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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 ()
Remodelers from Jennifer Gilmer's Kitchen & Bath transformed this Old Town master bath from 1980s glam to spa-like tranquility. By Michelle Thomas
Photographs by Bob Narod.

Ornate is not for everyone. After buying a home in Alexandria's Old Town, the new owner of this dated black-and-gold master bath was ready for a more tranquil feel. She worked with bath designer Carolyn Thomas of Jennifer Gilman Kitchen & Baths, who spearheaded a complete makeover of the existing room. On the client's wish list? A steam shower with a convenient bench, a soaking tub, and an improved dressing area in the hall right outside the bathroom. Thomas took inspiration from a Calcutta marble and Gascogne blue limestone mosaic tile to inform the rest of the bath design, working in a contemporary glass shower, lighter marble counters, airy painted cabinets, a soft, feminine dressing vanity, and elegant wall sconces. Goodbye, '80s drama; hello, spa-like serenity.

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Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 11/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
What you need to know about keeping your home updated and safe for years to come. By Kay Wicker
Aging homeowners often move the master bedroom downstairs, as in this home renovated by architect Bruce Wentworth. Photograph by Geoffrey Hodgdon.

Not everyone likes the idea of swapping a well-loved family home for a new start in a city condo. We asked local builders and designers to tell us what improvements can help aging homeowners stay where they are.

Entryway and Foyer

The path to the front door should be as clear and direct as possible; remove plants or patio furniture that could get in the way, and add walkway lights. Vince Butler of Butler Brothers in Clifton says older homeowners should have access to one entrance that doesn’t require stairs. They might consider installing a paved ramp and widening the front door, too. Inside, designer Russ Glickman of Glickman Design Build in Potomac suggests placing a bench or table in the foyer to set packages or heavy items upon entering.


Raising or lowering the height of countertops allows residents to sit on a barstool or a chair while they cook or do prep work. As people age and become more forgetful, glass-front cabinets that enable them to see exactly where everything is can be a big help, as can ovens that alert users when they’re left on too long or refrigerators that beep when ajar. Major manufacturers such as GE make such appliances. For an instant update, you can reorganize cabinets and shelving so that frequently used items are easy to reach.

Master Bedroom

Moving this bedroom to the main level, as Glickman recommends, is an obvious plan. AARP also suggests widening door frames and hallways in and around the room, especially if they need to accommodate a wheelchair. Some people add elevators if keeping the bedroom upstairs is the only option; closets stacked one above the other on multiple floors are among the easier places to install a shaft. Adding seating—near the bed, in the closet, and anywhere else someone may need to balance or pause to change clothing—is a simple, low-cost improvement.


This can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. Architect Bruce Wentworth recommends a curbless shower in place of a bathtub. An adjustable shower head, grab bars or railings, and in-shower seating are also good ideas. A floor material with firm traction, such as textured vinyl, and nonslip shower mats are important, too. The National Association of Home Builders advises using a faucet with “anti-scald” controls—valves designed to prevent extremely hot water from leaving the tap—and bright lighting.

This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 11/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Brightwood home was custom-built to LEED standards in 2011. By Michelle Thomas

Open and airy, this five-bedroom home just off upper 16th Street, Northwest, was custom-built by HRY Design in 2011 to fuse organic warmth—via rich walnut floors and lots of wood accenting—with contemporary design style features, such as white marble, sleek white, glass-walled balconies, and stainless steel stair rails. Walls of windows allow natural light to flood each of the four levels, and upstairs, a wall of planked walnut and marble fireplace add a chic vibe to the large master suite. Other highlights? The open rainfall shower and soaking tub in the spa-like master bath, and a duo of wet bars, one each on the lower and top floors.

The property is listed at $1.499 million. Take a look inside below, then go to Long & Foster for the complete tour.

