Living Well: A Q&A with D.C. designer Joe Ireland


Designer Joe Ireland shares his tips with fellow Washingtonians. (Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST)
February 15, 2012

Joining the D.C. design scene was a natural move for Joe Ireland. He was born in the District and raised in Gaithersburg, and recognized his knack for arranging furniture at an early age.

“I remember helping a neighbor out with the furniture layout of her living room when I was 8 years old,” he said before adding, “I fully realize how strange that sounds.”

When he was 19, Ireland moved downtown to dress windows at Axis Salon in Dupont Circle. Before long, the salon’s clients began asking him to decorate their homes.

In 2000, he joined the local design firm of Jose Solis Betancourt, then started his own firm in 2001. Today, he runs J.D. Ireland Interior Architecture and Design with high school friend Julie Weber; she has a degree in architecture, he is self-taught. The pair were included in House Beautiful’s “Next Wave” of designers in 2010 and have appeared on the HGTV cable network show “Curb Appeal.” In what he calls a “totally bizarre coincidence,” their offices are directly above Axis.

Ireland, now 36, lives in a condo on U Street that he decorated with neutral furnishings and one-of-a-kind art and sculpture. Neighborhood revitalizations, such as the U Street corridor, are one of his favorite things about living in Washington.


“Conversion” by local artist Julie Wolfe.Ireland has two of her paintings in hispersonal collection. (Courtesy of Hemphill Fine Art/JULIE WOLFE)

“There’s a new restaurant every week,” he said. “You walk outside and never know what to expect. At this rate, I’ll never leave.”

We talked with Joe recently about his life in the District and his personal style. Here is an edited excerpt.

Design approach: Architecture first. We always consider the bones of a house and then build upon them. If you stray too far from a home’s character, it becomes a mess. It’s inauthentic. Style can be expressed through the details; that’s how we put a contemporary spin on it.

Where you start with a blank slate: Rugs and art. They give you an automatic palette to work from. And again, they’re bigger-ticket items so working around them makes sense. Ideally, they’re investments that you’ll hang on to until they’re inherited by someone. For art, we always visit Hemphill Fine Arts, Gallery Plan B and J Fine Art. For rugs, we check out Timothy Paul Carpets on 14th Street.

Least favorite design trend: Sponge-painted walls and wallpapered borders. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any I love.


Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th Streethas become Ireland’s “fast favorite.” (Charma Le Edmonds/SHELTER STUDIO)

D.C. design in three words: Up and coming. We have a lot of the same resources that New York has, which allows us to be at the forefront of interior design. But as a city, we’re still blossoming.

Paint: My go-to neutral is White Dove by Benjamin Moore because it’s perfectly soft.

You have $1,000 to spend on home decor in the area. You go: Straight to West Elm. Style at a good price.

You’re lusting after: The Bryant Park Wedgewood rug from Galleria Carpets at the Design Center.

Biggest weaknesses: Dining tables and upholstery. They’re some of the most-used pieces in a home, so sturdiness matters, quality matters. I don’t feel bad splurging on them. You can find good accessories and pillows that give you a lot of bang for your buck, but we count on the bigger pieces to make the statements.

Local vintage boutiques: I love Millennium, Good Wood and of course, Miss Pixie’s. I was just there yesterday. I have yet to walk out of there without something for myself.

Artists in your collection: Julie Wolfe is a local multimedia artist who has an amazing way of creating feminine and masculine balance in her work. I also love Kehinde Wiley, a New York-based painter, and the local photographer Anne Rowland.

Advice for wannabe art collectors: Don’t be afraid of galleries. Do a lot of shopping to get a feel for high and low prices before purchasing, and buy only what you love.

Do you entertain? Oh, boy. I’d be lying if I said I do. I’m sort of your typical bachelor. I go out to eat because I don’t cook, and I travel a lot. My dog, Polka Dot, a Jack Russell terrier, and I hang out a lot. She’s not a picky eater.

Why “Polka Dot”: P.D. is completely white except for two brown spots, one on her ear and the other over her eye.

Favorite weekend getaway: New York. I get up there about once a month and always manage to squeeze in some shopping. If I can, I stay at the Crosby Street Hotel. It might as well be a gallery.

Favorite neighborhood hangout: Georgetown antique stores. Between Darrell Dean, Marston Luce and John Rosselli, I could be there for days. Plus, the people-watching offers a lot of inspiration.

Go-to restaurants: DC Noodles has a great atmosphere and is always bustling. Also, Pearl Dive has become a fast favorite. Down the street from there is Hank’s Oyster Bar, which I love because they have unique, good food but are still low key. I’m not into high concept, stuffy restaurants.

Design blogs: I don’t spend a lot of time on the computer, but I peruse 1st Dibs. Even I can’t resist them.

What’s next: Julie and I are working on a fabric, furniture and lighting line. Now, whether or not it launches in 2012, I can’t promise. But I try not to give up on my New Year’s resolutions until at least August.

Related features::

Chat, 11 a.m. ET Thursday: Get design advice for your home

More from the Living Well series: Meg Biram

Living Well is a series about Washingtonians who live stylishly.

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