Oceanfront lots on the Delaware seashore are a hot commodity. So when a Washington-area couple discovered a pristine parcel flanked by the Atlantic on one side and Rehoboth’s shimmering Silver Lake on the other, they knew they’d struck gold. The duo acquired the land, then engaged architect Robert Gurney to design a modern getaway on-site. They envisioned interiors bathed in light and space to accommodate their children, parents and guests in comfort and style.
Gurney and project architects Claire Andreas and Brian Tuskey conceived a three-story structure where every room would overlook one, if not both, bodies of water. The plan would also afford residents every opportunity to engage their senses in the coastal environment. In the finished retreat, the family can grab cold drinks and snacks in the indoor-outdoor game room/kitchen just off the beach; watch breakers roll in from myriad decks and terraces; and soak in a hot tub under the stars.
Minimalist in spirit, the house still conforms to neighborhood requirements. A demand for traditional materials inspired the cedar-shake roof, dark-stained mahogany window frames, copper panels and bleached cedar-shingle siding. “The review board also mandated a gable-shaped roof, which picks up on the language of Shingle style,” explains Gurney, who had initially proposed a flat-roof scheme.
On the lake side, the 11-bedroom, 12,000-square-foot residence reads as four distinct pavilions connected by glass volumes, plus a garage. “We took a large house and broke down the massing so it wouldn’t seem quite so big,” he continues. In contrast, the beach façade bares all with glass walls celebrating ocean views on the top floors, which cantilever above the pool terrace.
The architects brought the outdoors in on every story. Sliding-glass walls expose the ground-floor game room to the pool and dunes beyond; guest quarters, a changing room, outdoor showers and storage for bikes and beach toys deliver resort-level ease.
On the second-floor screened porch, sliding-glass pocket doors make way for sea breezes to waft into the expansive living/dining area and kitchen. More glass on the east and west elevations opens to decks overlooking sea and lake. “You can see through the house to the lake and the ocean,” Gurney marvels. “How many places do you get that?”
Seating and playful Bocci lights above the dining table add splashes of color against pale oak floors, gray kitchen cabinets and white countertops. An Ann Sacks mosaic backsplash, selected by the wife, strikes an exuberant note. “We picked up on blues found in sea glass and greens in the ocean and accented them with sunshine colors of yellow and gold,” explains designer Therese Baron Gurney. Hired to furnish interiors with sophisticated pieces that can take a beating, she points out performance upholstery and a silk-look nylon rug that, she attests, “will wear like iron.”
Designed by Julia Walter of Boffi, the kitchen is organized around a central volume housing a pantry and appliances. While cooking is underway on the main island, guests can mingle around a secondary island or on nearby swivel chairs. “It’s a very social and open space,” says Walter. “Yet the center volume is clad in panels so you don’t see you’re walking into a kitchen when you come up the stairs.”
Hung above the floating staircase, Arturo Alvarez pendants conjure exotic sea creatures. Gurney glazed the stairwell’s outer wall with panes of translucent Kalwall. “It pulls a ton of natural light into the center of the house,” he explains, “but hides a direct view of the neighbors.”
The project’s landscape architects from OvS also mitigated side views with loblolly pines planted among fragrant sumac and Northern sea oats. And they reinforced the dunes with American beachgrass, native shrubs and perennials. “OvS did a nice job creating a landscape that fits the beach environment and doesn’t require a huge amount of maintenance,” says Robert Gurney.
From the third floor—which harbors family bedrooms, an office and a gym—a separate stair ascends to the roof deck. Buttressed by the home’s gables, this perch comes complete with a built-in TV should anyone tire of the lofty views.
This deck was just one of many challenges Horizon Builders faced during construction. “The building was designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. And there are some big cantilevers, so it needed an enormous amount of steel,” the architect remarks. “When all of Rehoboth is gone, this will be the last house standing.”
After the pandemic hit, the family wound up sheltering in their newly completed retreat for more than a year. “The wife told me how much they love the house and all the light and fresh air,” says Baron Gurney. Gazing at the beach from the living room deck, she sighs, “It is like heaven right here.”
