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What you should do now to prep for spring, what it's really like behind the scenes of Yard Crashers, and more. By Marisa M. Kashino

It doesn't feel like it, but spring truly (hopefully?) is finally approaching—and we've got some wisdom on how to get your outdoor spaces ready. Chris Lambton, host of HGTV's Yard Crashers, is in town this weekend for the Capital Remodel & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center, where he'll make appearances today and tomorrow. But luckily for us, he took some time to share a little expert advice right here.

Washington is currently freezing—is there anything we should be doing to protect our yards from the elements?

I'm from Cape Cod. I think my house is under four feet of snow. The good news is Mother Nature is smarter than us. When it comes to protecting our plants, snow is the best thing. Snow acts as an insulation layer from the cold. It protects the plants, and protects the roots. And snow is the poor man's fertilizer because there's nitrogen in rain, like there is in fertilizer. All this snow will actually be beneficial for our plants.

The one thing that the cold and wind and snow do hurt are branches, but you should take care of that in the fall. Get your plants pruned properly and cut back the ornamental grasses, so they aren't damaged by wind.

Looking ahead to warmer weather—what are your favorite trends for outdoor spaces for 2015?

One of my favorite ones is edible gardens. This is one that works whether you're in a small condo or have a large backyard, whether you do it with potted plants or with a nice raised garden. A lot of my clients are even tearing up chunks of grass [to make room for edible gardens]. They'd rather use their water on rows of basil and lettuce, instead of wasting resources on just having a yard that looks green. You can still have some lawn, and then use the rest of the yard to basically become an urban farmer.

Another one is outdoor entertaining. You can use the backyard and double or even triple the size of your house. They make couches, rugs, pillows that you can leave outside. You can literally have everything from the indoors, outdoors. You can sit outside on the weekend on a couch in your backyard and really take advantage of the warm weather.

Where do you go for inspiration when you're dreaming up a design for a client's outdoor space?

That's a tough question. What I like to do is talk to the client. It's gotta be personal. It's your space. I'd ask what you like to do outside. You're big into cooking? Okay, let's do a big dining room table, lots of seating, and an outdoor kitchen. Whatever your style is inside—if you're very modern—we can pull from that and have it flow from inside to outside. I take my inspiration from the people I'm working for. At the end of the day, they're the ones living back there.

Since we can't all hire you, what are some quick and inexpensive ways that people can easily update their own yards?

One of the cheapest things that makes your yard look beautiful is mulch. If you do a nice edge between your lawn and planting beds, and put down a four-inch layer of mulch, it looks beautiful, it smells nice, and it acts as compost for your plants. I like to spread it before the perennials and flowers start popping up, so when you're walking through and spreading, you're not stepping on tulips. The plants will fight right through it, and pop up. The mulch keeps down weeds and helps keep your plants moist, so you won't have to water as much.

Are there any landscape trends that you really dislike or think have been overdone?

I don't like going into a backyard and having it closed in. When people renovate their houses now, they tend to go for open concept. They like to knock down walls and open things up. I don't like to then go into a backyard and have, like, a deck with railings all the way around it, or a patio with walls around it, so you feel enclosed in the space. I like walking into a yard that flows just like your house would flow. Think about that when you design your yard. If you need railings on your deck, maybe just put them on a couple sides, and maybe have deep steps on one side that can double as seating. There are tricks to keeping your area open.

Finally, for those of us who watch Yard Crashers and can't believe how quickly those transformations happen, what's it really like when you're doing a yard crash? How do you possibly get it all done in time?

Yard Crashers is two days of just craziness. I have a crew of 10 to 15 people. The homeowners have 10 to 15 people. If you can think about organized chaos in a backyard, that's what's happening. You have 25, 30 people dancing around each other, working on a multitude of projects all at once. Talk about a rush for two days. You start at 7 a.m., and that first night we go to 10 or 11. The next day, you're back at it at 6 a.m. working until 4 or 5. It does happen in two days, but it's insane.

