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They Know Design

Whether your taste runs to contemporary or traditional, here are more than two dozen good designers who can remake any room

To come up with this list of good interior designers, we talked to people who know design.

We asked architects which interior designers they recommend. We had interior designers tell us whose work they admire among their peers. We surveyed industry experts at design magazines and decorator show houses. We reviewed lists of award winners in local design competitions.

The result is this list—the 28 interior designers who received the most recommendations.

There are other good interior designers in Washington. If a firm is not listed here, that does not mean it isn’t good. And inclusion on this list is no guarantee the firm will suit your needs. The key in choosing a designer is personality—you should feel comfortable with a designer so you can work together and be honest about your likes and dislikes.

Many talented designers work at architecture firms; if you are hiring an architect, check to see if the firm has a designer on staff. Home-furnishings shops like Kellogg Collection and Colony House also have decorators on staff—and in-store design help is sometimes free. For information on design help at local stores, see page 112.

The Washington Design Center is a resource to help you find a designer; on the concourse level, there are portfolios from about 100 designers available for browsing. Visiting show houses is another way to see good work The Washington Design Center’s next show house opens April 20 and runs to June 30; the National Symphony Orchestra’s show house is usually in October.

Firms listed here may be not right for your project but happy to provide referrals. Consider this list a starting point.

Good Interior Designers

A handful of these designers have earned national reputations. If you want your home to look like an Architectural Digest spread, you can call such big names as Thomas Pheasant, José Solís Betancourt, David Mitchell, or Barry Dixon, all of whom have appeared in the pages of national magazines. Other designers on this list may be less known, but what they share, our sources say, is talent.

Annette Hannon Interior Design
, Burke; 703-978-1486; Before opening her firm in 2004, Hannon designed kitchens and worked for Laura Ashley. Her rooms have a traditional, classical feel. Described by a peer as an up-and-comer, Hannon likes to add a bit of glamour to every room, such as a chandelier in a bedroom. She also designs and likes to use monograms on towels and other linens.

Barbara Hawthorn Interiors, McLean; 703-241-5588; Hawthorn’s designs range from traditional to contemporary to historic, but her style, she says, is always “welcoming, harmonious, and clean.” She loves to work with both neutrals and strong colors. What she can’t stand? Clutter. “Everyone has clutter, but I always help clients find ways to hide it,” she says.

Baron Gurney Interiors, Northwest DC; 202-244-6883. Therese Baron Gurney did acclaimed architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen’s interiors for 16 years; she now works mostly with her husband, award-winning architect Robert Gurney. “No swags or chintz about it—I’m thoroughly modern,” says Gurney.

Barry Dixon, Warrenton; 540-341-8501; Dixon’s clients have included TV personality Diane Sawyer and former senator Bill Frist. His interiors have a timeless quality; his own furniture collection combines modern and traditional elements. “No room looks right without fresh flowers and a good antique,” he says.

Celia Welch Interiors,
Bethesda; 301-654-4728; Welch says her designs have a “relaxed elegance.” She likes to include “something that evokes peace” into each of her rooms, whether a piece of sculpture or an orchid. She stays away from anything “fussy” like overly decorative trims and loud colors.

Cole Prévost, Northwest DC; 202-234-1090; This firm does both architecture and interior design. Decorator Sophie Prévost likes to mix a sense of whimsy into her modern designs. “I can’t think of anything more boring than a whole house in beige,” she says.

Darryl Carter, Northwest DC; 866-234-5926; As an unhappy lawyer, Carter began designing homes as a creative outlet. When one of his properties landed on the cover of Metropolitan Home in 1997, he abandoned law and hung out a design shingle. His rooms take a fresh approach to the traditional and are marked by subtle palettes, fine art, and antiques. A room is not complete, he says, without “a fantastic piece of art and a variety of time-worn books.”

David H. Mitchell Interior Design, Northwest DC; 202-797-0780; Mitchell, a regular on House Beautiful’s top-100 designers list, describes his style as a “young approach to traditional design.” A Mitchell room is not complete without art—whether photography, painting, or a print. His motto: Never say never; “I never thought I would design a room with purple, but lately it’s my favorite color.”

Deborah Houseworth, Chevy Chase; 301-587-6012. Houseworth, a past president of the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Design, calls her style “not trendy but contemporary and eclectic.” She loves incorporating art into every decor. “Art finishes off the room and makes it very personal,” she says. What you won’t see? “Too much stuff. Rooms get ruined by overaccessorizing.”

Drysdale Design Associates,
Northwest DC; 202-588-0700. Mary Douglas Drysdale, who also has a background in architecture, has decorated the homes of senators. In her designs, “the ethos of the architectural interior and the decorative interior go hand in glove,” she says. One peer says her sense of color is “impeccable.”

