2012 DC Design House

A showcase in Spring Valley

By Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza | Photos by John McDonnell

A seven-bedroom, seven-bath Spring Valley home, which has belonged to the same family since 1956, opens Saturday as the fifth annual DC Design House.

Twenty-three local designers transformed the Northwest Washington property, which will be open for four weeks as a fundraiser for Children's National Medical Center. The designers had about five weeks to redo the exterior and interior, including an outdated kitchen that was treated to a $250,000 makeover.

"It's a great home in a beautiful neighborhood," said D.C. designer David Mitchell, who serves as one of the design advisers for this year's event. "It's a home that has good and bad architectural elements, so there are challenges. That's what makes a good design house."

The 2012 DC Design House, at 4951 Rockwood Pkwy. NW, will be open April 14 through May 13. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

If you plan to visit the house, be sure to look up as you wander through the rooms. In place of the dozens of original formal crystal sconces and chandeliers are more modern lighting solutions. In addition, many of the designers drew attention to the ceilings with wallpaper and glossy paint.

The house was built for Gladys and Francisco Aguirre, who raised six children there. Because the late Francisco Aguirre was a founder of the Diario Las Americas newspaper, the W.C. & A.N. Miller-built house's many grand rooms and patios were often used to entertain diplomats and political figures.

The woodsy, 10,000-square-foot estate may look familiar to many locals. For decades it was known as the Blue House, an annual holiday destination for families who came to drive past its thousands of blue lights. "My mother started with a few strings of lights, but each year as the trees grew, she added more and more," says the Aguirres' son Rafael Aguirre Sacasa. "People came from all around to see them. My mother used to get hundreds of little notes left at our house from people telling her that she 'made our Christmas' with the incredible display."

The property, near American University, is on the market for $3,999,000. The past four show houses have attracted more than 30,000 visitors, raising a total of approximately $600,000.

We spoke with some of this year's designers to find out what went into creating their spaces. Here's what they had to say.

  • L'Orangerie
  • Kitchen
  • Patio
  • Dining room
  • Family room
  • Nursery
  • Teen's getaway

Kelley Proxmire used the colors tangerine and gray to turn a featureless former ballroom into an inviting, sun-filled space. Her addition of mirrored panels and molding makes the space appear even more intimate and polished. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

L'Orangerie: Kelley Proxmire of Bethesda

Inspiration for your room: I had a piece of this orange chinoiserie Manuel Canovas toile [Tortuga pattern in color safran] in my favorites sample pile. I was waiting for the perfect place to use it. When I saw the sunroom, I knew that was it

Kelley Proxmire. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Best design tip: Wallpaper is back, and so is grass cloth. Using this orange grass cloth as an accent on one wall added balance to the white room.

Cheap chic: I got three of Target's X-bench ottomans. The original price is $79.99, but they are on sale now. I painted them white and upholstered them in a gray-and-white linen faux zebra print.

Number of show houses you've done: 21.

What will look dated in 10 years: Maybe the use of gray in the room. It's all over this show house. Beige used to be the predominant color, but no more. My clients all want gray, but in 10 years, it might be passe.

Favorite detail in someone else's space: I love the double headboard in the little boy's bedroom by Nancy Twomey of Finnian's Moon. It combines queen and twin upholstered headboards. It's creative and practical and will grow with your child.


The kitchen was designed to work for a large family that entertains often. The room gets a lot of natural light because it faces the back patio and has a generous skylight. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Kitchen: Nadia Subaran of Aidan Design in Bethesda

Interesting element: It's the Wood-Mode Slate painted cabinets. The color gray is emerging as the new classic palette for the kitchen. I have done hundreds of white kitchens, and some people are still afraid to do anything different. But gray goes with many other colors, such as blue, orange or red. This gray has a real warmth and richness to it.

Nadia Subaran. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Splurge: I had to have the chandelier air-freighted from Italy to be here on time. It's called the Daisy by Vintage.

Number of show houses you've done: Two. Last year I did the pool kitchen.

Favorite features: I love the Mother of Pearl quartzite countertops. They go with the white rivershell oval mosaic tile backsplash from Artistic Tile. The small oval tiles are actually made from the inside of shells and have a great luster.