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Posted at 01:11 PM/ET, 10/10/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
This ten-bedroom mansion was the site of the design-focused fundraiser in 2010. By Michelle Thomas

This brick Georgian mansion in Chevy Chase, built in 1895, boasts a storied history—it hosted an inaugural party for Harry S. Truman and was home to two ambassadors—but more recent accolades include a 2010 turn as the DC Design House, a fundraiser featuring interioer reworks from dozens of professional designers. The 2010 showhome spotlighted the work of such pros as Nestor Santa-Cruz, Kelley Proxmire, and Victoria Sanchez

Though most of the designer-selected furnishings and decor are long gone from the 11,800-square-foot home, there are still plenty of gorgeous architectural and design elements to marvel at—including many of the dramatic Farrow & Ball-supplied wallpapers and paints (don't miss the ceilings, some of which are done in high-gloss paints and silver leaf), a gorgeous sun-filled solarium, a luxe dressing room, coffered ceilings and gilded trims, and stunning decorative moldings in the foyer and fanciful ballroom-turned-conservatory-turned-living-room.

The ten-bedroom, ten-bath mansion is listed at $5.2 million. Look inside below, then go to Long & Foster for the complete details and tour.

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Posted at 03:23 PM/ET, 09/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
These local homes know how to make a good first impression. Let them inspire you to liven up your own entry. By Michelle Thomas
Architect Christopher Cahill at the grand entrance of his Wesley Heights home. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Modern Warmth

This contemporary wooden plank door, on a Bethesda home by Rill Architects, hits the sweet spot between modern and traditional. Choose these streamlined pieces to capture the vibe:

The Serralunga "Kabin" planter, at ($295).
The Salsbury Industries standard mailbox, at ($80).
"Petaluma" lanterns, at Crate & Barrel ($40-$129).

Updated Traditional

Photograph by Jim Darling Photography.

A splash of cool, crisp blue keeps this Alexandria Colonial by SBK Architecture and SLD Interiors from turning basic. Go for classic accents with a homey feel to get the look:

"Madera" lantern sconce, at Restoration Hardware ($189).
Architectural Mailboxes antique brass house numbers, at Lowe's ($13).
Shine Company cedar barrel planters, at ($197-set of four).

Mod Moment

Photograph by Ty Cole.

Architect Wakako Tokunaga introduced a mod burst of color at a client's home in Silver Spring. Replicate the sunshiney sensibility with cheerful accessories:

"Papaja" plant pot, at Ikea ($1.99).
Richard Schultz "Fresh Air" chair, at ($732).
Raw-aluminum house numbers, at CB2 ($10).

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 01:45 PM/ET, 09/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
These ten faceted finds make a subtle impact with jewel-like shapes. By Michelle Thomas

After a year-plus of bold chevrons, busy triangles, and geometric prints galore, it's understandable if you're feeling a bit of pattern overload. But there's a new, gentler way to get in on some geo goodness: These sculpted interpretations of stone and faceted jewel shapes take a more nuanced approach to the look, especially when done in sophisticated hues of black, white, and metallic. Try the trend in lamp form—we love this budget buy from Nate Berkus's stellar Target collection and this Land of Nod version, great for kids' and grown-ups' rooms alike—introduce the look in a colorful accent table, or start small with a stoneware vase. Here, see ten of our favorite faceted finds, from chic clocks to petite paperweights.

Above, clockwise: Triangle-rim platter, $50 at Saturday; Forecast ceiling lamp in chrome, $365 at HD Buttercup; Geo gold stool, $695 at Jayson Home; Magical Thinking Geo curtain tieback, $14 at Urban Outfitters; Faceted vases, $15 to $60 at Dwell Studio.

Below, clockwise: Drea lamp, $900 at Arteriors; Gami rose-gold candleholder, $9.95 at CB2; LEFF Amsterdam Scope clock, $129 at Lux Modern; Marble and wood octahedron paperweight, $20 at West Elm; Kelly Lamb serving bowl, $220 at Lux Modern.


For more great home-decor finds, follow Open House on Twitter at @openhouse.

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Posted at 12:36 PM/ET, 09/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()