There's a ton of planning that goes into it. When you only have two days, you gotta make sure the deliveries are right on time—when the demo dumpster leaves at 10:15, we need base rock delivery. At 1:15, concrete comes. Everything has to be planned out and orchestrated perfectly. If something is delayed, it's a domino affect. What goes along with that is the building permits. Wherever you go, there are different building permits and laws, so you have to do your research and make sure everyone knows that's going on. You don't want the building inspector to come by and say, "hey, wait, you can't build a pergola in this neighborhood." Some smooth talking goes into it as well—you definitely have to take some pictures with some people and invite them back for the party when it's all done!

Posted at 09:58 AM/ET, 02/27/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Welcome to a world where home libraries look more like art displays. By Jennifer Barger
Tom Crawford's literary lair serves as a second office. Photograph by Angie Seckinger.

His and Hers

An Alexandria couple commissions two separate libraries.

"We could've done artwork, but the tortoise shell seemed like exactly what the space needed," says Marika Meyer, who found the art-piece for Tom Crawford's library at a Georgetown antique shop. Photograph by Angie Seckinger.

Tom and Carla Crawford both like soothing hues and comfortable seating. But from there, their tastes and needs diverge—and, thanks to Bethesda interior designer Marika Meyer, they now have libraries to reflect those preferences. “His space had to be functional since he sometimes works from home,” says Meyer. On the other side of the Alexandria Colonial, his wife’s library—a mint-green-and-white, light-filled zone off the dining room (below)—functions as a “nook for reflection,” Carla says. “It’s the only room in the house without a TV."

Tom’s space houses his collections of antique books, Boy Scout memorabilia, and Pinewood Derby model cars, as well as a giant tortoise shell Meyer found at the Georgetown antiques shop Marston Luce. Armchairs in a velvety chocolate fabric and a gray leather pouf have become favorite spots for the kids and two Boston terriers to curl up.

Carla’s library boasts windows on three sides, inspiring Meyer to nod to the outdoors with drapes in a bird-strewn print by Mary McDonald for Schumacher. The designer added custom wallpaper to the backs of Carla’s shelving. “Bookcases can add a hard edge to rooms,” Meyer says. “Wallpaper is a beautiful way to soften them up.”

Classic Good Looks

Wood paneling and a rich color scheme make for a handsome Bethesda retreat.

Photograph by Anice Hoachlander.

When Teri Manolio was in high school, she worked shelving books at Davis Library in Bethesda. “I was paid $1.70 an hour, but it was a great job for a bibliophile,” she says. A few decades later, Manolio is still in Bethesda, but now she keeps track of her own books in a jewel box of a home library, an addition to her Cape Cod.

“I’d thought of selling the house and buying another with a library,” says the National Institutes of Health physician-epidemiologist. But after seeing other book-centric projects by architect Greg Wiedemann, she had him design her dream space. Drawing on Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence and capitalizing on a sloping, underused portion of the back yard, Wiedemann created both the addition and an exterior courtyard that he describes as “a real refuge.”

Connected to the rest of the house by a bookcase-lined hallway, the library boasts built-in shelves and 11-foot coffered ceilings in dark-stained cherry. Manolio uses the room for reading, listening to classical music, and, when she entertains, serving after-dinner port. When she’s able to work from home, she sits at the built-in desk overlooking a fountain outside: “The only thing that distracts me is the birds.”

French Connection

To create a cozy book room, a homeowner gets inspired by trips abroad.

Photographs by Anice Hoachlander.
Click to view larger image.

Travels among rustic farmhouses and chateaux in the south of France led the owner of this Northwest DC space to crave a home recalling her time abroad. “She’s a Europhile and very interested in authentic detailing,” says Anthony “Ankie” Barnes, a principal at the architecture firm Barnes Vanze, who designed the city retreat. “We tried to take her dream and do it in an authentic way.”

In the library, Barnes installed French doors, reclaimed-barnwood beams, and a tiled, Gothic-arch fireplace surround. Capping the mantel: twin antique sconces from Bethesda’s Tone on Tone and a carved crest representing Spain’s Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, where the owner has often hiked. Rubbed-brass lanterns from Home Art, found with the help of Bethesda’s Design in a Day, hang from the ceiling.