Architecture: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, principal; Claire Larsen Andreas and Brian Tuskey, AIA, project architects, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA Architect, Washington, DC. Interior Design, Therese Baron Gurney, ASID, Baron Gurney Interiors, Washington, DC. Kitchen Design: Julia Walter, Boffi, Washington, DC. Builder: Horizon Builders, Annapolis, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Lisa Delplace, FASLA; Stacilyn Feldman and Beth L’Estrange, senior associates; Rachel Heslop, senior designer, OvS, Washington, DC.
Rug: silkroadcarpetandrugs.com. Sofas: dwr.com. Sofa Fabric: maharam.com. Teak Coffee Table: Custom by andrejoyau.com. Side Table & Benches: ateliervierkant.com. Millwork Design: robertgurneyarchitect.com. Millwork Fabrication: alleghenywoodworksllc.com. Fireplace: flarefireplaces.com. Light Fixtures: folio.it. Recessed Lighting: Philips Lightolier Calculite through gsadc.com. Paint: Simply White by benjaminmoore.com. Fireplace Surround: Andy Fleishman through annsacks.com.
Cabinetry: boffi.com. Chairs at Island, Swivel Chairs & Coffee Table: andreuworld.com. Island Chair Upholstery: spradling.group. Swivel Chair Upholstery: sunbrella.com. Backsplash Tile: annsacks.com. Hood: zephyronline.com. Island Faucets: waterstoneco.com. Fixtures: konstunion.com. Oven & Fridge: subzero-wolf.com through adu.com. Built-in Coffee Machine: mieleusa.com through adu.com.
Lighting: Arturo Alvarez through illumco.com.
Soon after updating a small home for clients with two young kids, designer Kelly Holland discovered the owners had shifted gears and put in a contract for a new five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath home in Arlington. Though they’d worked with builder BCN Homes to specify tile and built-ins, the couple tapped Holland to spearhead the interiors of the 5,855-square foot abode.
Her furniture plan reflects its modern farmhouse style yet embraces the owners’ penchant for mid-century furnishings. One challenge: The wife wanted everything neutral while her husband was hungry for color. Ultimately, “both ended up being very happy,” says the designer. “The house is not one single look, but it’s so them.”
When did your clients realize they needed help from an interior designer?
BCN has a great team and they spent a lot of time getting to know the couple. But the owners were overwhelmed with their choices and that’s when they brought us in. We worked with BCN to complete sourcing and design furniture plans.
How did you resolve the couple’s love/hate relationship with color?
We kept the larger furniture pieces quiet and let them speak through texture. Then we brought in color through pillows in the great room and on the porch and through elements like paintings and area rugs. A tiny bit of color goes a long way.
What drove the dining chair selection?
By nature, there are a lot of rectangular shapes and straight lines in the kitchen; the ceiling beams are also strong and geometric. We needed something to loosen things up a little so we chose the sculptural host chairs and dining chairs with the circular backs for contrast.
Explain the benefits of the quartzite island countertop.
Quartzite is a natural stone that has the beautiful veining of marble and is as hard and durable as granite.
What are smart ways to ensure durability?
We’re using as much indoor/outdoor performance fabric inside as we are outside. Fabrics in the Great Outdoors collection through Holly Hunt, for example, have the most gorgeous hand to them. In this project, the great room sofa is covered in a Pindler performance fabric that feels like suede. If something gets on it, a damp washcloth takes it off. We also selected wool carpets because they’re easy to clean. And the dining chairs are leather-wrapped and easy to wipe down after use.
Share the most serendipitous furniture find you made during the planning stage.
My colleague and I were antiquing in Culpeper and each spotted a Mid-Century Modern end table at Country Shoppes. When we saw there were two, we had to buy them. They were unfinished but great structurally. We hired artist Martha Leone to give them a new life. She painted the frames black and left the drawers natural wood. For a family-friendly vibe, we topped them with marble remnants; the stone finish is indestructible.
Explain how you created flexibility in the lower-level living area.
