Like many condo dwellers, Jim McCaffery and Wilma Gormley get creative about finding extra storage space. The cereal boxes, for instance, go in the oven. It’s a trick Gormley learned as a new college graduate living in Manhattan—more than 50 years ago.
The couple, both in their seventies, don’t cook as much anyway since moving to 16th Street in Northwest DC. With Dupont Circle to the west and 14th Street to the east, there are too many great restaurants nearby to stay home. Among their favorites: Hank’s Oyster Bar and Le Diplomate.
They don’t mind that they’re often surrounded by twenty- and thirtysomethings at such trendy haunts. To the contrary, they’re invigorated by how different their lives are compared with the ones they led for nearly 30 years in the Beverley Hills neighborhood of Alexandria.
“As you age, you need new things to look forward to,” says Gormley. “You don’t want aging to be a process of disengaging. So for us, it just felt like it was time for something new.”
An increasing number of seniors seem to agree that the city is, in fact, the best place to spend their retirement years. According to data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of people age 55 and older who are moving into DC has been on the rise for years.
From 2005 to 2007, 3,000 people over age 55 moved to DC. The number spiked to 4,400 between 2010 and 2012. Chris Leinberger, chair of the Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis at George Washington University, predicts that by the time stats are available for 2014, they’ll show even more seniors relocating to the District, bucking the former ritual of packing up for bingo nights in planned 55-and-over communities.
McCaffery and Gormely aren’t retired yet—they still work part-time at TRG, the consulting firm where they were two of the founders—but for a few years they’d been mulling what might come next. They were casually considering a move to leave their three-bedroom house behind when McCaffery had dinner with a friend in Adams Morgan last fall. The friend, who is in her fifties, lives in a co-op in the neighborhood. The convenience of being able to walk around the corner for dinner at Mintwood Place left a big impression on McCaffery.
With season tickets to the symphony and Arena Stage, plus a deep devotion to the Nationals, he and Gormley already spent much of their free time in DC. And they were growing tired of maintaining their home. “There’s always something,” McCaffery says. “You’re always worried about the lawn, what do you do about the branches, what’s happening with the roof.”
It was suddenly hard to think of reasons not to move into the District.
With the help of their real-estate agent, Seth Turner of Keller Williams, they started condo hunting, ultimately choosing a one-bedroom, 777-square-foot, third-floor unit in the Chastleton Cooperative, which they moved into in June. The historic Beaux Arts building, once made up of rentals that were a magnet for college grads with their first real jobs, was renovated in 2006; some one-bedrooms there now go for close to $400,000.
Though leaving suburbia for urban living usually involves downsizing, it doesn’t necessarily mean spending less. David Shotwell, a real-estate agent who specializes in finding city residences for empty-nesters, warns against moving to the city in search of a bargain.
“Many times, people are actually not spending less than what they’ve made on homes that they sell in the suburbs,” he says. “It’s simply changing where their money is going.”
Rather than paying for square-footage, they pay for convenience. Though Gormley and McCaffery still own a car, they don’t use it much. They rely on Uber or cabs and commute by bus or Metro. They’re also much closer to many of their downtown clients. They walk to the grocery store—two blocks to Safeway, five to Whole Foods—and museums, and McCaffery hopes to find volunteer opportunities at the Smithsonian or the National Archives.
The couple needed smaller-scale furniture, so they hired Rami Henein from DZein Studio in Georgetown. He relied heavily on furnishings from Natuzzi Italia and Ligne Roset to decorate their co-op. The space is clean and modern but warmed up by accents from the couple’s travels abroad: batiks from Malaysia, a colorful Indian rug, small sculptures from McCaffery’s time in Botswana and Ethiopia. In homage to their former home, a large watercolor of the Alexandria pier hangs above the dining table.
McCaffery and Gormley don’t yet have a need to “seniorize” the space with additions such as wider door frames or safety elements in the bathroom, but they don’t rule out doing so later if that’s what it takes to remain in the co-op.
On their building’s rooftop deck, the couple can enjoy a glass of wine and views of the White House and the Washington Monument. It’s a perfect place to unwind and contemplate the future.
“It’s sort of scary, in a way, to think about stopping work—are you just going to slowly fade away?” says Gormley. “We’re finding things to put in our life that make it lively and interesting. The opposite of fading away.”
