When Wallpaper—Yes, Wallpaper—Is the Answer
Cladding a fireplace in a flammable material might sound dangerous, but that’s exactly what interior designer Dane Austin did in the Logan Circle condo he made over last fall for a bachelor client. Actually, his decision to cover the faux chimney in a wood-veneer paper by Phillip Jeffries was both stylish and safe. Austin had the wallpaper specifically treated to stand up to the surface as it gets hotter. “I wanted to amp the whole room up and give the impression that the [gas-powered] fireplace had a flue,” says Austin of the design choice.
The eye-popping result plays nicely with the 1930s–inspired room’s bold elements: metallic cork on the other walls, a dramatic white resin light fixture, and crown molding painted bright blue. Furnishings for entertaining or kicking back by the fire mingle contemporary pieces—a low-slung aqua sofa, a black-and-white abstract painting by DC artist Dan Kahoe—with vintage finds such as a yellow chinoiserie chest and a Spanish-style armchair. “Great design should mix materials and feel collected over time,” says Austin. “That’s what makes a room warm and inviting.”
When You Really Commit to a Color
A Tiffany-blue lamp helped interior designer Erica Burns create this vibrant library for a pair of Foxhall empty-nesters in 2015. “Their prior house had been darker and more traditional, and they wanted something fun,” says Burns. “The wife saw the blue lamp on vacation in Europe and took a photo, and it turned into a springboard for the whole room.”
The couple gave the designer license to use the cheerful hue with abandon. Burns painted the library’s fireplace surround, built-in bookcases, and wood paneling a high-gloss version of Benjamin Moore’s Mill Springs Blue. The jewel-box effect is amplified by arched French pocket doors—painted the same shade—that slide shut. Family photos and mementos on the bookshelves and a landscape by 20th-century American painter Robert Lambdin over the mantel subtly contrast with all that gleaming blue. “These clients love to entertain, and when they do, guests branch off and gather in here,” says Burns. “At night, with a fire going and the lamps turned down low, the room just glows.”
When Custom Doesn’t Mean Expensive
This Scandinavian-style fireplace nook in a 1926 Chevy Chase bungalow only looks pricey. Its custom puzzle-like surround was achieved by cutting inexpensive 12-by-24-inch matte white tiles into irregular but carefully plotted shapes. Designer Kerra Michele’s contractors then attached them to the existing fireplace in an abstract mosaic pattern. “Because we were doing the whole house, we wanted to do the fireplace on a budget,” says Michele. “This way, we got the effect of more expensive patterned tile for very little money, like under $100 for the whole project.”
Though Michele didn’t want to spend a lot on the space, she needed it to be a worthy focal point—it’s in the foyer and is the first thing visitors see when they enter the home. Michele revamped the once-awkward area during a whole-house remodel for an empty-nest couple last year. A crisp white Aerin chandelier and an abstract painting by local artist Christine Olmstead accentuate the space, which the owners can see when they’re relaxing in the adjacent great room. Built-in benches, a comfy spot for shedding winter boots, invite people to linger. And the homeowners, says Michele, “have a lot of fires, so we made sure they had lightweight swivel chairs they can pull in by the hearth.”
When Industrial Meets Ski Chalet
The young family who hired architect Shawn Buehler to add a great room onto their shingle-style home in Chevy Chase already had specific ideas about what they wanted. They loved industrial spaces with a New York–loft vibe and, says Buehler, a partner at Bennett Frank McCarthy, “they sent me a picture of a fireplace that looked like a very modern wood stove.”
When he couldn’t find anything on the market that matched their vision, Buehler had to craft a custom version. “Because they wanted a wood-burning fireplace, not a gas insert, we had to do a tricky vertical installation of a flue,” the architect explains. To create the modern ski-chalet look the couple wanted, Buehler had Dixie Sheet Metal Works build a steel firebox enclosure, flanked by dramatic, oversize log cubbies. “The wood is meant to be a tactile element, almost like wainscoting,” says Buehler. Now the couple and their four sons love gathering in the room, especially during the holidays, when it houses their Christmas tree.
When Nothing Beats the Original
Architect Carmel Greer often works on older houses. “Usually, when an owner runs across a fireplace that isn’t pristine, they’re not inclined to restore it,” she says. But knocking out two delicately carved wooden mantels wasn’t on the agenda for this client, who purchased a freestanding 1878 Victorian in LeDroit Park last year. “He’s an old-house lover, and he fell for the charm of this place,” she says.
So as a part of a home renovation completed earlier this year, Greer repaired and repainted the original wooden fireplace surrounds and shored up their carved mantels. Gas inserts were then installed in each. In the small, square den, the walls were painted Benjamin Moore’s Santa Monica Blue to set off the black fireplace, creating a snug, masculine retreat. The owner furnished the space with a tweedy sofa, Chinese antiques collected during his travels, and a weathered antique table to hold a TV. “Though his taste is eclectic, the fireplace fits in,” says Greer. “It’s not frilly, and it’s got clean, elegant lines. You’ll never think this is a developer spec project.”
This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Washingtonian.