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By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2004; Page H01

So where can you go around here to get a decent pair of antlers?

Shopping for home furnishings in Washington has become much less predictable. A decade ago, you might have described the local design scene as ranging from traditional to slightly less traditional. Now choices reach generously from urban swank to Moroccan souk to Zen retreat. Washington consumers have dared to pair familiar well-worn Oriental rugs and silver-framed family photos with an orange polycarbonate coffee table or a chartreuse shag ottoman.

We are even ready, apparently, for antlers.

Territory, a new store in Old Town Alexandria, epitomizes this growing openness, creating a buzz since it arrived at 1212 King St. last spring. Owners Tamara Schulman and Gloria de Lourdes Blalock, in a stroke of good timing, stepped into the diversifying retail scene with a breezy confidence that encourages shoppers to marry silver candlestick lamps with faux coyote throws.

"They're a couple of notches above most accessory shops here in terms of sophistication," says Danielle Lane, an Alexandria designer. "I think they have a New York look."

That urban sophistication is deliberately coupled with neighborhood folksiness. The shop has the look of a well-lived-in home where customers are offered cookies or wine while lounging in cushy club chairs. "One passerby wasn't sure about walking in because they thought it was someone's living room," says Blalock.

With five kids aged 7 and under between them, the owners keep a small room in the shop stocked with juice boxes and snacks for junior customers. A jar of quarters on the counter feeds parking meters. Service is tailored to shoppers short on time and space who need in-home design advice that arrives as quickly as Geeks on Call: The pair are happy to schlep a Balinese coffee table, a hand-painted bench from Brazil and a headboard upholstered in an antique Bessarabian rug to a client's house for a quick makeover.

Schulman and Blalock met last year at an Arlington Ridge baby group called Coffee Chaos.

Schulman, 35, grew up in Connecticut and Colorado. After studying set design and interiors, and working in her family's design business, she landed a job as an assistant for Mark Hampton. (The late New York designer was "the most talented man I ever met," says Schulman.) She moved to the Washington area in 1997, got married and later worked at high-end Georgetown retailer John Rosselli & Assoc. while continuing with her own clients.

Blalock, 40, was born in Cuba but spent much of her childhood in Florida. She studied architecture but majored in English in college. She had always helped friends decorate, and after retail jobs in fashion and antiques, she moved here in 1993 and worked as a design associate at Domain, married and had two children.

The two women quickly discovered a shared enthusiasm for interior design, old-world style, new-world retailing and a somewhat karmic connection to deer: Schulman got her business smarts from her mother, who runs Crystal Farm, an Aspen manufacturer of antler furniture and chandeliers based on designs from European manors. Blalock's family lived in Deerfield Beach, Fla. "I grew up with a love of deer because of the name of my town. My high school was the home of the Bucks. My mom always bought deer-related stuff."

Thus was born the vision behind Territory, says Schulman: an English country house filled with treasures from around the world set up in a way to encourage shoppers to see fresh possibilities and patinas. "We wanted to cater to people that don't feel they have to do their entire house in a certain style."

The shop sprang from seven small rooms of the former Temple Shoes, a cobbler in Old Town for more than 50 years. After painting the walls in strong greens (Duron's "Liverpool" and "Spring Sprout") the new proprietors brought in Turkish rugs, rawhide lampshades, candles made of oyster shells and cast-iron dog bowls. They feature pieces for narrow townhouses: slim bookcases in distressed cherry and carved-wood doorstops. Plus, of course, antlers (only naturally shed varieties) used in chandeliers, chairs, floor lamps and tables.

Elizabeth Shea of Alexandria is a regular. "They are so approachable -- none of this diva attitude that can be very intimidating and prominent in that industry," says Shea. "They do have an obsession with antlers, but I go more for their Ralph Lauren-style lodge look. And they know when to pull out the shortbread to keep my little girls from screaming uncontrollably in the shop."

Both Schulman and Blalock were energized by the idea of opening a shop that answered clients' distress calls. The two charge $125 an hour for an initial visit and show up with paint samples. They will move furniture around and hang mirrors.

They still manage to take their kids to Coffee Chaos. But sometimes, chaos spreads to their shop, where just a couple of weeks ago, they were sold out of sofas. Everything had to be rearranged to cover holes on the selling floor. More are on the way.

"Life is a whirl," says Schulman, "but you do what needs to be done."

To Watch in 2005

Architects: Marcie Meditch and John Murphey
Furniture Maker: Keith Fritz
Landscape Designer: Edward Colahan
Interior Designer: Celeste Davis

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