A painting by local artist John Matthew Moore creates a colorful focal point in a living room designed by Victoria Neale. Photograph by Erik Johnson
To come up with this list of good interior designers, we turned to people who know design.
We asked designers themselves to tell us whose work they admire among their peers. We surveyed industry experts and reviewed lists of award winners in local interior-design competitions. We also pored over magazines looking for beautiful projects.
The result is this list—43 interior designers who received the most recommendations. A handful of these firms have national reputations. Big names such as Thomas Pheasant, José Solís Betancourt, David Mitchell, and Mona Hajj appear often in the pages of national magazines. Although others on this list may be less known, our sources say they’re all talented.
If a firm isn’t listed, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. And inclusion here doesn’t mean a firm will suit your needs. One of the keys in choosing a designer is personality—it’s important to feel comfortable enough with a designer to talk honestly about your likes and dislikes.
If a firm listed isn’t right for your project, it may be happy to provide referrals. Consider this list a starting point.
Andrew Law Interior Design
Northwest DC; 202-337-7230
In business ten years, Andrew Law takes what he calls a “clean and current” approach to traditional design. His interiors are inspired by classical Virginia architecture, particularly Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Poplar Forest, and almost always include a mix of antiques and contemporary pieces.
Andy Staszak Interior Design
Northwest DC; 202-337-3345
Staszak’s passion for design was sparked at age 18 when his aunt hired a designer. He describes his style as rooted in tradition with modern accents. For one of his favorite projects, he designed a family room with a red rug, brown upholstery, and accents of navy. Adding the client’s collection of art and Asian antiques brought a sophisticated look to the room, he says.
Annette Hannon Interior Design
Before starting her firm in 2004, Hannon worked as a designer for Laura Ashley. Clients describe Hannon’s style as relaxed and elegant, and she enjoys the challenge of working with smaller spaces. Last year, Traditional Home published her design of a 115-square-foot bedroom with a built-in alcove for a twin bed and lots of storage.
Barbara Hawthorn Interiors
This 27-year-old firm does both residential and commercial work, including restaurants such as Georgetown’s Il Canale and Zest Bistro on Capitol Hill. Something you won’t find in Hawthorn’s work: clutter. “I take photographs of a cluttered room and a clean room and say to my clients, ‘Which one is more inviting to you?’ ”
Baron Gurney Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-244-6883
Therese Baron Gurney does all of the interiors for her husband, acclaimed residential and commercial architect Robert Gurney. Her style is modern and contemporary; she likes to use local artwork and natural, sustainable materials. Her work earned seven awards from the American Society of Interior Designers in 2009.
Dixon fell in love with design early on—his family lived on almost every continent when he was a child, and he enjoyed helping redecorate each time they moved. His designs blend old and new; he likes to incorporate beautiful antiques into all of his spaces. In addition to designing interiors, Dixon has lines of furniture, fabrics, and rugs.
Chevy Chase; 301-652-6217
Sue Burgess describes her style as an eclectic mixture of old and new. The designer, who has been working in the Washington area almost 40 years, says clutter is hard on her eyes: “I kept my room clean and neat as a child. It’s natural for people to collect, but you constantly have to edit.”
Celia Welch Interiors
“I’ve always been connected to color,” says designer Celia Welch. She uses color to add to the atmosphere of her simple and elegant rooms. In the 2010 DC Design House, she transformed a master-bedroom closet into a dressing room by adding built-in shelving, crown molding, an armchair, and a chandelier.
Northwest DC; 202-234-1090
This firm specializes in contemporary architecture and interior design. Designer Sophie Prévost says she likes to have fun with her projects. A recent redesign of an Adams Morgan condo included a rooftop terrace with an herb garden, outdoor kitchen, and grill.
Northwest DC; 202-234-5926
Named one of America’s top 25 designers by Elle Decor, Carter creates calm spaces that respect a room’s interior architecture. The former lawyer does mostly large-scale residential renovations: “I like to introduce bold color in artwork or as a surprise on the interior of an entry coat closet.”
David Mitchell Interior Design
Northwest DC; 202-797-0780
Mitchell wants his designs to be comfortable and inviting: “The best compliment I ever got was that I ruined a client’s social life because all she wanted to do was stay home.” In addition to designing his own line of colorful throw pillows (beautifulpillowsandhome.com), he recently partnered with Salvations Architectural Furnishings to create a line of cocktail, dining, and side tables made of bronze and steel.
In the business more than 25 years, Nancy Colbert describes her style as elegant and classic but updated. Though her firm specializes in residential remodeling, her redesign of a drab condominium lobby on the edge of Georgetown into a contemporary space with LED custom-light fixtures is a recent favorite project of hers: “Residents would walk into the lobby and think they were in the wrong building.”
