Tour a Washington, DC, Row House With Period
By Michelle Brunner
Photography by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions
Styled by Charlotte Safavi
Wander the streets of our nation’s capital and you’re bound to encounter a virtual rainbow of macaron-hued row houses with proudly protruding bays and fanciful turrets. Washington, DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood is no exception. Developed between 1890 and 1912, it boasts some of the more preserved examples of late Victorian and early-20th-century housing styles in the district. However, that they are intact doesn’t necessarily mean they are inhabitable, as homeowners Andrew Smith and Carl Holshouser discovered when they got a look inside the 1906 brick row house that would become their home.
“It was in really rough shape, to put it nicely,” says Smith, a vice president at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. “It was full of items the owner had collected throughout his many decades in the house, from Christmas ornaments to piles of old magazines.” Once they looked past the clutter, though, they saw the home’s elegant bones and original woodwork. “I had always seen this house and thought, Wow, that would be great to do something creative with,” he says. So as soon as the couple purchased the place, they called longtime friend and AD100 interior designer Patrick Mele, and enlisted the help of local architect Evelyn Pierce to give the house the thoughtful reinvention it deserved.
Even though the design team initially considered an open-concept floor plan, they ultimately decided against it. “We voted to keep the original footprint of the house,” Mele says, as he was hoping to avoid what Smith jokingly calls “the bowling alley effect,” where you stand at the front door and can see the entire first floor in a single glance. “It’s the act of leaning into what a house is, as opposed to pretending that it’s a loft,” Mele says. “Not opening up the walls also kept the architectural details intact and the spaces feeling a little bit more intimate,” Pierce adds.
To unify the individual spaces throughout the main level, Mele painted nearly every surface—including floors and stairs—Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore. The total white-out was partially inspired by the interiors of architect Hugh Newell Jacobson, who did a lot of work in the DC area. Because high-gloss white floors show every scuff and scrape, the idea did require a bit of arm twisting. “Thankfully they took the plunge,” Mele says. “The space looks double the size, and each piece of furniture really stands out.”
The white floors weren’t the only design through-line in the project. Mele employed a punchy black-and-white palette throughout and also incorporated mirrored surfaces in several rooms—a clever trick to make a narrow row house look larger. Such sleight of hand is on full display in the kitchen, where a mirrored backsplash and glass-front cabinets create the illusion of depth. There, a mosaic-tiled floor and an antique English-style lantern conjure turn-of-last century workers’ kitchens, while the retro square tile and that glam reflective backsplash feel straight out of the ’80s—it’s Gosford Park, but with a New Order soundtrack. “At night with the under-cabinet lights on, the mirrors make it sparkle. It’s such a magical little space,” Smith says.
Just steps from the kitchen, Mele and Pierce created what may be the project’s biggest abracadabra moment. Inspired by the charming courtyards and secret gardens of nearby Georgetown, they converted the formerly derelict backyard and carriage house into an outdoor entertaining oasis, complete with a dreamy canopy of wisteria. Incorporating the masonry shell of the original carriage house nods to the home’s history and nicely sums up the design team’s approach to the whole project. Mele says, “The most important message was to focus on honoring the original bones of the house, restoring this home to what it might have been while making it relevant for today.”
Stepping over the threshold, visitors are greeted with a welcoming scene featuring a classic wing chair, which designer Patrick Mele upholstered in black Knoll wool with a snazzy camel contrast welt. The Shaker-style ebony console from David Bell Antiques offers a place to drop your keys, and the artwork by Gary Burnley adds a graphic pop to the white walls. An Oushak rug makes the space feel instantly cozy.
In the living room, a zebra hide rug from Creel & Gow provides a playful grounding element for an eclectic melange of furnishings. Mele combined classic midcentury silhouettes—such as a black leather Eames chair and a 1960s tuxedo sofa upholstered in Knoll luxe camel wool—with a burled wood coffee table from David Bell Antiques and a vintage library cabinet from Good Wood. Artwork on display includes colorful pieces by Frederick Lynch and a Volta mobile.
For a hefty dose of drama, an oversized dome pendant from Fontana Arte presides over the dining room. The table base was a $35 score at Community Forklift, a local architectural salvage shop. Mele had a custom glass top made for it and added rush seat dining chairs from Design Within Reach. Behind the Shaker cabinet, he lined the wall with mirrors, saying, “They reflect the light when you gather at a table and bring an element of romance to a space.”
Needing a total gut renovation, the kitchen was conceived to look like the kind of cook space that might have been in the house originally. The Victorian-inspired mosaic floor features a rosette design with a Greek key border meant to serve as a complement to the mosaic in the home’s entry vestibule. A primitive wood butcher block acts as an ersatz island for extra prep space, and the new steel-and-glass door brings in an abundance of natural light.
The powder room wainscot takes on a dressy air thanks to Farrow & Ball’s Pitch Black in a high-gloss finish. A gilded mirror from Jean Pierre Antiques and a series of line drawings from David Bell underscore the Old World aura. A streamlined faucet and wall-mount sink from Rohl lend a more modern note.
Rich chocolate-y walls (courtesy of Benjamin Moore’s Kona) set a dramatic backdrop for the home office, where prints by Native American artist Paul Speckled Rock hang over the desk. The red lacquer Chinoiserie bench is a find from Mele’s shop and can double as both seating and resting place for books or magazines. The desk, the chair, and the shelving unit are all from CB2.
Painting the walls Farrow & Ball’s London Stone created a warm and earthy cocoon effect in the primary bedroom. Alan Campbell’s Fez fabric makes an appearance on the headboard of the RH four-poster bed and another covering two slipper chairs in an informal sitting area. A vintage Michael Taylor plaster floor lamp adds an au courant dash of 1980s flair.
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In the primary bath, a custom double vanity features a black soapstone countertop and Rohl faucets. The inset medicine cabinets are from RH, and the industrial sconces are from Design Within Reach. The floor’s hexagon tile is a period-appropriate choice for the era of the house.
The home’s striking black-and-white palette is carried into the guest bedroom, where a custom striped headboard from Ballard Designs provides a graphic counterpoint to a trio of classical drawings from David Bell Antiques. The petite wood bedside table is from Mele’s Greenwich, Connecticut, shop and brings a traditional touch to the space.
Architect Evelyn Pierce says of her first trip to the backyard: “We didn’t know what we were really stepping on because it was so overgrown with plants and dirt and leaves.” Today a new door and stairs lead the way to a herringbone brick patio, which features a dining area, as well as an outdoor living room that utilizes the property’s former carriage house.
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A coat of Benjamin Moore’s Essex Green unifies all of the masonry in the backyard. The walls from the original carriage house were reconfigured to have three equal-size archways (originally there was one door and two windows) to feel more open. A pair of custom-built daybeds, outfitted in Schumacher indoor-outdoor white canvas, offer plenty of space to recline and enjoy an after-dinner cocktail. Midcentry Russell Woodward Sculptura chairs provide additional seating.
The patio, which is conveniently just steps from the kitchen, features a small dining area for intimate alfresco dinners. A lush tangle of vines dramatically drapes downward from the overhead pergola. Homeowner Andrew Smith says, “The hundreds of wisteria blossoms that fall from the sky are really fragrant and special.”
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