We placed little C tables so that the owners have a place for a drink or a laptop. We didn’t want a giant cocktail table that would lock them in. The leather ottoman and wood coffee table are also easy to move around so if they have a movie night, they can scoot the tables out of the way and put pillows on the floor for the kids.
How did you repurpose the clients’ existing furniture?
We help clients re-use what they have if it’s right and if it’s smart. In this project, we had our furniture finisher put a coat of marine-grade varnish on their original walnut dining table for use on the screened porch. And their previous dining room chandelier and Room & Board buffet ground the area at the bottom of the stairs on the lower level.
What makes the owners’ bedroom feel so tranquil?
Our local upholsterer created wall panels in a gorgeous smoky-gray fabric with a little bit of lavender in it. The Roman shade is motorized and there’s a sun shade behind it. We like to do a rug in a bedroom that’s room-size to soften up the space. And we selected crisp, white bedding in organic cotton. At the end of the day, it’s quiet and clean—and not fussy.
Do you have a designer good luck charm?
In my wallet, I keep a plastic cockroach that Mario Buatta gifted to me at a dinner in DC. It makes me smile and is a solid reminder to keep things light and fun.
What trend has run its course?
I want to break out in hives if I see another Chair and a Half.
What’s a new style you embrace?
I love that tight-backed upholstered pieces are more common now so we don’t have to fluff the back cushions on sofas and chairs any more.
Name a piece of furniture you treasure most?
My late mother-in-law showed up one Easter holding a primitive farm bench painted my favorite color, Kelly green. She picked it up at a consignment shop in Reston—and she nailed it. “This is your Easter basket,” she said. It was a coffee table in our prior home and now serves as a console. That super-simple piece means so much to me.
SPRING TO LIFE
Saatva was the first online brand to offer premium innerspring mattresses direct to consumers when it launched in 2010. The company manufactures mattresses at 19 factories across the U.S. and delivers them locally to minimize carbon footprint; buyers are offered a 180-night trial period. Its best seller, the Classic Innerspring Mattress features a base containing 416 stainless-steel coils to prevent sagging, a second layer of 884 individually pocketed coils to cradle the body, a layer of high-density memory foam for back support and an optional three-inch pillow top covered in organic cotton. The mattress is available in three levels of firmness and two height options. Adult-size mattresses range from $1,000 to $4,500; frames are sold separately. A two-story Logan Circle showroom is coming to 1714 14th Street, NW, with a targeted November debut. saatva.com
A family-owned Swedish company founded in 1926, Duxiana handcrafts beds with multiple layers of interlocking, continuous-coil springs that ergonomically adjust to the weight and contours of a sleeper’s body. A king-size model contains more than a mile of high-tensile steel wire with up to 4,180 interconnected bed springs. The Dux 6006 features dual bottom layers that provide deep suspension and a middle layer for lumbar support. An upper layer zips open to reveal six “cassettes” that can be positioned to customize support for legs, hips and shoulders. And a tufted, removable pad tops off the bed with a final layer of cushioning. All models boast an integrated base made of slow-growth Swedish pine; legs come in a variety of styles and sizes. Duxiana beds range from $4,100 to $21,950. The company’s Georgetown showroom is open by appointment only. duxiana.com
DOWN TO EARTH
Sound environmental stewardship drives the manufacturing process from “farm to mattress” for direct-to-consumer brand Avocado. Its carbon-neutral factory in Los Angeles turns out products made with non-toxic, eco-friendly materials. The new Organic Luxury Plus mattress features 3,136 individually pocketed, recycled-steel coils arranged in five zones for support and motion isolation, along with 21 layers combining certified-organic latex from Avocado’s own rubber farms, organic wool, mohair, natural alpaca, natural silk, organic flax fiber and organic cotton. Choose a power-adjusted base or platform bed, sold separately by Avocado, or use a frame of your choice. Avocado mattresses range in price from $999 to $5,599. The company offers buyers a one-year trial and donates 90 percent of returns to charity. avocadogreenmattress.com