DLH Design Studio
Chevy Chase; 301-587-6012
Deborah Houseworth, a past president of the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, says clients come to her for contemporary and colorful style. She makes sure to give every room a focal point, such as an eye-catching piece of art.
Northwest DC; 202-588-0700
In her designs, Mary Douglas Drysdale strives to highlight a home’s architecture. Her recent renovation of an 85-year-old neoclassical estate in Potomac was featured in Veranda magazine. This spring, Drysdale launched a collection with Casart Coverings, a custom-wallcoverings company, featuring ten colors in faux linen and color-wash finishes.
Frank Babb Randolph Interior Design
Northwest DC; 202-944-2120
A member of the Washington Design Center Hall of Fame, Randolph grew up in Georgetown and went to American University. In the local design world, he’s known as the first person in the District to bleach floors. The designer loves using antiques and classic pieces in his rooms. “Some things aren’t always going to be classic,” he says. “You have to be careful not to get caught up in the moment.”
Gary Lovejoy Associates
Northwest DC; 202-333-5200
Lovejoy is known for his contemporary work. In the 2011 DC Design House, he incorporated leather, metal, stone, and cowhide into a sunroom. A native Washingtonian, Lovejoy is a member of the Washington Design Center Hall of Fame. “I like simple lines and uncluttered spaces,” he says.
Dee Thornton, owner of this 19-year-old firm, likes pairing unlikely colors, such as burnt orange and purple. Thornton recently used bold colors and art to give a jolt of energy to a traditional home in Alexandria.
JD Ireland Interior Architecture & Design
Northwest DC; 202-986-4870
In 2010, House Beautiful named co-owners Joseph Ireland and Julie Weber designers to watch. Ireland says their work ranges from formal to relaxed. “More and more, we’re designing rooms with the artwork in mind at the beginning,” he says.
Northeast DC; 202-543-8631
This Capitol Hill firm has been around more than 25 years, and its projects stretch from Connecticut to China. Owner David Herchik’s designs are marked by bold colors and a sense of whimsy—bright paint colors, playful throw pillows, a purple bed.
Jodi Macklin Interior Design
Chevy Chase; 301-656-0009
This Washington native worked in marketing for Estée Lauder for five years before changing gears to design. She’s known for a functional, simple style. She recently designed a contemporary, two-story home in the woods using all-natural materials: “I like to design without a lot of clutter, finding beauty in simplicity and objects.”
Justine Sancho Interior Design
In business 34 years, Sancho uses a lot of sunset colors: “I gravitate towards peach, melon, and sea blue.” She also likes to place antiques along the perimeter of a room and save contemporary pieces for areas that get more use.
Kelley Interior Design
Kelley Proxmire, who is in the Washington Design Center Hall of Fame, worked for interior designer Robert Waldron before starting her own practice 20 years ago. She describes her designs as “traditional but updated” and likes to incorporate contemporary art pieces. Although she loves color, you’ll never see rose or teal in her rooms.
Lauren Liess Interiors
Designer Lauren Liess’s blog, Pure Style Home, has more than 70,000 readers. “My style is a fresh mix of modern and traditional,” says the twentysomething. Her bedroom-turned-study at the DC Design House used natural materials with green accents; it will be shown in Better Homes and Gardens.
Lavinia Lemon Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-244-3385
Lavinia Lemon has been in business almost 30 years. Childhood trips to antiques shops with her grandmother sparked her interest in antiques. While the designer loves neutral colors such as beiges and whites, she recently painted a dining room in DC’s Cleveland Park bright red. What you won’t see in her designs: “Anything that’s too contrived. I go for simple, plain looks.”
Lisa Vandenburgh Interior Design
Northwest DC; 202-625-4100
Vandenburgh’s love of art grew from scavenging for antiques as a child with her mother. She aims to bring a sense of fun to her projects and describes her style as “casually elegant.” The furniture in her spaces is often custom-made.
Liz Levin Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-333-5386
Levin opened her firm in 2004 after studying interior design at the Corcoran College of Art & Design and living in London. Working for the contemporary-furniture store Vastu shaped her style, which she calls “eclectic modern.” Says Levin: “I like to mix things you wouldn’t think go together and bring in funky elements.”
Michael Roberson Interior Design
A top vote-getter in our survey, Roberson has been practicing almost 30 years. She emphasizes creating functional spaces, and her rooms typically include pieces from several time periods: “I always make sure rooms have generations. It’s never all modern or all traditional.”
