illustrations, along with advice on building color schemes, selecting neutral palettes and more. A follow-up to the authors’ How to Decorate. Octopus Publishing, 2023; $44.
Vintage row houses, those quintessentially Washington dwellings, can hide all manner of surprises. Case in point: a circa-1900 dwelling near Dupont Circle whose classic, red-brick façade conceals streamlined interiors ingeniously reimagined by modernist architect Robert Gurney.
The homeowner, a longtime client who works in finance, first considered the four-story, 2,332-square-foot house as an investment opportunity. However, she changed her mind on seeing it. “I grew up in New York,” she says, “so it was always sort of a fantasy to own a brownstone. I figure this is the closest I’m going to get to that in DC!” But as a fan of modern architecture, her fantasy brownstone veered contemporary on the inside. “I called Bob as I was walking out the door after touring the house,” she recalls, “and said ‘I have a project for you.’”
When the time came, Gurney enlisted a team that included colleague Kara McHone, designer Therese Baron Gurney (his wife and frequent collaborator) and builder Peterson+Collins. They had their work cut out for them, as the building was dilapidated—to say the least. “It had been a sort of rooming house, with a kitchen on each floor,” recounts the architect.
Working with McHone, he devised a plan that would gut the dingy interior spaces and create a 300-square-foot, glassed-in addition at the back of the basement and ground floor (zoning prohibited extending the upper floors). The main level became a single, open-plan room with the front living area flowing back to the kitchen and the dining area in the addition at the rear. The second floor encompasses the primary suite, which boasts a back patio, and the third holds two spare bedrooms. The basement includes a playroom and a home office.
In the revamped layout, the main level feels more spacious than its 20-foot width would indicate. “It’s a nice homage to the original space,” comments principal Ted Peterson, who spearheaded construction. “The rear addition was critical to the project’s success, as it elongates the room and makes it feel wider.”
The front door opens to an airy, floating stair that was relocated to its current spot along the wall. “The whole concept is organized around the stairwell, which cuts through the ceiling to a skylight at the top,” Gurney explains. “We came up with this system of a welded-wire fabric wall instead of a glass railing; reclaimed-white oak slats are layered over it on the main floor to add more texture.”
Beyond the stair, a functional core opposite the sleek kitchen holds a powder room and pantry; it extends to the second and third floors, where it houses the laundry room and a bathroom respectively. Also part of this core: an elevator that runs from the basement to the third floor, enabling the owner to age in place.
With visiting grandchildren in mind, robust, durable materials were specified—a mandate that inspired the architects’ palette of reclaimed-white oak surfaces, hot-rolled-steel accents, Italian stone-look porcelain flooring and dark-stained white oak on cabinets and upstairs walls. “I wanted a sophisticated look with some different materials,” notes the client, “and nothing too delicate.”
Those materials create continuity among spaces and delineate rooms in lieu of drywall—particularly the reclaimed white oak, which appears on floors, stair treads, walls and built-ins throughout the house. “With the home’s width, I thought all the wood might be overwhelming, but it makes the walls that much more special,” observes Peterson. “The door hinges are concealed and all the wood is matched. That kind of detail defines Bob’s projects.” To address the wood’s natural expansion and contraction, Peterson’s team fabricated the walls with quarter-inch reveals between panels that allow for movement; these echo the reveals typically found in modern architectural spaces—including this home—where moldings are eschewed.
Gurney and McHone also orchestrated finishes in the kitchen and bathrooms. The former combines custom, dark-stained oak cabinetry by Affinity Woodworking with terrazzo countertops; the nearby powder room sports the same surface. Frosted-glass walls define the minimalist primary bath on the second floor.
The cellar floor was lowered 16 inches to provide additional ceiling height and covered in polished concrete. A home office, tucked into the rear addition, is brightened by a spacious light-well-cum-patio visible through a wall of windows and accessible via a glass door. A quartet of young grandchildren enjoys time in the adjacent playroom.
Therese Baron Gurney’s interiors “support and blend the furnishings with the finishes,” she explains, adding that her involvement with the client carried over from a prior project. “We reconfigured many items from her previous house, adding new pieces to make them work specifically within the new environment.”
The owner is thrilled with her vintage row house and its elegant yet livable modern interiors. “I love it here, I love how it feels,” she enthuses. “It really works perfectly for me.”
Renovation Architecture: Robert Gurney, FAIA, principal; Kara McHone, project architect, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA Architect Washington, DC. Interior Design: Therese Baron Gurney, ASID, Baron Gurney Interiors. Renovation Contractor: Ted Peterson, Peterson+Collins, Bethesda, Maryland.
