We’re coming up on a year of shutdown now, where we’ve all been forced to reckon with the walls that surround us day in and day out. I remember seeing the first news story — on March 13 last year, the day our lives officially retreated home — where I inferred that the design industry might actually do OK in the ensuing pandemic nightmare.
So here’s a post on the sheer power of decorating — the ability to transform interior architecture rooted firmly in one era (the early 20th century), and adapt it to the fresh, energetic ideals of a young family who’s moved in nearly a century later. Designer Regan Billingsley walks us through the process — and in turn, offers us all the promise of a new outlook for 2021.
What neighborhood in DC is this house?
Chevy Chase, DC
How old is the house?
Almost 100 years old! Built in 1923.
What were your first impressions about this home?
When we first walked into this house, we fell in love with the natural light that came in through its many windows, but the dated decor made the home feel darker than it needed to be. You could tell the home had been loved for many years by its previous owners but needed a facelift from the dated mustard-colored walls and terrazzo tile. We felt confident that with cosmetic upgrades we could transform the space into something bright and beautiful for this young family.
What did the clients like/dislike about it?
The clients loved the space and flow of the house, but wanted the decor to feel bright, airy and comfortable for a family. One element the clients initially thought they wanted to rip out was the terracotta tile kitchen floor because it felt so southwest (and dated), but we showed them that terracotta can also be beautiful, fresh, and classic if we step back and look at how we can transform the design as a whole. It’s always better to keep materials out of landfills and it saves money too!
Did the clients have any specific requirements going into this project?
We were tasked to breath fresh air into the home and use custom interiors to create a space that met with the aesthetic values and lifestyle of our clients. With three active, young children and a large dog the clients really wanted their home to be beautiful but also family friendly. Cue performance fabrics on the dining room chairs for example— now our clients can have a family dinner at the table and not worry about the chairs getting stained, but also have an elegant formal dining room for other occasions.
Was the work structural, or just decorating?
Our work for this project was primarily decorative furnishings, materials and art. We did do a cosmetic upgrade to the kitchen which included new countertops, replacing some of the appliances/fixtures/plumbing, painting the cabinetry, and replacing the backsplash. We also replaced the fixtures, tile, and wall covering in the formerly Star Wars themed powder room. Our client was much keener on Galbraith & Paul’s Lotus wallpaper than what was previously in the powder room.
How did you go about choosing things like wallpaper, art, general color scheme – were your choices informed by the clients’ personalities, tastes or specific requests?
We pride ourselves in ensuring that our design choices are always influenced by our client’s lifestyles, taste and how they want to live in their homes. Our clients were young and fun but wanted their home to hold a classic style that they would not grow out of quickly. In the primary living spaces, we kept to soft neutral tones of blues and pinks and brought in bright fresh elements with modern statement pieces like the Circa Lighting chandelier and abstract art by local artist Lanie Mann.
We also loved going bold in unexpected spaces with gorgeous wallpaper in the powder room and to create a beautiful transition into their light filled sunroom.
What does the project say about the contemporary promise that an old house can offer?
I think this project is a great example of how with thoughtful design you can transform a classic space into something that fits our modern tastes while keeping its traditional elegance.
For our area especially, so many clients have beautiful homes from the early 20th century but want to find ways to make modern design elements work in a more traditional space. People often think you need to do a complete overhaul to transform a space, and I think this house proves that a thoughtful design to include color, materials, and lighting can achieve a great deal.