The white-oak, built-in bookcases contain the owner’s and her four teenagers’ favorite reads—biographies and French novels—as well as a range of artifacts, “from a pebble a kid found on the beach to a piece of 1,000-year-old Southwestern pottery,” says the owner, who requested anonymity. “It’s like a catalog of our interests.”

The Bookmobile

In her own apartment, an architect designs a library with clever, rolling bookcases.

Photograph by Amy Gardner.

Scooby-Doo episode features a library with secret doors disguised as bookcases. Architect Amy Gardner managed to capture the cleverness of that concept, minus the creepiness, in her midcentury condo in DC’s Forest Hills. She transformed one of three bedrooms into a book room/office with floor-to-ceiling, mobile shelves, which glide on casters and a smartly designed track system.

“The original idea was to create a workspace that I could shut off, plus storage for my tons of books—I might have 10,000,” says Gardner. The room, with two entrances, can be corralled off from the dining room via a pair of bookcases that roll together to form a set of sliding doors.

The custom, seven-foot-tall shelves hold Gardner’s urban-planning, architecture, and art books. A modern Gabbeh rug and two chairs—one Asian-style, the other a cushy recliner—provide perches for reading or relaxing. Two side-by-side desks (designed to look like built-ins) sit under the library’s corner window, overlooking Connecticut Avenue. Says Gardner: “I like to hang out there and watch the street life.”

In Suspense

The makeover of a 1980s townhouse leads to a book display more like modern art than a library.

Photograph courtesy of Hunt Laudi Studio.

Grazia Atanasio and her husband, Nadim Kyriakos-Saad, hate excessive ornamentation and knickknacks almost as much as they love reading about politics, art, and international affairs. So when they decided to renovate their 1981 Burleith townhouse, they devised a sleek, clutter-free way to display their books—on lacquered white shelves mounted above a glass catwalk on the home’s second level. “We wanted it to be transparent, very light, and seem like it was floating,” says Atanasio.

The resulting small library almost looks like an artwork hanging over the two-story living room. Though the see-through walkway scares some visitors, architect Lucrecia Laudi promises that “the bridge is actually very strong.” Laudi, a principal of Hunt Laudi Studio, spearheaded the rehab of the whole house. To craft the bridge, her firm installed an IBP GlassWalk flooring system in a metal structural grid, with a matching half-inch-thick glass railing.

The narrow walkway doesn’t leave room for lounging with a novel, but it’s popular during parties. “Guests are very intrigued by it,” says Atanasio. “But you do have to worry about ladies in skirts going up there.”

Jennifer Barger is a freelance design writer and wardrobe consultant/blogger for DC Style Factory. She can be reached at

This article appears in the February 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:11 AM/ET, 02/11/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The interior decorator shares his top portfolio pick. By Michelle Thomas
Photograph courtesy of Paul Corrie.

Columbia Heights-based interior designer Paul Corrie tells us about his favorite room from his projects, an airy-meets-modern-classic living room.

"I love this room because the clean, white architectural canvas takes a backseat to the furniture," says Corrie. "The light and airy furnishings of delicate antiques mixed with modern functionality allow this room to remain durable and current, yet retain a certain level of period and Old World style. I paid careful attention to scale in the selection of pieces so that the room maintained a certain mobility and versatility no matter what the desired layout may be. Subtle touches of color, texture, pattern, and contrast add visual interest to the curious eye."

Posted at 12:20 PM/ET, 01/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The kitchen designer shares how she pulled off one of her top projects. By Michelle Thomas
Nadia Subaran's pool kitchen in the 2011 Design House. Photograph by Lydia Cutter.

Kitchen designer Nadia Subaran counts this pool kitchen renovation—completed as part of the 2011 DC Design House, a 1925 Tudor in Forest Hills—among her top picks from her project portfolio. Says Subaran:

"In a time when bigger is perceived to be better, the pool kitchen stood out as a space of economy, autonomy and beauty. The scale of the room was cozy and intimate. Our design opened up the space visually by eliminating wall cabinets but banking valuable storage in a tall glass-front pantry and floating stainless steel shelves. This kitchen serviced the pool and was geared toward entertaining, but was also fully outfitted with a full-size refrigerator, an induction range, a farmhouse sink, a dishwasher, and an icemaker.

"The mix of finishes was warm and textural, while the design elements were streamlined and unfussy. They included flat-panel, rift-cut oak cabinets in a champagne finish, soapstone countertops, stainless appliances, painted brick, modern ceiling fans, and pendant lighting.

"Small touches, such as a high-gloss white pantry unit with a glass front and stained cherry interiors, a custom walnut table, and hydraulic stools from Janus et Cie, added some glamour to the space."

At top: The original pool kitchen, pre-renovation. At bottom: A finished shot, left, and designer Nadia Subaran. Room photograph by Lydia Cutter. Portrait by Robert Radifera.

Posted at 11:58 AM/ET, 01/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Embassy of Finland isn't just energy-efficient—it's gorgeous. By Marisa M. Kashino
All photographs courtesy of the Embassy of Finland.

The Embassy of Finland, near the Naval Observatory on Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest, just became the first LEED Platinum-certified embassy in the US. It joins the United States' diplomatic mission in Helsinki as the only two LEED Platinum embassies worldwide.

The Finnish Embassy earned a LEED Gold certification in 2010 for its focus on sustainable, energy-efficient practices, including encouraging staff to walk, bike, or drive hybrid cars to work. When the time came to renew that certification, the embassy opted instead to strive for the highest level of environmental friendliness through a number of changes, such as banning plastic plates and utensils at receptions, composting yard debris, only purchasing new furniture that's biodegradable, and supplying bikes for employees to use instead of cabs during work hours.

We want to thank Finland for being such a considerate neighbor, and for giving us an excuse to ogle these photos of its embassy's gorgeous, super-modern interior.

Posted at 01:49 PM/ET, 01/14/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The designer shares her top portfolio pick. By Michelle Thomas
Photograph by Rikki Snyder.

Washington-based interior designer Raji Radhakrishnan of Raji RM & Associates tells us about her favorite project, a modern-eclectic family space.

"I love this room because it was one of the most challenging rooms to design—the idea was to make this modern space colorful and family-friendly without painting the walls or adding color with the curtains," says Radhakrishnan. "Plus the furnishings had to be a mix of traditional and modern, and we made many of them coveted collectibles in the process."

Posted at 11:01 AM/ET, 12/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Expert tips for a tiny home that's big on style. By Michelle Thomas
Designer Mike Johnson's 700-square-foot condo. Photographs by Geoffrey Hodgdon.

It’s safe to say Mike Johnson is as much a curator as he is designer. For a decade, he was the man behind Georgetown’s midcentury-modern furniture shop Sixteen Fifty Nine before teaming up with Lori Graham in 2011. These days, he's a senior designer with Graham’s interior business and helps cultivate a vintage collection with Graham’s 14th Street showroom.

Turns out like many Washingtonians, Johnson lives in a smallish space—a 700-square-foot condo. Here, he shares his advice for designing for shoebox proportions.

Your mantra for designing in small spaces:

Knowing you can do whatever you want in the space. You will be amazed how much you can fit into a space and have it look fantastic and not cluttered. The key is to know when to stop!

One design element for which you should never think small:

Dark wall colors. Everyone should experience the feeling you get when painting a room a very dark color. I’m just getting ready to paint my living area a dark charcoal and can’t wait to have the room completely change.

The one piece you wish you could fit in your space:

My current space feels perfect to me, so there really isn’t anything I’m lacking. If I had to pick one thing, it would probably be a larger table for dining, but even then, I’m not sure I would use it that much.

The item you regret not buying when you had the chance:

I saw a very large black-and-white abstract painting about two years ago that I passed up because my walls were full. I still think about that painting; I wish I had bought it and just put it under my bed.

The unexpected perk of living small:

The need to not save things. You constantly are paring down to just what you need, be it clothing, decorative items, kitchen accessories, whatever. You realize how much you really need and how much is just fluff.

Posted at 02:38 PM/ET, 12/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The designer and mom of two shares her secrets for designing a great space for children. By Michelle Thomas
Children's rooms designed by Marika Meyer. Photographs by Angie Seckinger.

Marika Meyer. Photograph by Melissa Stewart.

