Some people like spring to spring inside their house, as well as outside. And why not accommodate summer, fall and winter? According to District designer Annie Elliott, the changing seasons allow homeowners to “shake things up, to take a fresh look at your house, move pieces from room to room and maybe add something new you’ve picked up.”
We tapped Elliott to demonstrate these possibilities in a Chevy Chase family room that she decorated for lawyers Ada Fernandez Johnson and Mike Johnson and their three children. The designer’s company, Bossy Color, specializes in helping homeowners overcome their fear of bright and bold.
“I encourage people to buy what they love — a funky lamp, a quirky sculpture — and use that as the starting point for personalizing a room,” she says.
Elliott and her team left the Johnsons’ sofa, Oriental rug and window shades in place, while substituting a tall, leather Crate and Barrel wing chair and a glass-topped coffee table from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams for older pieces. These furnishings serve as the anchors for a changing array of side tables, lamps, pillows and accessories, some belonging to the family but most lent from area stores and boutiques.
Elliott started the redecorating process with the fireplace, the focal point of a room. “Hanging a mirror there is a cop-out. I’d much rather see a collection of large objects if you don’t have the right piece of art.” For the spring-themed room, the designer arranged sepia-toned photos on the hearth; for summer, she clustered a group of paintings in different sizes on the mantel.
Colors drawn from the artwork around the fireplace were amplified throughout the room by varied shades of the hues, which Elliott says makes a space feel “more authentic.”
“So instead of having a beige room with a cobalt blue lamp and a cobalt blue pillow — the ‘pop of color’ approach — I like to use different blues,” she says.
Elliott grouped the objects in odd numbers on shelves and tables, rather than pairing them symmetrically. “It is much more powerful to bring a collection of things together on a surface than scattering them around the room,” she says. “Pile books on the tables, and the room invites you to snuggle in and read. Switch to photographs and coasters, and the room invites conversation.”
The Johnsons liked the transformations, and even bought a few of the pieces brought in. Arriving home from school during “summer,” Theo Johnson, 9, was surprised by the changes. “It looks really different, better than it did before.”
“I wanted to use blush tones to evoke the feeling of spring awakening. Pink feels soft and hopeful.”
Elliott sought a more sophisticated color scheme than the palette of yellow and green typically associated with the season, drawing instead on the pastel colors of the still life by Russian artist Vladimir Kim hanging above the fireplace. Flanking the painting are curvy vases filled with pussy willows. The pillows and plaid throw repeat the soft colors.
The small bronze side table is set with an ashtray; it looked empty otherwise. Bookshelves display shell boxes, glass vases and vintage brass cranes. “Visually, we wanted to distribute pinks and warm tones — brass, wood — throughout the room to represent the warmth and optimism of spring.” Next to the sofa, the burlap-skirted table holds a vintage lamp. The candle-filled lantern and decorative box repeat the pink found elsewhere in the room.
“Summer is a restful, relaxing, laid-back time of year. Blue water and blue skies are part of that.”
To reinforce a casual, vacation mood, Elliott clustered paintings in similar colors on the mantel and added a vintage rope lamp on the table. A nautical scene leaning against the bookcase suggests a day at the shore. Striped pillows enliven the sofa and chair. Brass accessories and tray contrast with the marine blue of the vases on the coffee table. Next to the chair, a lotus-shaped candleholder rests on a cylindrical, molded rubber side table. Glass vessels on the bookshelves lighten the mood through transparency. The fig tree from American Plant was relocated from the homeowners’ bedroom.
“Fall is so melancholy, a transitional season from summer, which most people love, to winter, which can seem endless.”
Elliott avoided traditional autumn colors such as pumpkin and harvest gold to play up the emerald green and purple of a landscape painting by Massachusetts artist Liza Houston. “These colors feel right for representing shorter days and getting back to school and work.” On the bookshelves, boxes, vintage Foo Dog bookends and vases repeat the green color scheme. Elliott suggests stacking books on side tables, not just on shelves and coffee tables. “I like putting an object on top of them — it’s the period in the sentence.” The glass lamp next to the sofa is balanced by a tall glass vase next to the fireplace. Natural materials — the fur pillow on the chair, cowhide pillow on the sofa and rattan tray on the coffee table — add earthy, outdoorsy touches. The side tables next to the chair are made of tree trunk slices on iron legs.
“Winter weather can be so harsh, so we thought a warm glow would be appealing.”
Elliott chose metallic pieces for the coldest season to reflect the light, including a Japanese-style screen, bronze side table and burnished gold bar cart. On the coffee table next to capiz hurricane lamps, a gold sphere rests on a rattan tray. A brass bull in the bookcase and stag bowl on the side table repeat the room’s reflective finishes. The red of the blossoms in the screen above the fireplace is picked up in the homeowners’ lamp and designer’s leather stool. Simply rearranging the accessories, says Elliott, can change the mood of a room. “A bowl or a sculpture looks graphic when you put it on a bookshelf. When you move it to the coffee table where you can see it from all sides, it’s more accessible. Make enough of these small changes, and the room moves from formal to casual or vice versa.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer who lives in Washington.
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