The hottest design neighborhood in town, 14th Street between Thomas Circle and U Street NW, has no official name. Yet this once rundown corridor is becoming Washington’s street of dreams, an edgy retail destination for furnishing an entire home or picking up accessories for an apartment or condo.
Strolling the formerly bedraggled boulevard exploding with new retail, real estate and restaurants, this longtime resident of the city finds herself saying, “I can’t believe this is Washington.”
Destination Design: Home stores on 14th Street
Store by store, Washington builds a design district.
Whether you call it Logan Circle, Dupont East or Mid City, you can find a fabulous sofa, a maple crib, a Knoll chair, a recycled rubber table, a mid-century lamp, a Tibetan carpet or an outdoor fireplace here. The Washington Design Center just announced that in early 2014, it will relocate most of its high-end home furnishings tenants to nearby Franklin Court (1099 14th St. NW), adding even more design buzz to the area.
As bulldozers and cranes remove the last of 14th Street’s body shops and rundown carryouts, young professionals and empty nesters are scooping up million-dollar condos. Many storefronts under construction are dotted with “Opening Soon” signs. Home design stores have been an important part of the evolving mix, sprinkled between restaurants, music clubs such as Black Cat and theaters Source and Studio. Now-closed stores such as Go Mama Go, Reincarnations, Storehouse and Maison 14 helped pave the way. And used furniture treasure trove Ruff & Ready Furnishings stuck it out for 20 years at 1908 14th St. NW, until in 2011, when it lost its lease and moved north to 4722 14th St. NW.
Home Rule (1807 14th St. NW) was a pioneer when it opened in 1999 to sell cool housewares and accessories tailored for small city spaces. Co-owners Rod Glover and Greg Link were frustrated that Washington had so few fun retail districts. They took a chance.
“I wouldn’t say it felt rough here, but it was in transition,” Glover says. “There were lots of people hanging out on the street and some unsavory things going on. Not a lot of energy was being put into keeping the sidewalks clean.”
Today, the blue storefront continues to draw in customers with witty displays and both functional and stylish wares, from shower curtains to popsicle makers to origami napkins to beach radios that are MP3- compatible.
“We notice a big influx of people around dinner time who circle around and ask a few questions, but then they get a text from a restaurant and say, ‘I gotta go,’ ” says Casey Covault, manager of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. Many come back when they have time to test-drive the sofas. Some stores are even adjusting their hours. “With the warm weather and all the new restaurants, I am staying open later, much to the chagrin of my employees,” says Pixie Windsor of Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot.
There are many independent stores with their own design vocabulary. Christopher Reiter opened Muleh at 1831 14th St. NW in 2003. and a few weeks ago, he moved down to 1821 14th St. NW. He mixes furniture and high fashion: handknotted chairs and other pieces by Philippine industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue with iconic British designer Vivienne Westwood’s dresses. Reiter says he is astonished by the evolution of the neighborhood, which he recalls a decade ago as “hookers and heroin.” He says, “There are so many serious players on the street now. It has a young demographic and is really beyond gentrification now. It’s gentrification 3.0.”
Washington interior designer Joe Ireland, whose office is nearby, calls the changes to the neighborhood “glamorous and stylish.” “You can furnish a whole house just shopping on 14th Street,” Ireland says.
One of his stops for mid-century pieces is the showroom of designer Lori Graham, who opened her retail business at 1412 14th St. NW a year ago. She describes the neighborhood as “our own version of Los Angeles’s La Cienega and New Orleans’s Magazine Street,” both well-known destinations for design, art and antiques. She’s jazzed about the future. “Getting the Design Center here is huge,” Graham says, “Maybe we can now see the city embrace this area as the official arts-and-design district of Washington.”
(1526 14th St. NW)
When this store brought its white denim slipcovered sofas and cushy leather armchairs here in 2007, it changed the rules by staying open late and welcoming dogs. The store’s 1920s limestone building, which in past lives was a car showroom and later a jazz club, is a changing display of gray velvet sofas (the Martin, $1325) and chartreuse leather armchairs (the Draper, $1325) that draws shoppers from a wide area. The company’s sleeper sofas are known for comfort and good construction. Regulars look forward to the floor sample sales in January and July.
