Designing House

What happens when you gather the greatest minds in the Washington design world and sic them on a newly built home? You end up with the Washington Design Center’s 2010 Design House, a glittering amalgam of styles new and old tied together by some of the freshest design thinking around. John Blee sits down with a few of the Design House’s featured decorators to get their perspective.

How did you accessorize your section of the house?

NESTOR SANTA-CRUZ [STUDY]: I used mostly my own personal accessories, paintings, vases, etc. I wanted it to be a very personal look, something that matches my work and meets the style of Elle Decor. I wanted a sense of abstraction, but also a realism in the actual pieces I selected. Mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. I use objects, textiles, carpets and furniture as pieces of an interior architectural vocabulary. Objects must talk to each other. The design language is the same even when mixing styles/periods. It’s a Latin and an American mixed way of looking at European precedents.

MELINDA NETTELBECK, ADAMSTEIN & DEMETRIOU ARCHITECTS [MASTER BEDROOM]: To accentuate the cosmopolitan feel of the space, we collected photography and ceramics from local galleries in black, white, and neutral shades. The sensual lines of the pieces add a feminine touch to an otherwise masculine space. The rich colors in the photography above the bed and unique lighting bring a playful element to the room.

FRANK RANDOLPH [PORTICO]: I put classic furniture that can stay there in all seasons. The entrance and exit of a home should look as good as the interior. I was thinking of classical Tuscany. Porticos go back to the Greeks and Romans.

Are there any aspects of your way of decorating a room that have changed in the last few years?

RANDOLPH: Yes, I am using more color, including shades of lavender and mauve and periwinkle blue. They make me happy. I bought a periwinkle shirt at Brooks Brothers the other day and it made me feel the same.

SANTA-CRUZ: That’s really a good question. I really think my work evolves, but if I had to say something, my work is more edited, more sophisticated, because I know the reference to the history of design, yet I want to provide a point of view, a personal quality, and both visual and physical comfort. It’s more edited than ever.

Did you have an imaginary client in mind when you designed the room?

KELLEY PROXMIRE: I imagined that a young female New York socialite living on Park Avenue lived in this space.

RITA AT. CLAIR [FAMILY ROOM]: I had an imaginary client: a family that enjoyed being together. An active family that enjoys sports, travel and art. That uses this room for family planning of their activities. A family that enjoys television, as well as the use of a fireplace. This family is also aware of design, perhaps not the trendy styles but good design in both antiques, art and contemporary styling.

SANTA-CRUZ: Yes, in a way. I really looked for inspiration to French decorator Madeleine Castaing. I wanted to use blue, her favorite color, and combine it the way she did: with yellows, reds, greens and dark furniture. But, I also wanted to fit the Elle Décor style: personal, designed and yet very today, very eclectic. I also do not like rooms to be only masculine or feminine. I like it to be able to be both.

Do you coordinate with other designers when you do a show house?

SANTA CRUZ: No, I never do that. That’s of no interest to me.

I think a show house needs to be like haute couture: present a point of view, a moment, yet send a message that design is important in our lives, regardless of cost. I have items in my room that cost very little when I bought them. The point is that I explore ideas that I have been “floating” in my mind for a while, and a show house can test those. With all the respect to my Hall of Fame colleagues, and I truly respect them, I am doing this to inspire: other designers, students and amateurs of design, manufacturers and editors, the public in general.

I hope when visiting this room, one takes an idea or two, good or bad, like it or not. I want people to question why I did what I did, even if they wouldn’t do it with my vision. If a show house is not used by the designers as way to teach or inspire, or confront other ways, then we are not doing our jobs as designers. I can tell you that I don’t want it to look like a high-end hotel room or a show room.

ST. CLAIR: Yes, I coordinate with two or three people on my projects; however, the showhouses we do are few. This particular showhouse has my personal name on it. Therefore, it is my design concept, selections and oversight. However, like in all my personally designed spaces, two designers on my staff, Brian Thim and Polly Bartlett, have not only coordinated my ideas but they have made the room happen.

What are you happiest with about your effort?

PROXMIRE: Scale. The space is very large for a foyer (approximately 18.5 by 27 feet) with very low ceilings. I wanted to make the space be welcoming and not too cavernous. I accomplished this by using dining room table bases for console tables, large round skirted table in the middle and adding a window to break up one long sidewall.

NETTELBECK: Because the architecture was about sculpting the walls, the faux finish was instrumental in creating a dark and seductive foundation. We used a simple crosshatch finish that provided the elegance of wall covering without the seams. In contrast, the light polished marble and luminous wall covering helped to define focal points, creating zones of activity within the large room.

ST. CLAIR: I am most happy with the room because it is as I wanted it. A family room is a very special place in a home. It must first be expressive of the taste and character of its occupants. A designer’s role is to organize the room with the necessary furnishings, personal objects and the usual family chaos that the family comes with, and form a functional and an aesthetically pleasing space. If that is accomplished, we have a successful design project.

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