Open House: Design tips from Chad Alan Designs

Interior designer Chad Alan shares the design secrets he used to turn the stark white interior of his Columbia Heights loft into a colorful, art-infused space.
By Holly E. Thomas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interior designers have their own quirky preferences, challenging spaces and limited budgets. Three local stylists share the strategies they use at home.

Chad Alan, 39, has a rich professional history that helps fuel his 12-year-old interior design business. "I can pull from experiences working in millinery or in an opera house. I was even head florist of a paper-flower company for a while," says Alan, who also has a design degree. "I'm not limited to what we can find in stores -- if I can imagine it, we can draw it, and we can build it."

Alan spent two years converting the harsh angles and stark white interior of his Columbia Heights loft into a colorful, art-infused space. The walls host a gallery of offbeat works: an oil painting of junk food, a custom mosaic, costume sketches from Alan's theater days. A palette of warm earth tones is energized with splashes of teal and quirky accents such as glass floor panels illuminated with neon light.

"I love color and texture, and I despise beige-on-beige," Alan says. "Why settle for beige when you have a whole fan-deck of colors to choose from?" Alan occasionally has to coax clients into experimenting with colors, textures or furniture; he often does so by showing samples of custom-designed pieces, such as the light fixtures he created from copper refrigerator tubing. "No one can run to Pottery Barn and buy one of those," he says. "The market is so saturated with really great knockoffs. It takes less than six months for a knockoff to hit Restoration Hardware. I think interior design is going toward working with more custom pieces, those things the Joneses down the street don't have."


1. In the colorful library, Alan added a curved shelf one-third of the way down the window, under which he hung blinds. The setup allows light into the room while preserving privacy and artfully displaying the designer's collection of mouth-blown glass spheres. "I had put them on dark lacquered shelves, and they just disappeared," he says, "but the best part of them is when the light comes through them in the morning." Alan hired a carpenter to build the shelf and attach it to the window frame, a two-day project that cost roughly $500.

2. Unimpressed with the look of matching refrigerators and cabinets, Alan wanted an outside-the-box design fix for his KitchenAid panel refrigerator. After considering smoked mirrors and industrial diamond-plate steel, he settled on the Copper Stratos plastic laminate from Formica's DecoMetal collection. A carpenter cut the laminate into panels, slid them into the doors and sealed the frame. Alan estimates a project like this one would cost about $950. The only requirement to try this at home? A refrigerator designed to accommodate panels. Visit to browse finishes.

3. "When I work, I like to have lots of counter space, and a four- or five-foot-wide desk wasn't going to cut it," says Alan, who turned an odd-shaped niche in the second-floor loft into a work space. A 12-foot custom desk is flanked by bookcases, and the overhead arch generates structure in the open, airy setting. "I wanted to create its own little identity, so it wasn't just lost in a vast space in the loft," the designer says. The arch is constructed from drywall, and Alan says it "highlights an area that wouldn't necessarily have that much pizazz."

PHOTO GALLERY: See photos of Chad Alan's home

PLUS: More interior design tips from Regan Ruiz Interiors and Marmalade Interiors

© 2010 The Washington Post Company