On Wednesdays, there’s a crew of regulars waiting for Pixie Windsor’s truck to roll up to see what she’s picked up at auction. They know her haul might contain just the mid-century chest or metal garden chairs they’ve been looking for. Windsor has sold old things since 1997. She moved to 14th Street in 2008. Pieces recently spotted include a fine birch stool for $45, a large pickle jar for $38, a Vermont milk bottle for $5 and a traditional down-filled sofa with just a few worn spots for $425. Looking for the best picks? Come Tuesdays and Wednesdays after 5 p.m. when Windsor returns from her regular buying trips.
(1840 14th St. NW)
This Minnesota-based chain opened a 36,000-square-foot store three years ago in a historic 1919 former Ford Motors showroom. Ninety percent of its furniture is made in America, lots at small, family-owned manufacturers. The furniture has a classy, well-made look. Current pieces include the space-saving bottle green Murphy sofa ($1,399) and the versatile Hansen Bench coffee table ($499). As you wander through the four floors, you might run into Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor or chef Mike Isabella, both customers of the store. Don’t miss the rooftop patio, filled with outdoor sectionals and cantilevered garden umbrellas, and then there’s the pretty fabulous view. On Dec. 26, get in line for the annual sale of discontinued items and floor samples.
The D.C. headquarters for Hollywood-style chic is designer Lori Graham’s shop, art gallery and studio, Lori Graham Home (1412 14th St. NW). The business originally opened under the name Showroom 1412. Graham decorates houses and designs her own line of furniture. Her partner in the space is the Contemporary Wing art gallery. Mike Johnson (whose late Georgetown shop was called Sixteen Fifty Nine) provides mid-century modern furniture and accessories. The result is an always-changing salon of new furniture and accessories, art and vintage finds. You might find a 1970s Maitland-Smith faux tusk console ($6,595) and a new hammered metal wine cooler ($297), plus lots of sink-down sofas that can be customized and many drippy chandeliers.
Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles (1404 14th St. NW) opened 10 years ago to sell handmade carpets and textiles from far-flung lands such as Morocco and Nepal. In 2008, married couple Timothy Paul Worrell and Mia Backman Worrell opened Timothy Paul Bedding + Home (1529-A 14th St. NW) stocked with Sferra, John Robshaw and Nancy Koltes bed linens along with Chilewich place mats and custom pillows made of unique handblocked and vintage fabrics. In 2014, both locations will combine at 1529-B 14th St. NW. (Universal Gear, the men’s fashion shop now at 1529-B, is moving to a new building at 1915 14th St. NW.)
Check out Vastu (1829 14th St. NW), which was founded in 2002 when Jason Claire and Eric Kole wanted to bring mid-century designs, custom upholstery, art and design services to the new urban dweller. Knoll, Herman Miller and Flos are among the brands that Vastu sells. The store has an eco-friendly side; the rubber cylinder tables ($499) are made of recycled tires; the Albion wood burl side tables ($225 a pair) reflect their natural shape.
Urban Essentials (1401 14th St. NW) moved into the old Reincarnations corner last year from U Street NW. The store is known for sleek, well designed pieces: custom sofas, sofa beds, beds and club chairs, plus great lighting for downtown apartments and condos. There is an annual June sample sale.
Pulp (1803 14th St. NW) , which opened in 2002, is a good place to dash into for a hostess gift or some party tiaras.
Handpainted wood children’s clocks made in Massachusetts ($54 at Timothy Paul Bedding + Home ).
French vintage school maps at Room & Board, which are salvaged, oversize maps used in the 1930s in French classrooms, mounted and framed in a solid wood shadow box ($499 to $999).
The annual Mid City Dog Days sidewalk sale is a popular annual shopping tradition. Bargain hunters stroll the neighborhood to snag excess stock, samples and even bolts of designer fabric. This year’s sale is Aug. 3-4.
The hottest seat in town these days is an outdoor table at swanky French brasserie Le Diplomate (1601 14th St. NW). A favorite of locals for simple, delicious Thai food is Rice (1608 14th St. NW), where decor is minimal and mood refreshingly Zen. The adorable new BakeHouse (1407 T St. NW) has irresistible sausage, cheddar and fennel seed biscuits ($2.75), served with a side of honey.
The Metro is a great option with the Green line’s U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo stop (1240 U St. NW).
Street parking is becoming increasingly challenging; David Schaefer, owner of Urban Essentials, told me he has has actually considered offering valet parking. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, both Room & Board and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams provide some validated parking for customers; inquire for lot locations and hours.