Frank Babb Randolph Interior Design,
Northwest DC; 202-944-2120. Randolph, a lifelong Washingtonian who grew up in Georgetown and attended American University, designed the Vice President’s mansion for the Cheneys. He uses pale colors and elegant details to create peaceful spaces. “Our lives are so full—what we really need is more serenity,” he says.

Gary Lovejoy Associates, Northwest DC; 202-333-5200; In business more than 25 years, Lovejoy produces designs with clean lines and lots of light. He loves throwing a twist into each room, like adding one traditional piece to a contemporary space. What you won’t see? “Stuffy, contrived formality,” he says. “Tufted upholstered furniture gives me the creeps.”

Houseworks Interiors,
Old Town; 703-519-1900; Dee Thornton, owner of this 15-year-old firm, describes her style as “updated, clean traditional.” She loves to paint ceilings—everything from sky blue to mauve.

JDS Designs, Northeast DC; 202-543-8631; David Herchik heads this 22-year-old company. Designs run the gamut from contemporary to traditional. “If people are willing to have fun, we’ll have fun,” says Herchik. The firm has done entire rooms in purple, installed aquariums in bookcases, and thrown an antique into an ultramodern space. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” he says.

Justine Sancho Interior Design, Potomac; 301-765-6034; Sancho, who has done work for some of Washington’s wealthiest families, often marries antique and contemporary pieces. She loves warm colors: “Yellow, orange, deep saffron—I tend to incorporate sunset colors. You can relax in them.”

Kelley Proxmire Interior Design, Bethesda; 301-320-2109; Proxmire calls her style “tailored traditional.” She says she keeps designs simple, and she likes to use sterling silver accessories.

Lavinia Lemon Interiors, Northwest DC; 202-244-3385. Lemon, in the business for 30 years, designs homes for both comfort and style. A Lemon project is not complete without a few antiques. What you’ll never see? “Animal skins or artificial flowers.”

Lisa Vandenburgh Limited Interior Design,
Georgetown; 202-625-4100; Vandenburgh’s decors have an element of surprise and fun. “In a contemporary house it might be some folk art; in a very traditional house, maybe a piece of art that makes you laugh,” she says. Her work has been featured in magazines, including Traditional Home.

Michael Roberson Interior Design, Arlington; 703-527-9010; In the business 25 years, Roberson is well respected by her peers. She uses a lot of textured fabrics and monochromatic palettes, which, she says, give homes a “clean, open, and comfortable” feel. There’s no color she rules out, but “every room needs at least one neutral tone. Neutrals enrich the colors.”

Mona Hajj Interiors,
Baltimore; 410-234-0091; Hajj designs homes around the country, but almost half her projects are in the Washington area. She thinks a good antique rug is the most important element in a room, and she travels around the world—places like London, Italy, New York, and Paris—searching for beautiful rugs. She describes her style as “comfortable and inviting” and says “you’ll never see anything trendy.”

Nancy Colbert, McLean; 703-242-0886. In the business 25 years, Colbert likes combining styles and periods. She has designed rooms for three NSO show houses, including a master bathroom adorned with Venetian plaster.

Nestor Santa-Cruz, Northwest DC; 202-332-2434. Santa-Cruz is highly regarded for his residential work, although most of his design projects are commercial. His homes—which he calls “modern and restrained yet classic”—have been featured in O at Home and Metropolitan Home.

Solís Betancourt, Northwest DC; 202-659-8734; Peers say José Solís Betancourt, who has an architecture degree, is known for his creativity and easygoing demeanor. Betancourt and Thomas Pheasant are the only Washington interior designers on Architectural Digest’s “AD 100” list. One color he tends to stay away from: yellow.

Sroka Design, Bethesda; 301-263-9100; Skip Sroka’s designs have been featured in magazines including Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Accents. In his rooms, walls are rarely plain: “I’m somebody you come to for color.” No room he designs is complete, he says, without “a comfortable place to sit,” and you’ll never see “anything pretentious.”

Sue Burgess,
Chevy Chase; 301-652-6217. Burgess describes her style as classic minimalist. “I like designs that have longevity,” she says. What does she always work into a room? “Art and books—even family photograph books. They add something interesting.”

Susan Gulick Interiors, Reston; 703-674-0332; Gulick, who has a background in fine art, likes to work contemporary art into her designs. “I have fun with area rugs and artwork—I view rugs like paintings,” she says. She describes her work as “transitional leaning toward contemporary,” and you’ll never see “ruffles, bows, or flowered prints.”

Thomas Pheasant,
Northwest DC; 202-337-6596; Many say Pheasant is Washington’s best interior designer; one peer says he is in “a league of his own.” Pheasant loves simple forms and pure colors and has applied this “clean, American” style to projects ranging from a Georgian farmhouse in Middleburg to a contemporary New York apartment.

Victoria Neale Interiors, Northwest DC; 202-244-8410. After working in banking for seven years, Neale abandoned the corporate world in 1991 and went back to school for interior design. Known for her liberal use of color, Neale loves warm shades like orange, red, green, and yellow.

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