Cabinetry: affinitywoodworking.com. Countertops: concrete-collaborative.com; stonesource.com. Countertops Installation: unitedstatesmarbleandgranite.com. Stools: bernhardtdesign.com. Dining Table: knoll.com. Chairs: cassina.com.
Desk & Chair: Owners’ Collection.
Bed & Night Tables: Custom. Rug: Custom through joanweissman.com.
Vanity & Mirror: Custom through affinitywoodworking.com.
Back to Nature
A dramatic refuge brings the spa experience home
Vintage marries modern in a chic primary bath
Bold color and contrast elevate a sleek sanctuary
A Bethesda retreat fosters wellness in style
During construction of a Bethesda spec home, bath and tile designer Davis Holland Leichsenring was tapped to conceive all six and a half of the abode’s bathrooms. “I envisioned them as spa-like oases fostering wellness and healing, and developed each with its own personality,” he says.
A sophisticated yet playful vibe prevails in the sleek, lower-level bath, dubbed the Spa, where Leichsenring embraced an aesthetic that is intended to appeal to kids in the nearby playroom, adults in the game room/bar and yoga practitioners in the adjacent exercise room.
“A grand feature wall continues uninterrupted between the shower and toilet enclosures,” explains the designer, who clad the wall in lively, tridimensional porcelain tiles in nine pastel colors, then offset the exuberant palette with charcoal-colored, large-format porcelain floor tiles.
A column separates the shower and WC, both enclosed by glass panels with frosted sections for privacy. The curb-less shower is bordered by a linear drain and features a floating shower bench, an invention created and patented by Leichsenring. “There are adjustable body jets under the bench to massage feet and legs, three wall jets, a 10-inch rain showerhead and a handheld spray, all controlled by a digital valve,” he notes.
Integrated with cubbies, cabinets and a bench, built-in millwork opposite the shower conveys the feel of a spa. Radiant heat warms the floor and a careful lighting plan illuminates the room via a dropped ceiling—with special emphasis on the center-stage statement wall.
Bath Design: Davis Holland Leichsenring, UDCP, Holland Bath & Spa, North Bethesda, Maryland. Architecture: John G. Katinas, AIA, Katinas Bruckwick Architecture, Bethesda, Maryland. Builder: Paul Katinas, General Contractor, Washington, DC. Photography: Austin Meyer.
Wall + Floor Tile: architessa.com. Plumbing Fixtures + Mirror: kohler.com through grofusa.com. Vanity: christianacabinetry.com through kitchenandbathstudios.com. Shower Bench: hollspa.com. Toilet: laufen.com through build.com. Glass Panels: riverglassdesigns.com.
When designer Martha Vicas was tasked with selecting finishes for a sprawling, contemporary residence under development by Coba in Northwest DC, part of the job was completing “a spectacular bath to match the amazing primary bedroom,” she recalls. She consulted on the architecture of the space, which ultimately featured a long double vanity and a huge, glassed-in shower with a Calacatta Lincoln marble bench anchoring one end. During the framing stage when the designer was busy specifying what she terms “a middle-of-the-road, white-and-gray stone palette,” the house was sold and Vicas did an about-face.
“The buyers wanted bold color,” recalls the designer, who accommodated their wishes with vivid-blue, glazed ceramic tile in the shower, which is designed to feel like an alcove. She clad the shower floor, walls and ceiling in the same blue tile—a herringbone pattern on the walls and ceiling paired with mosaic squares on the floor. Then, to allay the owners’ fears that there still wouldn’t be enough color in the room, Vicas painted the custom vanity in a matching blue hue—Gentleman’s Gray by Benjamin Moore—and topped it with Calacatta Lincoln marble.
After that, Vicas laughs, “I encouraged them to keep the rest of the palette calm.” Calacatta Chablis marble covers the floor and walls around a sculptural soaking tub with clean, modern lines. Phillip Jeffries vinyl grass cloth in a serene blue-gray color adorns the walls.
Interior & Bath Design: Martha Vicas, M.S. Vicas Interiors, Washington, DC. Architecture: Nahra Design Group, Washington, DC. Developer: Coba, Washington, DC. Builder: Ox Builders, Washington, DC.
Sinks, Plumbing Fixtures + Tub Filler: kallista.com. Tub: admbathroom.com. Wall Tile: architessa.com. Shower Tile: annsacks.com. Custom Vanity: okawvalleywoodworking.com. Wallpaper: phillipjeffries.com. Sconces: urbanelectric.com.