Bethesda, Maryland, designer Kelley Proxmire details how she gave an updated–and upbeat— complexion to a historical home in Washington, D.C.’s, tony Kalorama neighborhood
Kelley Proxmire updates a historic D.C. home.
QThe ground-floor vestibule stuns with a striking graphic statement. Why not let the larger living spaces unveil the “wow” moment?
ASmall spaces are perfect for executing something dramatic. The original door is full of curves and flourishes. I created tension against those traditional cues with severe gray and white stripes and a shiny lacquered ceiling. Architecture is highlighted in black from the door and base moldings to the stairs that I had painted.
QWhat considerations were most important in order to respect the grand qualities of the house?
AI didn’t only pay attention to how the interiors read from the inside but from the street, too. For instance, I wanted the stately living room windows to spotlight a beautiful piece whose glow would be seen outside. So I placed a shapely gilded lamp on an acrylic table that disappears into the background and gives the appearance that the lamp is floating. And normally I would cover windows with woven shades, but here I opted for an elegant fabric that gracefully frames the lamp with no competing texture.
QThe interiors are glamorous with lots of gilding on furniture and accessories. How do you make so much shine work?
AThe gilded pieces were from the homeowners’ former house and more than I would usually use. I balanced them with modern motifs: a woven zebra pattern on one chair, irregular dots on another. In the dining room, the classic wallpaper and gilded chairs are current in their neutral finishes. I offset their shimmer with a table in stained wood. Brown furniture has suffered unpopularity lately, but it’s needed for layering and contrast.
QWhat are the keys to modernizing a historical house that is laden with ornate architectural features?
AKeep it clean. Mix it up. A fabric used for a throw pillow on the gray sofa launched the gray-and-gold scheme. To keep the palette interesting, I mixed patterns, finishes, and textures. It’s about the ratio. When selecting furniture, I try to adhere to a 60 percent skirts, 40 percent legs rule. Skirts soften a room. These houses are heavy with details. I don’t like to weigh them down with objects.
Exterior The Beaux Arts-style house was built in 1919. Entry Hand-painted stripes and a high-gloss ceiling tip the small entry to a contemporary style. Gilded brackets are a teaser for golden moments in second-floor living areas.
Dining room Two existing crystal chandeliers welcome other shimmery elements— hand-painted Gracie wallpaper, a gilded mirror, and a set of dining chairs. Living room A mix of contemporary fabrics makes the living room extra chic. A cut-velvet zebra pattern covers an old chair. Horizontal metallic stripes on window panels guide eyes around the room. Two sofas wear different textures—white linen with a loose textural weave on a skirted piece and sumptuous gray velvet on a tufted form.