The house where paint flows

In a newly renovated bungalow in the Palisades, the McGraw family is passionate about paint colors.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 6, 2010

In a town where politics is often the main dinner dish, it's refreshing to find a Washington household where the merits of August Morning vs. Asbury Sand can stir up a spirited debate.

Those Benjamin Moore paint names are frequently on the menu when architect Adam McGraw, writer Eliza McGraw and her mom, Georgetown decorator Rosemarie Howe, get together at the McGraws' newly renovated bungalow in the Palisades.

"We like nothing better than sitting down in a sunny room with a fan deck," says Eliza, who grew up surrounded by warm paint colors. "It's a very opinionated family." Adam is purposely not seated next to his mother-in-law at family dinners because if they start chatting for long, paint chips appear on the table.

The McGraws and their two children, Simon, 8, and Macie, 6, live in a house whose walls glow with deep blues, rich yellows and moody violets, even on a rainy spring day. A crisp white paint accentuates door moldings and window trim. They expound on how important "the flow" of colors is, as you walk from room to room or gaze down a hall. They say colors in adjacent rooms should relate so the place won't feel chopped up. "Our house is more about the feel," says Adam. "The color determines whether we want the space to feel open or snug." His mother-in-law is totally in sync. "I view colors together, as though it was the composition in a painting. It's more about how the colors feel than matching a color to a rug or a fabric," Howe says.

When the McGraws bought the tiny 1929 Key West-style bungalow in 2006, it had two bedrooms on the main floor and a cramped kids' room upstairs that Adam couldn't stand up in. "I had to read to them sitting at the top of the stairs," he recalls. Every room had been painted a boring off-white by the previous owner. Even before they worried about furniture placement, the family set to work making the house their own by choosing the perfect colors.

A four-month renovation last year designed by Adam, an associate at Cunningham/Quill Architects, took the roof off the house to add three bedrooms and two baths upstairs and rearranged the downstairs to create an eat-in kitchen. When it was time to paint, old favorites went to the top of the list: Benjamin Moore Asbury Sand and Blue Nova for downstairs rooms. New rooms upstairs had lots of samples brushed on the walls, and discussions ensued.

The McGraws furnished the house with pieces donated by Adam and Eliza's parents, and some from Ikea. Eliza says that at this point in their lives, the energy from the walls is more important than matching upholstery and curtains.

"A house has to feel like you; that's where the paint colors come in," she says. "Our place went from drab and plain to cheery and cozy. I like coming into the house and seeing old friends in every room."

Also: Read McGraws' tips on paint color and about the latest innovations in paint. Chat about paint on Twitter and share your paint picks.

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