Hästens has been making bespoke luxury beds since 1852. The family-owned Swedish company still carries on the tradition it started six generations ago of using horsehair in its beds for the natural, pliable support it imparts and for its inherent breathability and anti-bacterial properties. During the manufacturing process, ethically sourced horsehair is washed in boiling water, rinsed, spun, disinfected and then heated to 284 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that it’s clean, pristine and allergen-free. In addition to horsehair, the Vividus mattress contains layers of cotton and wool atop two layers of springs customized to suit the end users’ needs and preferences. The classic check fabric, available in multiple colorways, helps craftsmen confirm the alignment of their work; the frame is made of redwood from northern Sweden. Beds range in price from $9,895 to $879,900 at the Hästens showroom in Tysons Galleria. hastens.com
Lore Group, the hospitality company behind DC’s Riggs hotel, has opened a second property in the capital. Lyle Washington DC is a 196-room hotel housed in a revamped 1940s-era Art Deco apartment building in Dupont Circle. Creative director Jacu Strauss designed calm, serene accommodations with an emphasis on natural materials, from bespoke furnishings to burlwood headboards. Herman Miller pendants illuminate Lyle’s restaurant and bar, where chef Nicholas Sharpe (a veteran of Fiamma in New York) turns out contemporary American fare. Rates from $149. lyledc.com
The Model 1 e-bike pampers cyclists with a low step-through and storage for 50 pounds of cargo. Maker Civilized Cycles claims it’s the world’s only bike to feature automated, self-leveling air suspension that adjusts to passenger weight, allowing it to glide smoothly over any terrain. Range: 30 miles with a single battery and 60 miles with a double battery. The e-bike ships in late 2021; $5,499. civilizedcycles.com
PEACE & LOVE FROM RINGO
Part of Pro-Ject Audio Systems’ Artist Collection, the Peace & Love turntable celebrates the 30th anniversary of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Sporting artwork Starr designed himself, it features an Ortofon OM10 cartridge, a precision diamond-cut aluminum pulley, top-notch MDF chassis and built-in motor control. $500; available through Gramophone. pro-jectusa.com; gramophone.com
Conceived in collaboration with Benjamin Hubert of LAYER design, Bang & Olufsen’s new Beosound Emerge speaker defies its slim silhouette with powerful sound. The compact wireless device, which can be tucked away in any small room, delivers crystal-clear audio, projecting 180 degrees. Emerge is available in Gold Tone (pictured, $899) or Black Anthracite ($699); bang-olufsen.com
Perennial recently reopened after a major makeover by Baltimore designer Patrick Sutton. He wrapped the restaurant in a garden courtyard and verandah, then brought the outdoors in with a conservatory-like dining room featuring cozy banquettes and lanterns by Hudson Valley Lighting. Sutton clad the bar in bleached walnut; shelving niches are lined with slabs of book-matched stone. Chef Jay Rohlfing focuses on locally sourced fare, including Utz-Crusted Halibut. Mixologist Andrew Nichols crafted the menu of cocktails. 1 Olympic Place, Towson, Maryland. 410-339-7730; perennialtowson.com
British designer Paul Smith has paired with the textile house Maharam to create Paisley Brocade. Inspired by London’s Hyde Park, the pattern juxtaposes raised motifs that reference Old World needlepoint with bold digital art. The fabric is shown here on a denim jacket ($775) and denim trousers ($475), both part of Smith’s Autumn/Winter ’21 collection. paulsmith.com; maharam.com
Or the thrill of an indoor, in-person meet-up after a year of virtual connections. But a visit to designer Tom Preston’s new digs felt like a moment suspended in time, where furniture from many eras and contemporary art forge an unexpected camaraderie.
Just before the pandemic hit, Preston settled into Liz, a new building on 14th Street designed by New York architect Annabelle Selldorf. Located on the former site of Whitman-Walker Health’s Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, the mixed-use building pays homage to Taylor, an ardent supporter of the non-profit’s HIV care and LGBTQ-focused advocacy. As a partner in Liz, Whitman-Walker now has offices and a cultural center on-site.