Rebecca Nelson (email@example.com) is a staff correspondent for National Journal. This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Usually, it's a book that inspires a TV show. Not this time: The inspiration for Lisa Roberts's book was sparked by her 2011 docu-series My Design Life, which followed the design expert and her team as they visited museums, exhibits, trade fairs, and shops to hunt out only the most unique of high-design finds. The result is the newly released DesignPop, a neon-pink-vinyl-jacketed tome that offers a glimpse at 82 game-changing contemporary designs dreamed up since 2000, ranging from the unusual (Marcel Wanders's otherwordly Zepplin chandelier) to the everyday (Nest's smart thermostats). Roberts visits the Building Museum next week to present and sign the new book, and we caught up with her to get her insider take on the world of contemporary design.
DesignPop presentation and book signing. Tuesday 12:30 to 2 PM. National Building Museum, 401 F St., NW. RSVP online.
What's the secret to great design?
There is no magic answer to that question, but great design succeeds in form, function, and emotion. Functionality is objective: How well does the object perform its task? Form and emotionality are subjective: How pleasing is the form, and does it speak to you on an emotional level? Since both of these depend on your point of reference, there really isn’t a singular formula for great design.
Which up-and-coming designer is most interesting to you right now?
The Dutch designer Joris Laarman. He works with some of the most advanced production technologies of 3D printing, CNC milling, robotics, and advanced software. As an artist as well as designer, he often incorporates hand assembly. A great example is his Polygon Maker Chair. It’s composed of mathematically designed CNC milled pieces that are assembled by hand [see bottom-right photo above].
Who's your personal design hero?
Michael Graves. He started out as an architect creating some of the most iconic postmodern buildings of the 1970s and '80s. In 1985, the Italian housewares manufacturer Alessi asked him to design the quintessential American product. He created the Whistling Bird Tea Kettle, which, arguably, has become the most successful architect-designed product in history, selling more than $300 million dollars worth of tea kettles. He then went on to design products for Target, bringing high design to the masses and making him a household name. After an illness left him a paraplegic, he has devoted much of his design practice to creating well-designed objects for people with disabilities.
What's the best place to find high design on a budget?
Museum shops are great places to find high design without paying museum prices. Also, I like Target. They have programs where they invite high designers to work on their budgets.
You have a huge collection of contemporary design objects. If you had to just pick one, which is your favorite?
I love the Vermelha Chair by the Brazilian brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana. Early in their careers, they were inspired by the discarded and leftover materials of Brazilian manufacturers. They used these to make their prototypes, although once in production, the materials were new. This chair incorporates 1,500 feet of rope that is wrapped and woven to provide a structural and very comfortable chair. Mine is sitting in my foyer. I love its bright color, enveloping shape, and soft seat—form, function, and emotion!
What's the next frontier in modern design?
That frontier is already here: wearable technology. It will sit on your wrist, be incorporated into your clothing, and even be attached directly to your skin.
It takes a creative eye to see the beauty in a ratty $5 armchair at Goodwill. And Nicole Crowder has that vision—the former photographer turned a self-learned knack for reupholstering into her own custom design business last June under the moniker Third + Grace. Her creations nail that perfect balance of vintage bones and modern glam. Love pattern mixing and graphic prints? You’ll want to check out Thread, Union Market’s retail pop-up, this weekend, where Baltimore-based Third + Grace debuts its latest collection. Head over to Shop Around for more details on Thread—and read on to hear all about Crowder and her upholstery shop.
Thread. April 4 from 1 to 7, April 5 from 11 to 7, and April 6 from 11 to 5. 1039 Fifth St., NE.
Tell us about your background. What inspired you to start an upholstery business?
I was a photo editor and freelance photographer for several years before I even thought about upholstery. I’ve always loved having my hands in various creative projects, and interior design has always been inspiring to me. But it never occurred to me that upholstery was something I could do until just a little under two years ago. In late 2012 I went out and purchased two wooden chairs and spent the afternoon stripping them and reupholstering them. The idea of transforming a practical and tangible item into something that now has a personality through just changing the textiles was an “aha” moment. I loved the physical labor just as much as shopping for the fabrics or sketching the ideas. Entrepreneurship was very new to me, but I began to have lots of friends and even a few strangers ask if I was able to reupholster projects they had at home.
You’re self-taught. How did you learn the craft?
YouTube was a really great teacher. I would spend hours looking through various how-to videos on everything from making double-welt cord to how to make a box cushion or where to buy Pli-Grip online. I also purchased a video by an amazing upholstery company in Austin, Texas, called Spruce. I worked full-time during the day, so every evening and weekend I was home working on chairs and benches and ottomans. A lot of it was trial and error, and still very much is. Each piece of furniture is different and requires its own technique, from stripping it to putting it back together.
What are your favorite sources for finding the vintage furniture pieces you reupholster?
