(House) Interior Design – Practicality, Elegance and a Soft, Restful Palette in a Traditional Kenwood Home


With three young kids and limited space, a Glen Echo couple was ready for a change. When they decided to move closer to the downtown DC area where the husband works as a lawyer, they found what they were looking for tucked into Chevy Chase’s Kenwood neighborhood: a spacious center hall Colonial on a picturesque, tree-lined street.

“I loved it right away,” says the wife. Previous owners had expanded and renovated the 1946 house a few years before, retaining many of the distinctive details that often come with older, traditional homes, such as dentil moldings, leaded-glass transoms and built-in corner cupboards. These architectural elements just needed to be properly emphasized. “It was kind of a decorative wasteland when we bought it,” says the wife, “but the bones were there.” 

The home’s stately front entry reflects the formal interiors.

Since they planned to live in the house for decades to come, the couple decided from the start to redecorate it from top to bottom. “We hope to take pictures of our kids on the steps of this house when they get married,” says the wife, explaining their philosophy.

So the owners turned to Bethesda designer Kelley Proxmire to help them achieve their vision. “We loved her style and felt she understood our family,” recalls the wife. With little kids running around, Proxmire realized “not everything could be precious” but it still needed to look good.

At a little more than 10,000 square feet, the house already gave the family all the space they needed. Proxmire’s challenge was to turn it into a home that would reflect its new owners’ taste and style. She also had to furnish it “pretty much from scratch,” says the wife. They had relinquished most of their old furniture because “our other house was on a whole different scale,” she explains. 

The living room is large enough to accommodate a grand piano, with room to maneuver.

Proxmire, who is known for her crisp use of color and contrast, happily embraced the wife’s preference for a “subdued and peaceful” environment in a palette of her favorite pale blue, green and yellow hues. “I focused on finishes,” Proxmire says, pointing to walls faux-painted to look like linen, textured wallpaper and distressed wood furniture that mingles with dark-stained mahogany pieces. 

She also took into account the family’s child-friendly requirements. “The main thing was to keep in mind that it’s a family house and it has to be practical,” Proxmire says. She created bedrooms in styles the kids could grow into, selected durable fabrics wherever possible—including vinyl-covered textiles in the kitchen—and found sturdy furniture for the family room. 

In the foyer, a curved staircase imparts elegance while a striped wall treatment adds warmth.

Yet despite the bow to kid-friendly solutions, the house remains sumptuously elegant. In the foyer, dentil crown moldings and a curved staircase convey a sense of grandeur, while wide, faux-painted stripes on the walls impart a fresh vibe. The large adjoining living room includes plush sofas and chairs grouped around a coffee table from Salvations that Proxmire had custom-fitted with an antiqued mirror top. Behind French doors at the end of the room, a mahogany-paneled study (the husband’s favorite room) houses a striking semi-circular desk and a custom mahogany credenza that matches the paneling. 

Visible through an archway beyond the foyer, the dining room presented a challenge. The previous renovation had left it windowless, so in lieu of window treatments Proxmire suggested they embellish the walls with wide fabric panels framed by millwork. She chose a lush Cowtan & Tout fabric in the wife’s favorite colors, then furnished the room with a custom dining table and Nancy Corzine chairs upholstered in reversible Cowtan & Tout fabric. 

Proxmire installed paneling in the dining room to frame expanses of rich fabric on the walls.

As far as the owners were concerned, one of the home’s selling points was its kitchen and breakfast area, which needed only a few decorative tweaks—including a tile backsplash depicting a rooster (the wife’s favorite motif) behind the stove. With the adjoining family room (slightly reconfigured to create symmetrical corner shelving and a space for TV watching), this area constitutes the new part of the house, added during the renovation. 

Awash in soft beiges and blues, the master bedroom suite epitomizes the restful quality Proxmire and her clients were after. Occupying the second floor above the family room, it includes a sitting room/entry to the bedroom, walk-in closets and a spacious master bath. The children’s en suite rooms have been carefully designed to hold their appeal as their occupants grow older.

The third floor includes two guest bedrooms and a bath; here, Proxmire traded the subdued palette of the rest of the house for a bold scheme of red, black and white. The effect is dramatic and fun—and the wife is just fine with it. “We love this house,” she says. “Some designers’ projects look like them, but this house is definitely us.” 

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