The objets-filled vitrine in the new apartment's foyer-turned-gallery probably best tells the story:
"It was at our old house and it looked terrible. Everything looked dark in our old house, which was a Federal, brick, three-story," says the woman of the house, a local artist.
Picking a place to live that would showcase the family's extensive collection of Art Deco furniture and accessories was a major consideration when the artist and her husband, a local businessman who is also involved in the arts, decided to give up their Bethesda home for a light-filled, two-bedroom cooperative apartment in Northwest Washington.
They wanted to lovingly re-create the proper atmosphere for their Deco pieces, collected over 20 years, which include everything from "name" designer pieces such as Thonet chairs, Preiss bronze and porcelain figures, Robj bottles and Breuer chairs, to sentimental, no-name items picked up at foreign flea markets and local thrift shops.
The artist, her husband and interior designer Gary A. Gregg of Morrow Inc. began the one-year project with an auspicious start: after a thorough look through their Bethesda home, Gregg's verdict was that the couple could keep everything -- except their sofas.
The next step was deciding how best to display the collection at the new apartment. First came the floors, which, at the suggestion of the husband, were stripped and bleached to a pale blond. The foyer, a 12-by-27 room, was turned into a gallery. Gregg suggested a stenciled border, which makes the room more than just an area to pass through quickly.
The mood continues in the dining area, a large square room with peach-colored walls. The focal point is a magnificent angular-shaped Art Deco steel and glass chandelier. Continuing the metallic feeling is a black and silver-leafed dining table topped with a gray and white Obi sash down the middle, Thonet chairs recovered in a gray and mauve fabric and a Thayer Coggin black and silver buffet, bought 15 years ago because of its "timeless" quality.
One structural change in the dining room -- the addition of two columnlike mirrored shelf units -- not only adds more curves to the room but gives the couple another way of showing off their porcelain genre figures, whimsical studies of people in everyday life, from sassy streetwalkers by Lenci to a dancing takeoff of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The large, comfortable living room captures the spirit of the couple's Deco world. Small, carefully culled vignettes fill each corner. In one, a black Chinese-inspired table, a French porcelain lamp with its original fringed shade and a carved ivory three-piece jazz band cluster together; in another, silver Art Nouveau frames are grouped with more porcelain and bronze figures.
Fortunately, re-creating an era and relocating that re-creation were compatible: the couple did not have to get rid of old favorites when they moved to their smaller but more appropriate quarters. "We have a lot of things in storage so we can rotate if we want," the artist says.
But she still misses the sofas.