Mona Hajj Interiors
Hajj, who studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, says traveling in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East shaped her aesthetic. Named one of the top 100 designers in the world by Architectural Digest, Hajj describes her style as “understated, comfortable, and relaxed.” She likes to use antique rugs and fresh flowers.
Northwest DC; 202-277-6611
In addition to doing residential work, Nestor Santa-Cruz is a design director for Gensler, a global architecture firm. A member of the Washington Design Center Hall of Fame, Santa-Cruz steers clear of overly decorative or ostentatious designs. “It’s about having a vacation within your home,” he says. His work has been in Elle Decor as well as in publications in Portugal, Germany, and Dubai.
Patrick Sutton Associates
Sutton’s trips around the world with his father, a travel journalist, inspired him to study architecture in college. He later switched to interior design after realizing “that true design doesn’t stop with the facade of a building.” His interiors are warm and comfortable, and his architectural training brings a technical expertise to his projects.
Paul Corrie Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-234-0653
Once a lawyer, Corrie got his start in design by working at Theodores, the long-established local furniture store. Last year, Traditional Home named him a young designer to watch. He mixes antiques from different periods so it looks as though pieces were collected over time. You won’t see bold colors in his work: “My designs are subtle and understated.”
Robert Shields Interiors
Shields, a trained painter and classical pianist, incorporates artwork into his designs: “The common thread is elegance and comfort. I like to see a sense of serenity and balance in a space.” Recent projects have included three all-white rooms.
Sally Steponkus Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-237-9872
During college, as a salesperson at the Washington Design Center’s Robert Allen fabric showroom, Steponkus developed a love of fine fabrics with strong prints and patterns. She describes her style as “updated traditional.” In 2010, she was listed as one of 20 up-and-coming interior designers in the country by House Beautiful.
Samantha Friedman Interior Designs
Friedman got her start designing commercial kitchens for big-name venues such as the Kennedy Center and the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium. She started her business five years ago, which focuses mostly on residential work. “I love incorporating storage and making space functional,” Friedman says. You’ll often find built-in benches or nooks in her interiors. “I like creating a cozy, inviting space.”
Sandra Meyers Design Studio
Meyers worked for Justine Sancho before opening her design firm in 2005. Meyers says her style ranges from traditional to contemporary; local designer Barry Dixon is a strong influence on her work. You’ll never see upholstery or furniture that doesn’t wear well in her spaces: “I really stress to my clients: Don’t buy for now; buy for the future.”
Solis Betancourt & Sherrill
A top vote-getter in our survey, Betancourt’s firm recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. His designs emphasize interior architecture—he trained as an architect—and are known for their casual elegance. Says Betancourt: “I strongly believe that each room should look great without any furniture.”
Designer Skip Sroka steers clear of trends in favor of the timeless and functional: “We’re known for our clean, American style, and we integrate a lot of technology.” In his own house, a mirror over his fireplace turns into a TV with the push of a button.
Susan Gulick Interiors
Susan Gulick’s designs are marked by rich fabrics, subdued color palettes, and custom pieces. Gulick, who has been designing in Washington more than 25 years, uses hand-loomed carpets as what she calls “art for the floor.”
Northwest DC; 202-337-6596
Many say Pheasant is Washington’s best interior designer; one peer says his designs “put Washington on the map.” A regular on Architectural Digest’s list of the top 100 designers, Pheasant has a staff of ten. His elegant spaces often use neutral palettes and aim to evoke a sense of serenity.
Dana Tydings has been designing high-end residential and commercial interiors for 16 years and has appeared on HGTV’s Restore America and 25 Biggest Decorating Mistakes. She has developed a subspecialty in making homes handicapped-accessible; in one recent project, she widened doorways and incorporated remote-controlled solar shades.
Victoria Neale Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-244-8410
Neale started her design firm 12 years ago after working for Barry Dixon. Selected as one of the top 125 American designers by House Beautiful, Neale gravitates toward warm shades and doesn’t hesitate to use strong color.
William Winebrenner Interiors
Northwest DC; 202-577-5832
Up-and-comer William Winebrenner once turned rolls of burlap into drapes for his own apartment. “I like to make things out of nothing,” he says. Over the years, he has worked at the Washington Design Center and with Justine Sancho Interior Design. His style is a mix of old and new with what he calls “a little touch of whimsy.”
Zoe Feldman Design
Northwest DC; 202-719-8062
Feldman got her start in interior design in New York City. She describes her style as “organic modern” and she says using gold in rooms gives the space a “touch of glamour.”
This article appears in the August 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter