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The designer duo behind Residents Understood share their best advice. By Michelle Thomas

For a renter, certain design trends and tips can seem woefully out of reach. How can you be expected to get excited about richly patterned wallpapers when your landlord won’t even let you paint? But just because you’re stuck in a standard-issue apartment doesn’t mean your place shouldn’t feel completely like you. We checked in with interior designers Kiera Kushlan and Jessica Centella of Residents Understood to get their expert advice on how to perk up a soulless space without making any irreparable changes. Ready to upgrade? See five ways to make it happen below.

1) Swap out the ho-hum cabinet hardware in your kitchen and bathroom for something more personal and playful. It’s a quick fix, but it’ll help make the place feel more like your own. 

Try: Anthropologie’s pulls and knobs.

2) Invest in lighting you love. Light fixtures in rentals are rarely anything better than blah, but most overheard light fixtures can easily be taken down and new ones installed in their place. (Just put the originals in storage and remember to put them back in when it’s time to move.)

Try: Tom Dixon's glossy copper orb pendant lamp.

3) Remove all signs of plastic window treatments. “These are notorious for making a place feel uninviting and cold—removing or replacing these little devils is another way to instantly change the mood of an apartment,” the designers say. If the window treatments can’t be removed and stored, try covering them with fabric drapes.

Try: Nate Berkus for Target metallic window panels.

4) So you’re not allowed to paint. No worries—products such as removable wallpaper and decals are becoming more widely available. Adding a fun decal, such as polka dots, or whimsical wallpaper to your home is a guaranteed way to add flair to any lackluster room.

Try: Tempaper’s removable wallpapers or Land of Nod’s Lottie gold dot decals.

5) Got ugly floors? Cover them up! This goes for anything from seen-better-days hardwood to boring commercial-grade carpet. A good area rug goes a long way in personalizing and softening up your space.

Try: Serena & Lily’s pebble-print rug.

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Posted at 01:16 PM/ET, 04/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Forget fussy florals and toiles—modern wallpapers feature metallics, geometric patterns, and novelty prints. Local designer Zoe Feldman offers tips on incorporating them into your home. Plus—where to find some of our favorites. By Michelle Thomas
Photographs by Jeff Elkins.

Made by Osborne & Little, this vibrant wallpaper—in a print called Coquine—is one of Zoe Feldman’s favorites. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Don’t assume trim and woodwork have to be white

If you’re using a bold paper, Feldman suggests coordinating the room’s moldings, doors, and other accents with a color in the wallpaper. “The wallpaper will kind of bleed from top to bottom,” she explains.


Do embrace trends

“No one’s favorite color is beige,” Feldman says. “Have fun with paint and wallpaper that can be changed easily, and invest in furniture that’s more simple and classic.”


Don’t discount the ceiling

You can even paper only the ceiling. “You wouldn’t want a heavy pattern, but there are solid metallics that look like glazes, or amazing textures,” she says. Decorating a child’s room? Try stars.


Do be mindful of scale

Feldman loves a busy print in a small space: “It can create a cool jewel-box effect, where you feel ensconced in the paper.”


Don’t be too matchy-matchy

Choose furniture from a different era than the wallpaper style—and vice versa. If you like a traditional floral-print paper, try pairing it with simple, clean-lined furniture. Says Feldman: “Always be playing off the contrast so you’re never creating a themed or predictable room.”


This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 09:35 AM/ET, 04/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The where and when of spring’s best tours. By Michelle Thomas
This midcentury home will be one of ten on the Hollin Hills House & Garden Tour. Photographs by David Rivera.

Ah, spring. Though it’s not exactly delightful out today, sunnier times are ahead—and also tours. Lots of tours. The yearly deluge of neighborhood home and garden tours is about to hit full stride. Here’s a rundown of some of the area’s best bets. 

Old Town Historic Garden Week 

Part of the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, which opens more than 250 gardens and homes statewide, the Old Town-based walking tour visits five homes from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The ticket price also includes admission to three other historic properties in the area: the Carlyle House Historic Park, the Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. April 26, 10 to 4. $35 in advance, $40 day of. Alexandria Visitors Center, 221 King St., Alexandria.

Prince George’s House & Garden Pilgrimage

This year’s tour through Prince George’s County—as part of the annual Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage, which includes close to 50 private homes, gardens, farms, and historic sites in five counties—follows the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Byway, with a focus on the War of 1812. The stops conclude with a visit to Darnell’s Chance, an 18th-century complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places. April 26, 10 to 5. $30 in advance, $35 day of. Patuxent Riverkeeper Center, 17412 Nottingham Rd., Upper Marlboro. 

Georgetown House Tour 

See inside nine Georgetown homes during this annual tour, now in its 83rd year. Tickets include an afternoon tea at Blake Hall at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which the tour proceeds benefit. April 26, 11 to 5. $50 in advance, $55 day of. St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3240 O St., NW. 

Fairfax County: Historic Vienna 

Hosted by the Garden Club of Fairfax, this partial walking tour includes four homes and gardens in Vienna’s oldest neighborhood, Ayr Hill, and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. April 29, 10 to 4. $25 in advance, $30 day of. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct., Vienna. 

Hollin Hills House & Garden Tour

Check out the midcentury-modern homes of this award-winning Fairfax County neighborhood in a self-guided walking tour, which visits ten Charles Goodman-designed properties and three gardens. The tour kicks off with a morning lecture on modern architecture and Goodman’s other work. May 3, noon to 6. $25 in advance, $30 day of. Hollin Meadows Elementary School, 2310 Nordok Pl., Alexandria. 

Takoma Park House and Garden Tour

Dubbed the Spirit of Holly Avenue, this three-block tour takes visitors through the evolution of the neighborhood from the 1880s through post-World War II. May 4, 1 to 5. $18 in advance, $20 day of. 7064 Eastern Ave., NW. 

Georgetown Garden Tour

For the 86th year, this tour visits nine of Georgetown’s best gardens, from high-tech modern affairs to woodsy fairy-tale versions. The tour includes an afternoon tea at Christ Church’s Keith Hall. May 10, 10 to 5. Christ Church, 31st and O sts., NW.

Del Ray House and Garden Tour 

A biennial project presented by the Del Ray Citizens Association, this year’s tour includes homes ranging from a 1940s rowhouse to a green design that incorporates one of the neighborhood’s only in-ground pools. May 10, 11 to 5. $20 in advance, $25 after May 1. Del Ray Farmers Market, Mount Vernon and Oxford aves., Alexandria. 

Capitol Hill Restoration Society House & Garden Tour 

This is Capitol Hill’s largest and oldest fundraiser, now in its 57th year, and this year the tour highlights four Civil War-era frame houses—a departure from the neighborhood's more prevelant Victorian homes—and a garden that features a fully stocked koi pond.  May 10, 4 to 7, and May 11, noon to 5. $25. Hill Center, 901 Pennsylvania Ave., SE.

Posted at 03:13 PM/ET, 04/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
This year’s Forest Hills home was transformed by 29 designers. By Michelle Thomas
Outside, Rill Architects’ David A. Benton updated the facade of the 1929 stone home by painting the front door an unexpected high-gloss turquoise and adding an interior set of glass French doors to let in sunlight. All photographs by Angie Seckinger, courtesy of DC Design House.

Until just over a month ago, the home selected as this year’s DC Design House was not exactly in great shape. Yes, the 8,000-square-foot stone home—which was originally owned by Madison Hotel founder Marshall B. Coyne and remained in the family for six decades before its donation to the design benefit—is a grand estate, featuring much of its original 1929 architectural detailing, such as elegant crown molding, gracefully curving banisters, hardwood floors, and natural fieldstone in the kitchen. But good bones aside, this year’s selected home was in need of some major overhauls—including total renovations of six of its seven bathrooms. A few weeks later, it’s a completely different—and completely gorgeous—home, thanks to the 29 designers who reworked assigned spaces property-wide, from backyard landscaping to teensy closets. Some of the recurring aesthetic themes? Many of the designers took inspiration from the 1920s and ’30s, a nod to the home’s era, incorporating glam metallics, Lucite accents, and chinoiserie motifs. High-gloss paints, bold emerald, lime and aqua hues, and layered rugs pop up in several designer rooms, and we saw tons of mixing, whether texture, pattern, or design style.

Read on to see a handful of our favorite rooms from this year’s home, click through the slideshow to see 12 additional spaces, and then check out the complete project for yourself this weekend when it opens to the public for a month of tours. What’s more: On Friday, the showhouse is scheduled to list on the real-estate market for $3.85 million. Check listing brokerage McEnearney Associates on Friday for details.

DC Design House. Sunday through May 11. $25. Ticket proceeds benefit the Children’s National Health System.

Dining Room

Marika Meyer’s formal-meets-functional dining room is a lesson in pattern mixing, incorporating chinoiserie themes, Imperial Trellis upholstery, custom faux-malachite Parsons tables, and ikat china set atop cabbage-leaf chargers. Notes of gold, including a vintage 22-karat-gold-leaf chandelier and a gold serving cart, offset the distressed-walnut table and reworked vintage chairs. 

Butler’s Pantry/Wine Room

In what was originally the butler’s pantry, Aidan Design’s Nadia N. Subaran reimagined the petite corridor as a wine room and entertaining space, installing dual Thermador wine columns and custom cabinetry built for stemware storage. The design elevates a traditional aesthetic, contrasting the lush navy-painted cabinets with modern brushed-brass hardware and stunning Calcutta-marble herringbone floors. Subaran transformed the kitchen as well, playing off a fieldstone wall with black soapstone, porcelain marble backspash and burnished cherry cabinets.

Family Room

Perhaps one of the more obviously modern designs in the home, Akseizer Design Group’s pool-adjacent family room layers texture and netural tones for a space that fuses midcentury influences with organic glamour. A linear modern fireplace, hand-woven textured Thibaut wallpaper, layered hide and sisal rugs, and a vintage Alvar Aalto tank chair stand out as the room’s highlights.

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Posted at 02:45 PM/ET, 04/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The retailer’s roving team of design experts is heading to our area in June to redo one selected home. By Michelle Thomas
A still from one of the Ikea Home Tour Squad episodes. Elizabeth Spencer, left, a visual merchandiser at the Woodbridge store, is one of the five touring design experts. Photograph courtesy of Ikea.

If you’re the type who could spend hours mining an Ikea showroom for design inspiration, take note: The Swedish retailer has launched a traveling home-makeover program—and it’s headed our way. 

Here’s the rundown: The brand has cherry-picked five experts from its 38 US stores—including Elizabeth Spencer, a graduate from Los Angeles’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, who hails from our very own Woodbridge store—to act as its team of design pros and go on tour for a year to meet with selected homeowners, scope out their design challenges, and install solutions in five homes along the East Coast. The resulting makeovers will be shared on Ikea’s YouTube portal and social media. Want in on the fun? Ikea started accepting applications for participation online today. To be considered, shoot a three-minute video showing your space and describing why you need the home makeover, then submit it through the store’s website. The deadline is May 2.

Posted at 02:53 PM/ET, 04/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Photos of family, works by great authors, a homemade quilt—Washington writers talk about the spaces and objects that inspire them to create. By Rebecca Nelson
Novelist Susan Richards Shreve in her Cleveland Park home office. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

Susan Richards Shreve

The novelist and George Mason University English professor’s home office takes over a former sculpture studio in DC’s Cleveland Park. Shreve’s latest book is You Are the Love of My Life.

We bought a house that belonged to Anne Truitt, the sculptor. It’s a beautiful, large studio with wonderful light, near National Cathedral. And the windows are high—when you look out, you have to be on your tiptoes.

It was a typical studio with a sink and a cement floor that was covered with paint, which we thought was wonderful. But Truitt was much more stoic than I am, and she could stand on cement. We put in hardwood floors and a wraparound desk and turned it into a kind of library.

David Baldacci

The author of more than 25 novels, including his latest, King and Maxwell, lives in Vienna.

I have what I call a plotting couch. I have a blanket that years ago a high school in Ohio sent me. The students had read one of my novels, Wish You Well. They all drew scenes from the book on this huge quilt and put their names on it. I’ll sometimes just lie on the couch and look at that blanket and daydream, because that’s really where the plot ideas and the nuances and twists and turns come from. I get away from everything. I lie back, close my eyes, and my mind just goes.

E. Ethelbert Miller

A poet and the director of the Afro-American Studies Resource Center at Howard University, Miller works on the top floor of his house in DC’s Brightwood.

I built a little altar on the window with pictures of my father, my mother, my brother, my aunt, and my grandfather so I have them here with me. Many times in my writing, I’m making references to family.

Howard Norman

The author and University of Maryland writing professor lives in Northwest DC. A memoir, I Hate To Leave This Beautiful Place, was published in June.

It has to be quiet, comfortable. Music is important. Writing is about setting up levels of intimacy and familiarity every day—it’s an emotional discipline as well as an aesthetic one. My office is a simple room with not much clutter. There’s nothing really dramatic or perhaps even aesthetically compelling about it; it’s just surrounded by things that strike the deepest emotional chords—pictures of our daughter, paintings, a recent series of photographs that my daughter has taken. When I look at those, I’m inspired. I have a manual typewriter, an old Royal I’ve used for 40 years. I tap away on that, or write on legal pads, then later on put it on a computer.

Sportswriter John Feinstein broadcasts his radio show from his home in Potomac.

Alice McDermott

The author of novels including Charming Billy and Someone is a writing professor at Johns Hopkins. She lives in Bethesda, where she converted a dining room into an office.

I like having lots of natural light, watching the day progress, watching the seasons progress. If you spend many hours sitting in one place absorbed in fictional worlds, it’s nice to have a sense of not only the day going by but the buds appearing or the snow falling—that there’s also this real world out there.

Michael Collier

An English professor at the University of Maryland and director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, Collier lives in Catonsville, outside Baltimore, where he writes above a detached garage.

I’ve always liked being up rather than embedded in the middle of the house. My office is more like a perch in some ways, a roost. It allows me to enter my imagination and leave the literal world behind awhile. I need to have certain books in a study—a copy of Shakespeare: The Complete Poems, Thomas Hardy, Yeats. Having them makes me feel comfortable.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Snyder—a writing professor at American University whose first novel, What We’ve Lost Is Nothing, came out in January—writes from a bedroom in DC’s Tenleytown.

I write longhand, so I don’t sit at a desk—I write in a big, comfy suede chair I brought with me from Cambodia. It’s scary to write. There are elements that are terrifying because you’re putting something of yourself out there. Nobody wants to get rejected. Having a soft, safe chair makes me feel like I’m in a protected environment when I’m writing.

Susan Coll

Susan Coll is a novelist—The Stager is out this summer—and programs director at Politics and Prose bookstore. Her home office is in the attic of her Cleveland Park house.

I need a clean table to put the computer on. I like everything a little spare, not a lot of clutter. The more I can isolate the work I’m trying to do from everything else going on in my life, the better.

John Feinstein

The sportswriter, author, and host of “The John Feinstein Show” on CBS Sports Radio lives in Potomac.

My office has a fireplace. That was the major reason I bought the house—because I loved that I could work in a place with a fire going. I do my show from here. They set me up with a mini-studio, so I sit at my desk and the microphone is right there, and I’m on my computer so they can send me who the callers are. When I get done with the show every day at noon, I’m right here in my house and can go have lunch.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

More Home Office Design Tips ››

Posted at 10:44 AM/ET, 03/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()

The owner of this house in DC’s Spring Valley wanted a quiet retreat where he could work from home. Here’s how architect Robert Gurney gave him the serene, modern space he envisioned.

Hover over a number for details.

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Photograph by Anice Hoachlander.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Posted at 10:34 AM/ET, 03/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()

This home office in McLean, by interior designer Marika Meyer, captures the quiet warmth of a traditional home library while also feeling stylish and feminine.

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Photograph by Angie Seckinger.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Posted at 10:15 AM/ET, 03/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()

Many DC rowhouses originally had sleeping porches off the master bedroom. In this Woodley Park home, built in 1923, the porch had been enclosed, rendering the original main bedroom a little-used, dark pass-through to the new space. The owner turned to the firm Wentworth to transform the old bedroom into a bright home office.

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Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 03/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()

Built for a family with two young kids, this bright and practical Chevy Chase office doubles as a mudroom.

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Photograph by Morgan Howarth.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 03/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()