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Style over subdivision

Virginia designer Raji Radhakrishnan puts her own stamp on a standard floor plan

The 5,000-square-foot house that designer Raji Radhakrishnan shares with her family of four is a typical large brick Georgian in Northern Virginia. But inside, this house transcends suburban conformity.
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By Jura Koncius
Thursday, October 22, 2009

On the outside, the 5,000-square-foot house Raji Radhakrishnan shares with her family of four is a typical large brick Georgian. It looks like many houses in Brambleton, a planned community in Loudoun County, and like many in other subdivisions in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

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But inside, this house transcends suburban conformity.

Radhakrishnan, a 37-year-old designer, has remade the standard open-plan living area into something more modern. She has added architectural heft with thick plaster moldings, steel brackets plus upgraded hardware and fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen.

She dumped the standard tile fireplace surround for one she created of perforated steel and added a faux finish to the plain wood mantel.

In the master bedroom, Radhakrishnan turned a photo she snapped at Versailles into a giant sepia mural that serves as a headboard. It picks up on a passion of her husband's: Murali Narasimhan, a 40-year-old software entrepreneur, is a collector of first-edition books. "It has an old-world feel, sort of like a library," he says.

Radhakrishnan's life in design and arts unfolded dramatically. Born in southern India, she traveled as a young girl while performing classical Indian dance. Her father's Indian foreign-service job took the family abroad.

After marriage, she and Narasimhan moved to Northern Virginia to be near three of her brothers. She received an MBA from American University but spent her free time educating herself about her true calling. "I used to sneak over to the Washington Design Center, and I read every book and magazine on design I could get a hold of," she recalls. She became a research director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, but not for long.

In 2003, the family moved to Brambleton. The year before, they had bought a lot and plans for a two-story house with large public spaces and private retreats. Radhakrishnan worked with builders to adjust the design.

"When I started telling them all the things I wanted to change, they started scratching their heads," she says. "I had like 30 changes to the model; they could only do two." She said no thanks to builder's-grade hardware, standard appliances and light fixtures, installing ones she'd selected. Her house became a showplace. Her new firm, Raji RM & Associates, was attracting attention.

"She comes at things from a different angle; she doesn't follow the herd," says Linda O'Keeffe, creative director of Metropolitan Home magazine, which featured Radhakrishnan's house in December. "She has a strong sense of architecture and a lot of confidence that comes with her enthusiasm about trying new things."

The four-bedroom, 3 1/2 -bathroom house is a laboratory for her inventive style. It is modern with classical roots and is practical for her two children, son Aditya, 5, and daughter Shruti, 18, who just left for college. The art deco burl dining table, mid-century plywood chairs and marble busts look as though they were collected over time.

Museums have always provided her with a wellspring of ideas. When Radhakrishnan gets decorator's block, she jumps in her car and drives to the National Gallery of Art.

"I sometimes rediscover a work that will completely inspire me," she says. "It could be as simple as a color or combination of colors, or how a work is framed or displayed. This can send me off in a tangent about how I want to spin a room, or the mood I want to capture."



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