Louisa Bargeron loved the 10-foot ceilings, the fireplace with the original tile and the claw-foot tub in her one-bedroom co-op at the venerable Ontario in Adams Morgan. The hodgepodge kitchen, the cracked ancient bathroom tile and her collection of mismatched furniture — not so much.
Bargeron felt unsure of how to get her taste and personality, and a bit of girly glam, into her 835-square-foot home while keeping its historical character. So she reached out to Washington designers Kiera Kushlan and Jessica Centella of Residents Understood. Today, she’s got a stylish new kitchen with an oak library ladder to reach high cabinets, a sparkly chandelier over her bed, a warm green dining room with an art-deco-inspired bar cart and a bohemian bathroom with black walls, brass sconces and white marble subway tiles.
“Louisa wanted to live in a pretty space,” says Centella, who started Residents Understood with Kushlan in 2010.
The designers got why Bargeron was in love with the Ontario, which opened in 1904 and retains its original details and charm. It’s one of Washington’s most recognizable apartment buildings. “These places still have the soul of the building,” Kushlan says. “That’s what brought Louisa here, and we wanted to keep that feeling.”
Bargeron, originally from New York City, moved to Washington in 2009 and bought her co-op in December 2014. The Ontario reminded her of Brooklyn brownstones and Harlem prewar buildings. “I instantly fell in love with it and wanted to live here,” says Bargeron, 43, who works at the Defense Department. The apartment has separate living and dining rooms, a compact kitchen and a long hallway leading to a bedroom and bath.
She spent nine months trying to furnish it herself. “I was collecting and buying pieces, but I didn’t know how to pull it together. There was no sort of flow or good feng shui here,” Bargeron says. “Although I was always buying things to try to overcome that, I was actually just adding to the clutter.”
She also realized the kitchen, with its jumble of different cabinets, skimpy counter space and old appliances, wasn’t working. So in November 2015 she contacted Kushlan and Centella. They agreed on a plan to redo not only her kitchen but also her bathroom, and to decorate the place. “I wanted them to blend the rooms so they had a flow and a theme,” Bargeron says.
She made a Pinterest board showing what she liked and filled out their client questionnaire. “My personal style is trendy and classy. I love the color pink,” she wrote. “In terms of design, I’m anywhere from modern to traditional to French country. I can’t decide on any one.”
Kushlan and Centella mulled over Bargeron’s profile. She mentioned loving a variety of styles, so their plan was to play up the vintage Old World charm of the place while balancing it with modern, clean-lined furniture. “I gravitate towards things from Restoration Hardware, but I like that look with more romantic colors like pink and green,” Bargeron says. The kitchen and bathroom renovations would maximize the grand ceiling height and details. The designers could incorporate some of what Bargeron already owned, pulling everything together with paint, wallpaper, lighting and accessories.
“Louisa has a wonderful feminine style, so it was such a fun project to work on from a style perspective,” Kushlan says. “We got to pick out hot pink rugs, fur throws, and use artwork from old fashion magazines — a girl’s dream.”
The kitchen was redesigned to be classic yet modern, accommodating five major appliances, including a washer-dryer set, while saving two original glass-front cabinets. More storage came in the form of new gray cabinets. The opening to the dining room was enlarged to make the space airier. On the kitchen walls, Centella and Kushlan used basic white subway tile in a matte finish so the counter-to-ceiling expanse didn’t come across as too shiny. For the floor, they chose a black tile in a herringbone pattern. A wood countertop was installed to warm up the look.
The dining room, which has its original corner cabinets with leaded-glass detailing, was painted a warm green (Lafayette Green by Benjamin Moore). “The dining room gets such beautiful natural light and has great white built-ins and molding, so the dark color helped to highlight those features,” Kushlan says. Bargeron had bought a dining table at West Elm, so they added a rug, artwork and chandelier.
The long hallway was given 10-inch horizontal black and white stripes. “It added personality,” Kushlan says, and because the wall stretches almost the full length of the unit into the living room, it also helps visually distract from the television.
The bathroom was full of century-old details, but the tile was cracking and there was no storage. Although the designers urged her to go with an all-glass walk-in shower, Bargeron said she wanted to keep the claw-foot tub. So they added updated but classic materials such as marble subway tiles and eight-inch, hexagonal floor tiles in dark gray. A thick crown molding dressed it up, as did the Jet Black paint by Benjamin Moore and the Restoration Hardware washstand in antiqued wood, metal and marble.
Bargeron had an upholstered bed. The designers framed the wall behind it with a metallic silver lace wallpaper from Hygge & West. It sets off the lilac linen sheets from Anthropologie, the faux fur throw and 12 framed fashion prints.
The living room has a lot of windows and natural light. Bargeron wanted a space for overnight guests, so Kushlan and Centella chose the Room & Board Watson sleeper sofa and set it across from two leather chairs. The ugly ceiling fan was replaced by a sleeker industrial brass model by Rejuvenation.
The original fireplace recalls a chic turn-of-the- century Parisian flat. It’s one of the apartment features Bargeron loves the most. “My favorite piece in the living room is the mirror, which is from Anthropologie,” says Bargeron of the romantic iron Gleaming Primrose mirror. “That piece just nailed it for me. It reminded me of the sort of brownstones in New York City that have beautiful mantels and mirrors built in. It’s really something after my own heart.”
Small spaces demand a more imaginative approach to storage and decorating. Designers Kiera Kushlan and Jessica Centella of Residents Understood had lots of creative ideas for Louisa Bargeron’s 835-square-foot co-op. We asked them for some pointers based on the issues they faced.
Be innovative with storage. Bargeron had a lot of beautiful sheet sets and duvet covers that didn’t have a home, given the absence of a linen closet. Kushlan and Centella solved the problem with a black dresser (Pottery Barn’s Chloe) that stores all of her linens and acts as a media console in the living room. To add sparkle, they swapped out the hardware with Anthropologie’s chunky pink gem pulls.
Focus on your priorities. Bargeron desperately wanted a washer and dryer in her home but could not spare a closet. So they had to end up in the kitchen. By closing off an unnecessary second door to the kitchen, Kushlan and Centella were able to make room for a stacked washer and dryer in the corner. A tall pantry cabinet was used to house Electrolux’s 24-inch front-load washer and 24-inch ventless dryer.
Take advantage of high ceilings. One of the best things about old buildings is often the generous ceiling height. Bargeron’s kitchen offered lots of opportunity for vertical storage, but it wouldn’t be accessible to a person of average height. Kushlan and Centella say that one of their favorite parts of the project was adding a rolling ladder to the kitchen. It not only looks beautiful but allows Bargeron to easily reach all of her dishes, even on the highest shelves.
Don’t let the TV ruin your fireplace aesthetic. Bargeron’s living room features a beautiful old fireplace and mantel. The last thing anyone wanted was to hang a television above it. So instead, Kushlan and Centella placed it on a black dresser on another wall. To keep the furniture grouping centered around the fireplace, they used two green leather swivel chairs (West Elm’s Lucas) so guests can either center themselves for conversation or spin around to view the TV.
Consider smaller appliances. Because there were five major appliances going into the 80-square-foot kitchen, the designers were concerned about cabinet storage. Smaller appliances had to be used to give the owner everything on her wish list. Among the selections were an 18-inch Bosch 800 series dishwasher and a 25-inch Fisher & Paykel Active Smart refrigerator.
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Chat Thursday at 11 a.m.: Designer Jessica Centella joins staff writer Jura Koncius for a live Q&A on small-space decorating and more. Submit your questions now.