Interior Design

Hot Talent: Liza Holder

Liza Holder entered the design field almost by accident. It all started when the former lawyer and healthcare-policy consultant began decorating her family’s new Bethesda home. “Oddly enough,” she recalls, “I became obsessed with Etsy when we moved and I was buying artwork for our home.”
Holder saw an opportunity and started to sell her curated Etsy finds at trunk shows. Customers loved her taste and asked her to help them fix up a room or two in their homes. Before she knew it, she had quit her day job and launched Homegrown Decor.
Two and a half years later, Holder helps clients design interiors that reflect every member of the family. “I go in wanting to understand who the family is—not just the person who called me,” she explains. “And I design for reality, understanding what people’s busy lives are like but also that they want to love where they live.
“When you walk into your home, that’s your refuge and your escape,” Holder continues. “That’s where you should be the happiest and the most comfortable. It has to be able to be dressed up when you have people over, but live for real life every day.”
Interior Design: Liza Holder, Homegrown Decor, LLC, Bethesda, Maryland.
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Full Circle

Andrew Marks and his wife, Susan Esserman, had their eye on the future when they started looking for a new house. They loved their Bethesda neighborhood, but unlike most empty nesters, wanted to upgrade rather than downsize.
“It was a great kids’ house,” Esserman says of the home where they spent 22 years raising three sons, now 23, 27 and 30. “But it wasn’t a house they could come back to as adults with spouses and children.”
Both prominent Washington attorneys, Marks and Esserman had spent some time looking at properties without much luck—until one evening Marks saw a for-sale sign in their neighborhood; the house was set so far back, he’d never noticed it even though they’d lived less than a half mile away. Upon further investigation, he says, “I was struck immediately by the setting—it was extraordinary.” They made an offer and the house was theirs.
Built in the 1940s, their new Bethesda home is set on 1.75 acres—a wooded landscape exploding with azalea, rhododendron, hydrangea, roses and all manner of meticulously landscaped plantings and flowering trees. “The natural forest setting and beautiful landscape are what drew us,” Esserman says. But they needed more convincing about the house itself.
“The whole place looked like a funeral home,” recalls Washington designer Susan Vallon, who consulted with the couple before they bought the house. She had decorated their three previous homes and understood their needs. Despite its drawbacks, Vallon saw potential and advised them to purchase it.
“Susan’s imagination and vision helped us see how we could change the inside, which was really not us at all,” Esserman explains, noting that she and Marks had trouble seeing beyond the black marble fireplaces in three public rooms, the dark and dated cabinetry in the kitchen and the mustard-yellow walls in the family room—all the result of a previous renovation.
As she set out to revamp the house to suit her clients’ style, Vallon’s overall plan incorporated neutral grays and clean-lined furnishings that would not compete with the outdoor views. She also lightened the mood by replacing dark fireplace surrounds with white marble and installing recessed lighting throughout. It’s a vibe that is more modern than the couple’s previous homes. “There’s a serenity to a more streamlined look,” the designer comments.
“We were ready for something more contemporary,” Esserman agrees, “but it also seemed to fit the house.”
Though neutrals prevail, Vallon packed a colorful punch in the living room, where she chose a carpet by Rug Art International with profusions of purple. “I saw it in a magazine, cut it out and said, ‘Somebody needs this rug!’” she recalls.
Marks and Esserman were happy to be the recipients. “It defines the room, and also what we put in it,” Esserman says, pointing out the glass-top coffee table, textured silver vessels and abstract art. The grand piano, too, is a fittingly dramatic complement.
Early on, Vallon proposed switching the home’s original dining and family rooms. The domed ceiling in the family room, for instance, works much better over a dining table. And the space that had served as the dining room could accommodate a large sectional, bookcases and a television better than the existing family room. “I was able to get an ocean of seating in there,” Vallon says.
The designer also gutted the kitchen, installing pale Tiger’s Eye maple cabinetry and milky granite counters. She cleared away several above-counter cabinets, consolidating them into a custom armoire for more efficient storage. The brighter, more open plan takes better advantage of the light coming in from the breakfast area, which is surrounded by three walls of windows overlooking the patio and gardens beyond. “I’ve always called this an inside-outside house,” reflects Esserman on how her new home engages with the landscape.
The house now functions as the owners envisioned. The property is ready to welcome their sons, eventually with future spouses and children. And it’s also the perfect venue for the political, business and charitable events that the couple frequently hosts.
To make the home function better for guests, Vallon transformed a study and coat closet on the main level into a guest suite; the lower level accommodates additional guests. She also converted a second bedroom upstairs into a study where both Marks and Esserman can work at home.
As for entertaining, Vallon found a dining table that’s casual enough for the family, and expands to seat 18. She also ripped out the room’s existing dark shelving to make way for pale gray built-in sideboards The new dining room arrangement is perfect for much larger receptions, which easily spill out to the rear patio and deck—a space that needed no improvement beyond Vallon’s well-chosen outdoor furniture.
“We’ve done up to 100 people here very comfortably,” Andrew Marks says.
Vallon, who’s known her clients since their sons were babies, figures that her work with them has come full circle. “I knew their last house was going to be the big family house,” she concludes. “They really want everyone to come back.”
Writer Jennifer Sergent is based in Arlington, Virginia. Gordon Beall is a Bethesda, Maryland, photographer.
INTERIOR DESIGN: SUSAN A. VALLON, Susan A. Vallon, Ltd., Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: Stroba Inc., Hyattsville, Maryland. LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR: CLARE SIEGEL, Land Art Design, Inc., McLean, Virginia.
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A New Leaf

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.
INTERIOR DESIGN: KATHRYN IVEY, Kathryn Ivey Interiors, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: CarrMichael Construction, Fairfax, Virginia.
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