An Inside Look
Design by Vastu
He’s an attorney, she works in the media and eight years ago they were entertaining vague notions of moving from Alexandria to Washington. “We weren’t aggressively looking for a house,” she says, “I was bored one Sunday morning and was wandering around Logan Circle.” It was about 10 AM on that morning when a For Sale sign on a Victorian-era townhouse caught her eye. By 2:00 PM she was back with husband-in-tow and writing up a successful offer.
Although the house had already been updated, more was needed to imprint the new owner’s lifestyle on the grand dame property. “We like modern design but warm modern, not stark,” she says, “and we wanted to be patrons of the local shops.” The couple didn’t have to look very far to find Vastu, a contemporary furniture store on Fourteenth Street that also offers interior design service.
“They were original clients from when we first opened the store,” says Jason Claire, co-owner, “they stumbled in one day and we found out the house was only three blocks from the store.” Claire and Eric Kole, the other Vastu principal began divining how the couple wanted to combine the home’s old world charm with the modern lifestyle of it’s new owners.
“It always starts with a conversation,” says Claire, “we like to talk about functional spaces, and how they want to use the room.” Form follows function and the owners already had a vibe in mind. “We talked about old Hollywood glamour,” she says, “we talked about having a martini in the living room and being taken back to the 1920’s. Within twenty four hours of that conversation, Eric was back with sketches and fabric samples.”
Images by Timothy Bell
The concept began to coalesce in the living room. The space already had a dramatic and distinctive focal point in place with the original marble fireplace playing a starring role. The design team took the circular-shaped opening and added a round, bordered-mirror, a clear glass coffee table and an updated light fixture. Warm daylight is reflected by bright wall colors and softened with hardwood floors. More illumination is provided by a Weegee Tripod floor lamp which tastefully spans the divide between traditional and contemporary.
Existing molding and trim in the house were freshened up and left in place. The bay window, a staple of Victorian design can be a treacherous casting couch for modern day furnishings, but the design team produced a simple solution by turning it into a “talking space.” “That is one of a few go-to solutions we use for those types of rooms,” says Claire.
The formal dining room is connected to the living room in a way that also moves the space more towards modern. “The opening between the two rooms is so huge it almost functions as an open floor plan,” says Claire. Wall colors are stepped down the serenity scale, and dinner is offered up on an item from the homeowner’s wish list. “I always wanted a big, round, dining room table,” she says. The crew from Vastu found just the right piece and added upholstered seating for six.
The living and dining rooms are located on the second floor of the tri-level townhouse. Downstairs holds the kitchen and a sitting room that also co-stars as a media center. In this case, the bay window acts as a back-drop for the flat screen, as four comfy, club chairs ring a multipurpose ottoman/table combination. The floors on this level are earth-toned, porcelain tile which provides a warm glow from below. A fireplace gets another close-up in this room as rectilinear glass tile runs lengthwise down the surround, drawing the eye up. A super-clean and simply designed white sideboard from Dona Living provides storage and a link towards the kitchen which had already been partially updated prior to the new owners taking possession.
“We changed the backsplash tile in the kitchen to match the fireplace, extended the granite countertops, put in all new Viking appliances, and added two Sub-Zero wine refrigerators,” says the homeowner. Glass-front, upper cabinets help keep the room feeling open despite the fact that it is partially underground.
As a major throwback to the past, the kitchen retains a functioning dumbwaiter to move meals from the cooking area up to the dining room. The house is heated by old-school radiators that run the gamut from stripped down - as seen in the kitchen, to authentically-distressed, to fully covered in the public areas of the home.
The first floor powder room also got a sprucing up as the design team removed a section of wall, moved fixtures and accented the vessel sink with a vertical strip of mosaic tile. The mirror is actually a found object – a vintage serving platter re-purposed and put back to work. “Eric came across that piece in New York and sent me a picture of it, saying he wanted to use it for a mirror in the powder room,” she says. The new look is quite a departure from the room’s condition when the new owners moved in. “We called it the ducky bathroom because it was done in bright blue wallpaper accented with yellow rubber ducks,” she says.
The master suite is located upstairs on the third level of the house. Adequate storage is vital in older homes and the design challenge here was partially solved through the use of a low profile set of drawers that doubles as a TV stand, an upholstered ottoman at the end of the bed that opens up to revel more space and two end tables with antique, mirrored fronts that add a special touch of glam.
The room originally contained a built-in, queen-sized, platform bed which the design team dismantled to make room for the king-sized mattresses preferred by the taller-than-average homeowners. The bed is crowned by a wool flannel headboard. The pale gray with a touch of lavender wall color was selected for a room dedicated to rest. The window seats were preexisting but the designers finished things off by commissioning a pair of upholstered cushions.
The accent wall in the master bedroom represents a move back into vogue by a design star from the past, but with a modern twist. “The wallpaper is from a firm based in Milan, Italy and they allow you to customize how it looks by scaling the graphics to fit the space,” says Claire. “The paper is actually textured vinyl but to the touch it feels more like grass cloth.”
There’s also a library on the top floor, a room marked by a fireplace and mirror combination that sets the room apart. The couple moved in shelves full of books, and with some help from Vastu found just the right chair for roasting in front of the fire. For the designers, the biggest challenge on the project was a familiar foe found in the rowhouses of the mid-Atlantic region. “It’s really about uniting the floors to make vertical living work,” says Claire. The clever manipulation of furniture, wall coverings and finishes turn three stories into one, Oscar-winning picture.
The blockbuster effort paid off for the homeowners who look around at their still-evolving living space and enjoy the fruits of their labors. “We love to cook and entertain so I love being in the kitchen,” she says, “it’s also nice to sit around in the living room with a martini and be transported to our own special place.” Cheers.
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