Preston was drawn to the building for its legacy, its sleek architecture—and its world-class public art collection. “Art and design have always been in my blood,” he muses.
A promising art student in high school, Preston was accepted into the fashion program at Parsons, but quickly pivoted to earn a fine arts degree at Bennington College and later, a master’s in graphic design at MICA. While working as a freelance illustrator in the late ’90s, he landed a job at David Bell Antiques in Georgetown—an auspicious entrée into the world of interiors.
“David Bell was a catalyst to forming my aesthetic and developing my love for antiques,” says Preston, who eventually became a partner in the business and remains involved today. “David is so connected with designers that I learned to think like an interior designer early on.” He later spent 10 years working as a principal designer at a DC firm before launching Thomas Preston Interiors in 2017.
Preston’s new apartment is a testament to his keen eye and penchant for unearthing vintage treasures. “I started with a clean slate and identified new pieces I would need,” he says. “Most of the items in my place are vintage or antique.”
A deft mix of furniture, art and decorative elements in the one-bedroom flat merges styles and centuries. The living room assembles diminutive 1980s Minotti chairs in red leather, a bronze coffee table handmade by the late Joe Niermann and a contemporary teak-and-rush chest that channels a French 1940s look. Circle motifs on two 18th-century Italian side chairs play off a modern mixed-media work by DC artist Stephen Benedicto in graphite and concrete. And behind the sofa, bronze finials salvaged from an 18th-century bridge in Japan stand watch atop pedestals acquired in the Hamptons.
“I like to bring in something old and make it look 21st century,” Preston reflects. “The harder you can push the juxtaposition between items from one century and another, the more electric the outcome will be.”
The designer notes that even though the apartment is small, many of the items in it are not. He traces the ability to play with scale to his graphic design days. “I tend to do edited layouts and compositions,” he remarks. “It’s all 100-percent related.”
Equipped with lacquered Scavolini cabinets and top-flight appliances, the kitchen is open to the living area; Preston tempered its sleek veneer with organic touches like rattan pendants and an antique African stool repurposed as a fruit stand. Floor-to-ceiling windows also bring in nature, with views of the building’s expansive green roof.
Crisp, white walls in the living area give way to saturated color in the bedroom, where the ceiling and walls are painted in Benjamin Moore’s Willow Creek. “I wanted a cocoon,” says Preston, who furnished the space with a 19th-century ebonized Campaign chest, a vintage Turkish rug and a modern portrait in social realist style.
Preston has filled his home with art that resonates. “To me, one’s art collection is a form of self-expression,” he avers. His personal favorites include an orange abstract by Washington Color School painter James Twitty that hangs in the living room and a 1960 portrait by a Belgian artist in the entry hall. “The quality of the rendering blows my mind,” says Preston of the latter, which depicts a man seated on a mid-century chair smoking a cigarette. “I’m captivated by him to this day.”
Now that it’s complete, the designer views his new apartment as a calling card of sorts. “Using vintage is important to my aesthetic; it gives clients a one-of-a-kind product as opposed to mass-produced furniture,” he explains. “When buying vintage, you increase what’s available to source exponentially. It makes it a lot harder—but also lot more fun and fascinating.”
Interior Design: Thomas Preston, Thomas Preston Interiors, Washington, DC.
Sofa: roomandboard.com. Sofa Pillows: fortuny.us. Throw: hermes.com. Floor Lamp (left): corbinbronze.com through hollyhunt.com. Rattan Stool: mgbwhome.com. 1980s Minotti Chairs in red leather: from 1stdibs.com. Teak-and-Rush chest: noirfurniturela.com. Graphite-and-Concrete Artwork: stephenbenedicto.com through hemphillfinearts.com. Antique Bronze Finials salvaged from an 18th-century bridge in Japan: Withington Antiques; 603-498-4778. Paint: Super White by benjaminmoore.com. Drapes: theshadestore.com.