Marika Meyer understands the need for practicality. While she's a professional decorator, she’s also mom to two small boys—and frequently ends up balancing her clients’ need for family functionality with a desire for elegant sophistication. Here, Meyer spills some of her best tips for creating spaces that are both kid- and designer-friendly.

What's your go-to source for high-design kids’ products?

For high-end children's rooms, I often source from the same vendors we use for adult spaces. Fabric is always my starting place for kids' rooms. For fabrics, I always love to work with China Seas, Quadrille, Schumacher, and Cowtan & Tout. I like to use unexpected fabrics that are sophisticated with a bit of whimsy and that create a timeless space that can age with the children.

What's the one design element you never skimp on in a nursery or child's room?

Fabrics! It is easy to find clean-lined furniture, but fabrics really set the overall tone for the space. Window treatments, upholstery, and pillows are great opportunities to express your point of view. Again, think of patterns and colors that will last and be able to grow through different stages with the child.

What's the key to creating kid-friendly spaces with plenty of adult style?

For kids’ rooms, it's important to think of how the room will grow with the children, and about the time you will spend in the room. For nurseries, do you want a space that will be soothing for 2 AM feedings as well as interesting for marathon nursing sessions?

Try using unexpected pieces or repurposing items. I reused the base of our old kitchen hutch as a changing table and use the extra storage space for blankets, out-of-season clothes, and extra diapers and wipes. When my son gets older, I will put the hutch back on top to serve as a bookcase and place to display his artwork.

Family spaces that are kid-friendly can be just as sophisticated as the rest of the home. It's all about using the right materials to bring style and functionality together. We use durable materials like indoor/outdoor fabrics on upholstery and fabrics with texture and pattern for drapes, side chairs, and pillows. For furniture, think of materials that may have some distressing so you will not notice the areas your family uses often.

What's your favorite design trend for children's spaces?

Using unexpected patterns and colors in combination. We are pairing a lot of pastels with grays and taupes, which has a very sophisticated feel.

How about the one trend you are totally over?

Overly ornamental cribs and nursery furniture. Sometimes less is more! A classic and simple crib is timeless, and you will not get tired of it or regret that it's too trendy.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 12/10/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Take a sneak peek inside the still under-construction property. By Marisa M. Kashino

The DC Design House—an annual tradition that benefits Children's National Health System—doesn't open until spring, but we got an early look inside the under-construction custom home where this year's event will be held. This is the first time in the fundraiser's eight-year history that the Design House is located in Virginia, and only the second time that it's been in brand new construction.

The home is part of Mackall Farms, a 12-property development in McLean from Artisan Builders. True to the community's name, the house incorporates rustic, farmhouse-style features that Artisan principal Stephen Yeonas says are meant to make it look "like it's been there a while, like it didn't just pop up as a McMansion in the middle of nowhere."

The Design House has five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, and three half baths, spread over 9,000 square feet. Its various spaces, including hallways and foyers, will be divided among more than 20 interior designers to decorate. The public can tour the results from April 11 to May 10. After that, the home will hit the market for $4.5 million.

Here's a sneak peek inside.

A view of the foyer from the dining room.
The family room. Stone and other materials from a historic house that was torn down were incorporated into this home.
This living room mantel was salvaged from the historic house.
The master bath.
A back hallway on the first floor.
Master bedroom.
A rendering of the finished house.

Posted at 10:02 AM/ET, 12/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Alexandria-based interior designer tells us about her favorite project. By Michelle Thomas
A dining room designed by Stuart Nordin, right. Room photograph by Doug Stroud; portrait photograph by Matthew Kleinrock.

As part of a new series, we're checking in with local designers and remodelers to get the scoop on their personal favorites in their project portfolios. First up? Stuart Nordin, an Alexandria-based interior decorator known for her elegant yet livable spaces. This room, a dining room, was done for a client and friend in Old Town.

"I think it's a nice mix of old and new that creates a classic and timeless look," says Nordin. "We used a contemporary Saarinen table, a glass chandelier, and a framed abstract cutout by local artist Hannah Cohen juxtaposed with a more rustic hutch found at Luckett's and vintage style Louis XVI square back dining chairs. Simple and elegant!"

Posted at 10:57 AM/ET, 12/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()