These places are so good that I want to keep them to myself! But here you go: My go-to source is Ryan’s Relics in Bel Air, Maryland. It’s a great spot for midcentury pieces, and the price points are unreal. My other favorite is a place in Frederick called Cannon Hill Antiques. It’s just up the road from the more expensive and fancy antiques shops in Frederick. It’s old and dusty and gets chilly in the winter and has rickety stairs, but I love it. And another great place is Goodwill. You can find great pieces of furniture with good bones for $5 that would sell for hundreds someplace else.
What’s your design signature?
My signature design is still forming itself, I think, but I definitely love mixing prints and textiles. I like having one pattern on the front of the chair and a completely different one on the back. It can add whimsy, funk, or even more elegance to a chair. I think it comes from being inspired by the back details in women’s fashion. I love shirts and dresses and blazers that have a great detail on the back, so it’s visually pleasing as you come and go.
You use a lot of colorful fabrics and interesting patterns in your furniture. How do you choose your fabrics? How do you decide what to pair?
The inspiration for the fabric comes from a variety of places, but primarily from fashion and style. I love how bold many people are with their everyday style choices, and I wanted to translate that to furniture that was cool, functional and beautiful to look at. I labor over the fabric choices sometimes, because every piece has its own personality and I hope to bring that out using the correct fabric. There is one chair I’ve reupholstered three times because the fabric just didn’t suit the chair’s frame. I usually get a bunch of fabric swatches and then spend time pairing them together to see which complements the other.
Are there any pieces that are especially meaningful? Why?
The collection I’m debuting at Thread at Union Market this spring is very meaningful to me. Last year I was just starting out with my business and trying to take on as many projects as I could, and I took on too much at once, which was little overwhelming. I knew if I wanted a better work-life balance I would need to minimize some of the workload and maximize quality over quantity. And that’s how the Modern Luxury collection came about. It’s me slowing down and going back to basics: black, white, and gold. I temporarily suspended any new client work and took my time spending three months working on all the details for this collection. It really reflects my affinity for minimalism in my personal style, and each piece reminds me of the moment I knew I had to change how I worked.
What’s up next for Third + Grace?
A project I’m really excited about: I’m currently conceptualizing a new collection of colorful chairs, pillows, and poufs that will be sold exclusively for the website Brika. That will be available in July 2014. I’d also love to branch into working with boutique hotels and shops on a few design ideas.
This is a big year for furniture brand Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. It’s the company’s 25th anniversary—and to celebrate, the namesake duo have a major agenda: They’ve released their third coffee-table tome, Who We Are. They’ve created a special anniversary collection of silver-infused products for spring. They’re embarking on a yearlong tour to 19 of their signature stores for birthday parties that benefit local charities. And they’re opening another six stores throughout the country—including one due to arrive at Tysons later this year.
To kick off the year of celebration, Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams stop by Washington’s 14th Street store next Wednesday to toast to their milestone. We chatted with the founders recently to get their take on stylish living; read on to see what they have to say, then swing by the party to chat with the pair in person.
What design trends are you most excited about for 2014?
We are loving the far-out elements from our favorites in 1970s film, music, and fashion: Our new collection is the love child of pop culture and iconic comfort. Within, sophisticated notes of glamour and sexiness become one with energetic glimpses of freedom and fun.
What trend are you ready to see disappear?
Honestly, we’re not big fans of the idea of a home-furnishing color of the year or season. We’ll search as long as it takes to find just the right shade of a color and take care that it works beautifully with other colors before adding it to our collection. We look for colors that will be as timeless, beautiful, and easy to live with as our furniture. Sometimes we’ll focus on a color that caught our eye in our travels, like chartreuse, which we saw accenting the outfits of fashionable men and women on the streets of Paris.
What’s your signature design style? And how can readers work it into their home?
Our signature is comfort combined with style. One of our favorite ways to incorporate it into our homes is by including upholstered furniture where others might choose wood. For instance, we love upholstered chairs for the dining room and upholstered headboards in the bedroom.
Mitchell, you have a condo in DC. Do you have any favorite local sources for design inspiration?
DC is such a beautiful city. We find it walking around our Meridian Hill neighborhood, and on 14th Street, where our store is, which we’ve watched go through a great transformation. Ideas for new styles, colors, and even ways of doing business might come from something as simple as a trip to Whole Foods, a meal out in a great modern space like the Source, or an afternoon at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery—a new exhibit just opened there called “American Cool,” which I hope to see soon.
What’s your best tip for small-space living?
Don’t be afraid to include an over-scaled piece of furniture. For instance, in our DC condo, we used one of our wood-and-polished-stainless dining tables instead of a narrower console table. It has the surface space to hold our stereo equipment and records plus books and collectibles, making it a great focal point for the room.
