Designer Lori Graham’s new 14th Street store, Showroom 1412, feels like an escape to West Hollywood. Gigantic white chandeliers drip from the ceiling over a 4-by-12-foot table covered with books about all things glamour: Christian Dior, Miami Beach, vintage cocktails, Chanel. Elsewhere, a pair of white lacquered lions serve as bases for matching swag lamps. A glossy black staircase lined with vintage art leads upstairs into Graham’s office, where a signed book of Helmut Newton’s photography and a custom Philippe Starck bookstand rest on a vintage white Moroccan rug.
It’s a far cry from the traditional design found in Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria, but Graham, who chats with a thick Oklahoma accent and fancies glitzy jewels, ties it all together.
In a way, Graham is equal parts Hollywood and Washington. She’s a libertarian with a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Georgetown. Until 2003, she worked for Sonnenschein (now SNR Denton), a law firm on K Street, before starting her own design company. These days, though, she’s focusing on the fun stuff, like expanding the deck on the roof of her new showroom or collecting chic pieces, such as the white Shine by S.H.O. chest that captures the eye of everyone who enters the store.
“D.C. has seen a huge revival,” she said a few days before the showroom’s opening this summer. “And not just the design scene, but music, food and style. It’s like the city’s loosening up. I had to jump in.”
Graham, 40 and divorced, grew up in rural Oklahoma. She first fell in love with the District while interning at the Cato Institute during her junior year at the University of Tulsa. She returned to Georgetown for her law degree in 1995 and has lived here ever since, settling in Logan Circle with her papillons, Camus and Milton Friedman.
When she decided to open a hybrid design boutique and art gallery, New York crossed her mind. But Washington wasn’t hit as hard by the recession, she said, and had more room to grow. “D.C. is blossoming into its own artistic animal,” she said.
We chatted with her about the new store and why she loves living in Washington. Here is an edited excerpt.
Showroom 1412: It’s a store, gallery and an extension of my design firm, all in one. The gallery is curated by my friend Lauren Gentile [of Contemporary Wing], and many of the pieces were chosen by Mike Johnson [of the now defunct Sixteen Fifty Nine].
My goal is that the showroom be full of artsy, vintage and uncommon finds that can be customized to fit what you’re looking for. It’s not a pop-up shop, but it’s a similar concept of sharing space and honoring multiple ideas.
How to use it: Visit and see what inspires you. I’d never want my showroom to be something that a whole house was designed from. Sure, it has that eclectic mix, but it’s still not enough. It would feel contrived. Nobody should ever — even if they can afford to — furnish a house with art in one shot. You want to cultivate collections as you go.
Her inspiration: I’m very focused on art as inspiration. If clients aren’t sure what their tastes are, I take them to galleries to see what they respond to so I can figure out their aesthetic. It sounds super hoity-toity, but it actually works.
Where she can be found in town: If I’ve got visitors, I love to walk from Dupont Circle over the P Street bridge into Georgetown. Dumbarton Oaks has a lot to soak in, especially during the fall.
At night, I can’t get enough of 14th Street. It’s becoming the restaurant mecca of the East Coast. From an entrepreneurial perspective, it’s exciting to watch.
After dinner, I love H Street because I feel like the city is doing H Street right. It’s so lively and it’s got its own identity.
Her favorite haunts: Hank’s Oyster Bar is one of my favorite places of all time. She [owner Jamie Leeds] just opened one on Capitol Hill with a bartender who was formerly at PS 7. I also love the guys who own Matchbox. I dig the fact that they’ve been able to repeat a good concept without jeopardizing its heart and soul.
When she shops: I always hit up Timothy Paul for rugs and bedding. Also, And Beige is great and so consistent. It never feels like you’re seeing the same stuff over and over, but it always feels like it’s theirs. That’s not easy.
Go-to gifts: Anything from Santa Maria Novella perfumery. It’s a convent in Florence that has been around forever. I might bring some of those products into the showroom.
She likes to serve: I used to have a reputation for entertaining with a signature cocktail. My all-time favorite one I stole from TenPenh [now closed]. It’s Inniskillin wine and Snow Queen vodka served up chilled with frozen grapes.
Color trends: I love high-contrast paint pairings, and that has been a trend over the past decade or so. Before, people were always pairing a bright color with chocolate brown. Now, people are pairing a bright color with charcoal gray. I love charcoal, but I’ve been looking at deep, indigo blues paired with peacock colors like citrus green or yellow.
D.C. decorating faux pas: Thematic decorating. Like when your kitchen has wallpaper with spoons and forks, or your beach house has starfish everywhere. It’s too literal and becomes cheesy.
There’s also this idea that everything has to match. D.C. is a conservative city with a lot of type As, so there’s discomfort with things not being perfect. But furniture doesn’t have to come in sets. It doesn’t have to all come from the same line. The towels probably shouldn’t match the wallpaper, and the wallpaper probably shouldn’t match the tiles. Because, whoa.
Design words to live by: Start with art. It’s the part of your home that you should love for years, and it should be the thing that you fight over if you get divorced.