Though she flirted with a fashion career, a practical side led to pre-law studies at Virginia Tech—but those classes put her to sleep. Gottlieb finally found her niche after meeting an interior design major who inspired her to change her major on the spot.
After earning her degree, Gottlieb landed at Gensler, working in the architecture firm’s DC and Seattle offices on commercial and hospitality projects in the U.S. and abroad. She later joined Capital One as an in-house design strategist. Then the pandemic hit.
“I re-evaluated where I wanted to be and was drawn to residential design,” she explains. In January 2021, she launched her own firm. “I’ve trained under phenomenal designers,” Gottlieb asserts. “Each step of my career has taught me something I use every day.”
She says “the thrill of helping people feel their home is who they are,” drives her work, which always includes an element of surprise. “I love a ‘delight’ moment,” she admits. “I push clients to embrace a sense of the unexpected and I keep reinventing and trying something new.”
Growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Brandi Wilkins remembers driving around, “oohing and aahing” at residences in her hometown with her mom, who loved decorating. “I knew I belonged in a creative field, but just didn’t know which one,” she muses.
Though she started out as a dance major, Wilkins earned a communications degree from Jacksonville University. She worked for a DC-area association for years before launching her firm, Three Luxe Nine, initially specializing in events. A light bulb moment struck in 2018 after she planned a retirement soirée. “My client was on cloud nine and loved how everything looked,” Wilkins recalls. “It hit me at that moment: People can feel that way about their homes as well—I could have a longer-lasting impact on their daily lives in interiors.”
She switched gears and began decorating full-time. Today, Wilkins is busy finishing up a large project in Potomac and has a part-time assistant on staff. “My goal is to have clients feel connected to their homes,” she reflects. “I spend a lot of time getting to know who they are and what they want and try to bring that to life the best way I can.”
Interior Design: Brandi Wilkins, Three Luxe Nine, Urbana, Maryland. Photography (Laytonsville project): Laura Metzler.
Wilkins imparted a natural, spa-like feel to the owners’ bath with an accent wall of Thassos marble tile in the shower, a wooden vanity and a porcelain floor that resembles slate.
Michael Stehlik unites dual baths into one calming oasis steeped in light and style
A dramatic Forest Hills retreat celebrates nature with refined materials—and killer views
A couple enjoys sea vistas in a Bethany Beach bath designed by Marnie Oursler
Playing up the vista of Rock Creek Park was high on the list when architects Patrick Cooke and Neal Thomson carved out the new primary bath in a Forest Hills home they were renovating for clients with two young daughters. In fact, they placed the Waterworks soaking tub in an alcove cantilevered so high above the greenery that window treatments were deemed unnecessary.
Designer Martha Vicas outfitted the refuge in crisp, modern style. A steam shower to the right of the tub is clad in statuary marble; the same stone repeats on the floors and the top of the vanity, situated on the tub’s left. Innovations wall covering made from recycled paper warms the material palette. “My clients, both men, wanted the space to be clubby, luxurious and masculine,” explains Vicas. “So we selected rift oak for the double vanity in a dark espresso color.” TV screens and outlets are hidden in the Robern medicine cabinets, she adds, “because they wanted nothing out on the countertops.”
Real espresso is also on hand, courtesy of a built-in Miele coffee machine tucked away in a handy bar opposite the vanity. “The idea,” says Vicas, “was that the owners can enjoy their espresso on the balcony off their bedroom, take a steam and a shower. Then, when their daughters wake up in the morning, they’ll be ready to begin their busy days.”
Architecture: Patrick Cooke, AIA; Neal Thomson, AIA, Thomson & Cooke Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Martha Vicas, M.S. Vicas Interiors, Washington, DC. Contractor: ThinkMakeBuild, Washington, DC. Styling: Charlotte Safavi.
Light Fixture: alliedmaker.com. Sconces: jonathanbrowninginc.com. Vanity: carolinaheartwoodcabinetry.com. Medicine Cabinets: robern.com. Marble Floor Tile & Countertop: marblesystems.com. Tub, Cabinet Hardware & Plumbing: waterworks.com. Wallpaper: innovationsusa.com.