How has your company evolved over the past 25 years?
We are very proud of the fact that we started this company with an investment of $60,000 (in challenging economic times not dissimilar from today), and it’s now a $125-plus million brand offering not only beautiful, comfortable furnishings for the whole house, but also an equally appealing chain of retail stores that is being expanded this year. In homage to our 25th anniversary, we made silver our muse and choreographed a collection with sheen: fabrics, leathers, mohair, and even hair-on-hide in tones from graphite to ecru, pewter, zinc, and steel.
What’s next for Michell Gold + Bob Williams?
Our Tysons Corner location is the latest in a growing number of Signature Stores for the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams brand. The company plans to open a total of six new store locations over the next 12 months, with the next openings planned for Tysons Corner, Beverly Hills, Montreal, Miami, Alpharetta, and St. Louis.
In 2008, Jennifer Bertrand won the third season of HGTV’s Design Star. Then she seemed to drop out of the spotlight entirely. The reason for her absence? Turns out Bertrand got pregnant, and her son was born with two rare malformations and major medical issues, necessitating an eventual 20 surgeries. After taking a hiatus while dealing with her son’s health problems, she’s back to design—and she’s busier than ever. These days, she’s hard at work designing an 18,000-square-foot home for the Ronald McDonald House, writing magazine articles, traveling to home shows, and serving as a spokesperson for the International Design Guild. The past several years may have been a rollercoaster, but there’s an upside: “It’s made me a better designer, because once you face real-life things, it’s really easy to pick a paint color and encourage people to take risks,” she says.
This weekend, Bertrand headlines the Capital Home & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center, alongside Curb Appeal host John Giddings. During her appearance, Bertrand will reveal the top design mistakes and how to conquer them. Read on to find out why this pink-haired designer’s favorite paint color is white, why she won’t be using that Radiant Orchid hue anytime soon, and why the best design strategy is to just slow it down.
You work with lots of color in your designs. How do you suggest a colorphobe ease into using bold hues?
When I get free rein I tend to get a little kooky and happy, because I want you to walk into a room and have it change how you feel. But I also appreciate those people who say, “Jen, just because you sometimes have pink hair . . .” I don’t expect them to like color how I like color, but I want them to understand how to create a color story in their home, even if it’s just white and shades of linen. The thing is, you have to focus on the un-fun stuff first before you just jump in and buy a paint can and watch one TV show and say, “I’m going to tackle it this weekend”—because what happens is that your house looks schizophrenic.
So it’s really teaching people that even though you get super-psyched and excited to paint, it’s sometimes about slowing down and having a plan before you do it. Which is so boring to say, but you’ll be glad later, because you won’t be repainting.
So what is the “un-fun stuff”? How do you create that plan?
Ultimately, it’s deciding: How do you want your space to feel? People will say something like “happy and bright” or “soothing and sophisticated.” Then start grabbing paint chips you’re drawn to, and once you start laying them next to each other you’ll start seeing how one color can overshadow another.
What are your favorite paint colors right now?
You know how they always have the color of the year? [This year] it’s orchid. And I love orchid, but that makes me not want to use orchid because it’s the color of the year. I have a secret rebellion about it. Honestly, it’s more about what makes people happy. Everything that’s cool is cyclical; it’ll come back around eventually. My house is kind of like Florida-retirement-home colors—all soothing and calm, rococo ice-cream palette.
Honestly—and this sounds really lame—but I love white paint. If most everything is white, then you can change your artwork, you can lacquer a side table, and you still have this neutral base that lets you play with color but not be extreme about it.
What is the easiest way to make a big impact in your home?
The most cost-efficient one is paint. That’s kind of how I became “the paint girl.” It’s not that I’m obsessed with paint; it just was the easiest way to spend $50, put in a little sweat, and change the whole feel.
The next thing is lighting. Lighting is one of the unsung heroes of design. It’s changing the fixtures to be the proper focal point that they should be; or, if you want a cleaner look, spending the money to put in the proper cans or dimmers to create the necessary ambience.
What are your top tips for decorating on a budget?
Slow down and create a plan. What happens is that you don’t have money, so you buy lots of little things, and you end up with lots of small things and no design impact. Instead, I teach people to save up and get the thing you really need for the space instead of a bunch of tchotchkes that make you look like a hoarder. Once you have a plan and are buying things one at a time, then you can start painting, start purchasing.
And I say this from experience—I don’t try to say, “my son has a medical thing, so . . .” but when we had to focus on real-life payment stuff, then I had to figure out, “Okay, how do I get creative?” And so then it was really being patient and focusing on one room at a time.
