The idea of starting afresh in a new house may be alluring, but there are times when simply redesigning an existing space can be just what the doctor ordered. This was the case for a mother with two teenagers whose Bethesda home had become dated and whose lifestyle was changing as the kids grew up. After considering a move, she instead contacted designer Kathryn Ivey to help transform her Colonial-style home into a comfortable space that would reflect her style and needs.
“It occurred to my client that we could make her home look completely different without the hassle of moving, by introducing fresh colors and new furnishings,” says Ivey, who currently splits her time between Washington and Paris. “The homeowner’s taste is very feminine. I wanted the design to be beautiful and elegant, but also feel lived-in and approachable.”
The décor of the 10-year-old, four-bedroom house was formal, with plush sofas, bullion fringe and an outdated palette of sage, rose and putty. Its traditional kitchen was laden with heavy cabinetry. “The plan was to lighten and brighten up the house and to center it on family life while creating sophisticated areas for entertaining,” Ivey explains.
The designer worked with her client to develop a fresh color palette of rich cream, soft taupe and powdery blue with blush and lavender accents; metallic and mirrored finishes added a touch of glamour. “All the wainscoting was stark white, but I painted it the same calming color as the walls,” says Ivey. “It still has architectural interest, but in a quieter way that allows the textures and patterns of the new furnishings to play a larger role.”
Bland oak floors were stained deep mocha to provide a crisp contrast to the neutral walls on the main level, where an open floor plan lets in light. Layered carpets delineate the sitting area, along with tailored seating options that include a cream-colored cotton-blend chaise, a buttery leather sofa and a pair of tufted chairs in ivory-and-blue cut velvet.
“The dark wood trim on the chaise and the more masculine saddleback brown sofa help ground the soft, airy space,” Ivey explains. “I wanted to add a gentleman’s touch so [the room] didn’t feel like it was going to float away.”
In the dining area, a French Country farm table is paired with whitewashed, cane-backed chairs in a ruffled linen fabric. Upholstered host chairs in a graphic scroll and a mirrored sideboard sound a less feminine note.
Ivey went more casual in the kitchen’s eat-in area, where painted metal chairs with seersucker seat cushions surround a rustic table and a grasscloth wall covering defines the space. “The breakfast nook so easily could have become a pass-through area,” says Ivey. “This part of the house is the hub of family life, so I wanted the space to be its own room.”
The kitchen underwent major cosmetic changes. White Caesarstone countertops, glinting with metallic flecks, replaced dark granite ones. The cabinetry was painted in white lacquer and new polished-nickel hardware was added. To keep the room open, Ivey replaced upper cabinets along one wall with open shelving.
The designer placed special emphasis on her choice of lighting throughout the house. “To me, lighting is like jewelry,” she observes. “I carefully selected each fixture to serve as a focal point and a nod to the glamorous side of the home, especially in an everyday space.” The double crystal-beaded ball pendants over the kitchen island and the mirrored scroll-arm chandelier in the breakfast nook add a luxe vibe. In the master bedroom, Ivey went all out with a crystal chandelier.
“The homeowner had always wanted one there,” she says. “The bedroom is her personal retreat; it’s feminine and glamorous, and the chandelier is one of its special features.”
Built-in bookshelves and a custom daybed flank the wall opposite the bedstead. To balance the feminine elements, Ivey painted the walls a greige hue and added robust swivel armchairs, which ground the pink toile curtains and ceramic lamps. “When you compare the home now to how it looked before, you’d hardly know it was the same house,” observes Ivey. “Essentially, by embracing a different design aesthetic, we made a new house out of her old one.”
Writer and stylist Charlotte Safavi is based in Alexandria. Helen Norman is a photographer in White Hall, Maryland.