A recent grad makes her first place her dream place

Twenty-three-year-old Heloise McKee arrived in the D.C. area after graduation, eager to start a new job and find and decorate her first apartment.
By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010

When Heloise McKee moved to the District after college, she packed her car with the essentials: five bags of clothes, an alarm clock and a folder filled with tear sheets from shelter magazines.

Like many 23-year-olds who flock to the area after graduation, McKee was gearing up to start a new job, begin graduate school and support herself for the first time. The highlight of this heady transition was finding, and decorating, her first apartment.

"I was excited about moving to D.C., but I was more excited about decorating," the Memphis native says in her charming Southern drawl. "I knew what I wanted my place to look like before I moved in."

McKee says her three roommates are equally enthused. The four young women can talk about decorating for hours, she says. They often sit together and pass around home furnishing catalogues, folding down page corners and pointing out pieces they want.

They are having so much fun outfitting their Burleith rowhouse, McKee says, that at one point they decreed: "We're not going out, we're not eating, we're just decorating!"

Today's 20-somethings are more design-conscious and design-savvy than previous generations: They grew up with 24-hour decorating cable TV channels, they read design blogs and online shelter magazines, and they shop at retailers that offer good design at budget-friendly prices. They know that decorating is not only about aesthetics; it's about expressing who they are.

For McKee, it's also about independence. "This is the first time I get to choose everything," she says.

In the weeks leading up to her move, McKee started the process by listening to her mother. "I took my mom's advice to go through magazines and pull pages with things I liked," she says.

She ended up with a pile of pages that featured rooms with a predominantly white-and-beige palette, salon-style walls with framed photos and art hung in large groupings, shelving that displayed perfectly placed books and accessories, and creative storage solutions, such as a tall glass cylinder filled with different-colored belts.

Next, she called on an expert.

Her aunt, Catharine Roberts, lives less than three miles away from McKee's new neighborhood. She is one of three co-owners of Catharine Roberts, Oliver Dunn and Moss & Co., a shop in Georgetown that sells a mix of old and new American, French and Swedish furniture and accessories. McKee affectionately refers to Roberts as "auntmother."

"Heloise knew what she wanted and what she didn't want," says Roberts. "I shopped with her and helped her place furniture."

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