I’m the queen of Target decor. Target has great accessories, and Marshall’s, even.
What other budget-friendly sources do you like?
Etsy is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a great way for people to have real art and support small artists, and it takes you a step above a poster or something you’d find in a big-box store.
I even use Overstock—I’m not a snob about that. Lamps Plus online has clearance open-box items that I use. I tend to love Craigslist and 1960s estate sales more, though.
At this weekend’s show, you will be sharing the top 12 design mistakes. Can you give us a sneak preview?
One thing is scale—lighting scale is commonly a big mistake. More than likely, people have the wrong-size light; they go too small in their dining room. You want the light that looks like it’s on steroids in certain spaces. It’s like the Louboutin of the home. It makes the dramatic moment.
Another common mistake is curtain height. I don’t know why they still sell them at 84 inches—because they should never be hung at 84 inches—but that’s the standard size in stores. I don’t want anyone to go below 96 inches. So if you want to save the curtains you have, just colorblock and sew on a chunk of fabric at the bottom. Then you can use your curtains but hang them at the proper height of two inches below the ceiling, which adds instant drama. It freaks people out, but then once they start seeing pictures of rooms that have that, they realize it is right. Sometimes people just need someone to tell them, “It’s going to be okay, you’re going to be fine; step back from the ledge.”
The Capital Home & Garden Show runs Friday through Sunday at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly. The show will be open 10 to 9 on Friday and Saturday and 10 to 6 on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased online for $7 or at the door for $10.
It’s always great to see some familiar names pop up on a national list of bests—and this time, it’s area interior designer Darryl Carter and architect Allan Greenberg, both named to Architectural Digest’s 2014 AD100, which ranks the publication’s picks for the top talents nationwide. The magazine has been compiling the list for nearly 25 years.
This is the third consecutive year that the Alexandria-based Greenberg has been placed on the list. Carter was previously included in 2012.
Read on for some high-design eye candy from the two, then head to Architectural Digest’s site to see the complete list.
The Urban Institute launched a cool online interactive feature Wednesday called Our Changing City. The study takes a close look at demographic changes by ward. There’s a wealth of information to wade through—from population shifts by race and age to snapshots of Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, which the authors say have seen some of the most dramatic change.
The study dovetails nicely with this article that ran in yesterday’s New York Times, which examines skyrocketing rents through the lens of a 54-year-old woman struggling to afford her apartment in Columbia Heights.
Real estate and numbers nerds take note: this is the first of several chapters in the study. In the months ahead, they’ll drill down on housing, crime, and education.
Thursday night, Logan Circle’s Room & Board store hosts a book launch party to celebrate the release of design blog AphroChic’s first book, Remix: Decorating with Culture, Objects, and Soul. The bloggers behind the site, policy-attorney-turned-designer Jeanine Hays and her husband, Bryan Mason, will be on hand to chat about their aesthetic and sign books, but here’s our favorite part: Turns out Hays’s sister, Angela Hays Belt, is Room & Board’s head visual designer right here in DC. Impeccable design taste must run in their genes: Belt’s Navy Yard apartment (which she shares with her husband, Leon, a videographer and graphic designer) is one of the five homes featured in the book, and it’s chock-full of inspiring design. Keep reading to see more of the Belts’ artistic-meets-midcentury-industrial loft, then swing by the 14th Street store tonight to meet both Hays and Belt in person.
AphroChic book launch party, Thursday 6 to 8:30 PM. Presentation at 6:30 PM. 1840 14th St., NW; 202-729-8300. RSVP online.
Hey, history buffs—if you’re in the market for a new home, you’re in luck. Two homes, each with a fascinating backstory, have hit the market in recent days.
In West Virginia’s Charles Town (about 60 miles from Washington), Perkins House is a 7,000-square-foot brick mansion with a score of Victorian-era indulgences including a 113-foot turret, Tiffany windows, Waterford chandeliers, and 19-foot ceilings. But the real draw for history lovers? The home formerly housed Civil War General Robert E. Lee’s office, and was the site of abolitionist John Brown’s hanging execution in 1859. Asking price: $975,000.
Looking for something with a more recent claim to fame? Check out this home in Marshall, Virginia (about 50 miles from Washington), which was listed this week and was once used as a retreat for JFK. He only spent two weekends at the home before his assassination, but Jackie Kennedy designed the property, which was built in 1963 and sold soon after the President’s death. The 5,050-square-foot home sits on 166 acres and has a pond, a pool, a tennis court, and mountain views. List price: just under $11 million.