Behind a crumbling brick facade and rusted security screens in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington, designer Darryl Carter is building his brand.
This fall, after a year-long renovation, a 19th-century commercial property will become a store and studio for Carter, one of the city’s top-tier interior designers. The property includes a two-story building at 1320 Ninth St. NW, parts of which are pre-Civil War, and a carriage house in back facing cobblestone Naylor Court. The rebuilding is painstaking, using architectural remnants and salvaged timbers to restore the structures.
“We are crafting something, not just building a drywall structure,” says Carter, a native Washingtonian who grew up in Bethesda. “It’s far more expensive to preserve something than to knock it down.”
Shaw is bubbling with clubs and artisanal sandwich shops. But the emerging neighborhood may still seem off-the-grid for a high-end design store.
Carter, 50, doesn’t do things in a conventional way, however. A lawyer by training, he said renovating and decorating were always his passions. He opened his own design business in 1998. He’s a regular in shelter magazines, has created paint palettes for Benjamin Moore and has written a book. (His second book, “The Collected Home,” is slated to be published in October.)
Carter, who is equally comfortable with opera and hip-hop, plans a retail experience far different from either a chain store or an 18th-century furniture shop. He said he envisions a personal, European-style store where customers can buy a candle, organic blanket or a sofa, for example, and have a latte at the espresso bar he’s installing in the shop’s core.
Antiques, curiosities and accessories will be sold there, as well as furniture he designed himself at what he calls “accessible” prices. The carriage house will serve as a studio staffed with designers who work for Carter, and they will advise clients on a single room or color selection, services Carter has never been able to offer. He plans to host art shows, too. “I want it to be a neighborhood gathering place,” he says. Carter says he will continue to work with private clients from his Embassy Row digs.
He is keen to be part of the renaissance of Shaw, one of the city’s oldest commercial and cultural districts.
“I have never been one to follow the leader,” Carter says. His location is just north of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and within sight of City Market at O, a mixed-use redevelopment that includes the former Giant Food, which is being re-created in the spirit of a 19th-century marketplace.
The property had been in decay for years, with missing windows and no working plumbing. It has served as a thrift shop, hardware store and apartment building. He’s restoring it with a cache of salvaged materials, including granite blocks from Baltimore’s Druid Hill and arched glass doors from Georgetown’s Dumbarton House. The flooring is being milled from reclaimed timbers from the former embassy of the Central African Republic. “I’ve been like a squirrel gathering all the parts of this building over the last four years,” Carter says.
On a recent hard-hat tour of the site, Carter delighted in old brickwork that workers had uncovered. “I love ruin,” he says. He told the crew, “Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Leave the nails in the boards.” The project was designed by his own design team working with Wnuk Spurlock Architecture and is being built by Glass Construction, which specializes in historic buildings.
Carter bought the property in 2008 after searching for a location in “an emergent part of the city.” As the economy shifted downward, his plans were delayed. He continued foraging for salvage in Washington’s Brass Knob and at Second Chance in Baltimore. “My vision was always this, but it got broken and protracted a few times,” Carter says.
“Things happen for a reason,” he says. “There was a moment I thought maybe I should get rid of it. But this is me. I’m an against-all-odds kind of person. Maybe it wasn’t the right time when I bought it. I believe it is now.”