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.”