Cheap chic: Anthropologie's mint-glazed Ginger ceramic flower knobs were $12 each.

What you covet from the room: The Wolf steam oven. You can cook rice, fish and vegetables without a drop of oil.

Paint colors: I used Farrow & Ball's White Tie in the main kitchen and Elephant's Breath in the bar area.

Patio terrace: Stephen Wlodarczyk of Botanical Decorators in Olney

This portion of Stephen Wlodarczyk's 70- foot patio terrace adjoins Kelley Proxmire's L'orangerie. Wlodarczyk, a landscape architect at Botanical Decorators in Olney, designed and built a stone fireplace to add an architectural element and provide a focal point for spending time outdoors. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Biggest challenge: The patio was one huge space of flagstone and felt like a commercial plaza. It had a big stone wall at one side, and on the other it had three different doors from the main house opening up into it, with three different designers doing the rooms. We transformed the one gigantic patio into three distinct garden rooms.

Eco-friendly element: We were able to reuse some of the home's original bricks that we found on the property while building the outdoor fireplace. It went with the rustic look we were going for. We also transplanted many of the old boxwoods.

Best tip: It's important to create seating areas. In this 70-foot space, we carved out more flower beds from the existing flagstone to add interest. You should add large planters wherever you can. We used big yellow Anduze urns from Campania International. Don't be afraid to go bold with the color. The urns can frame entrances into different areas of the patio.

Least expensive item: Crate and Barrel's indoor-outdoor pillows made of Sunbrella. We used an oblong Valencia Stripe and Caliente square.

Fun detail: We planted blue pansies to refer to the property's history as the Blue House.

Favorite detail in someone else's space: The chandelier in John Matthew Moore's foyer. It's by Rick Singleton. I like that it's very contemporary. It's not what you expect when you walk in a house like this; you expect something glitzy. This is more modern.

Formal dining room: Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey of Alexandria

A six-light Niermann Weeks chandelier, made from hand-cut antique mirrors, hangs above the centerpiece of Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey's dining room: a $60,000 table. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

First thing you picked out: The chinoiserie fabric for the dining chairs. It's a very traditional look that I modernized by using it to cover mahogany chairs I painted blue. It's your grandmother's fabric made relevant for today.

Splurge: The dining table. It's a 66-inch round glass top and a handmade, hand-polished acrylic base. The price: $60,000.

Biggest challenge: The ornate trim and the columns that divided the room. I wasn't crazy about either, so I painted them the same custom peaches-and-cream color to make them blend into the walls and disappear. Also, none of the architectural details are centered. I was very purposeful in my choices and placement of items in the room in order to throw off the eye so you don't notice things are off-center.

Three words that describe your room: Happy, sophisticated and youthful.

Best tip: Instead of the traditional 18- to 20-inch heights for coffee or occasional tables, we use tables that are 24 to 26 inches tall, which is the perfect height if you are sitting and reaching for something on a table. If you were having tea, it's the height you'd want the table to be.

Favorite detail in your room: The custom salmon-color velvet corner banquettes. They have a higher back so they really envelop you when you're sitting. They keep the room casual. They feel like home to me.

Something we would be surprised to know: This space was the former living room.

Favorite detail in someone else's room: I love the bay-window niche in Kelley Proxmire's l'orangerie. And I love the staircase: the railing, the curve shape and the way the light falls into the circular space.

The hanging light fixture, made of distressed convex mirrors and painted iron, was the first thing Dan Proctor picked for the room, which was formerly the dining room. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Family room: Dan Proctor

Describe your room in three words: Sophisticated, comfortable and surprising.

Biggest challenge: There were outlets and switches all over the far wall, and there was a door leading to the kitchen. I had custom panels made out of MDF [medium-density fiberboard], painted with gesso then carved to look like wood. I hung them down the length of the wall to organize the space and cover up the imperfections.

Inspiration for the color scheme: I'm from Iowa. I remember as a child, during this time of year, the plowed earth would be charcoal gray in color and the new spring growth that was emerging was a chartreuse, yellow-green. I thought it was a great combination.

Something we would be surprised to know: We put the room together in two days.

Favorite part of the room: The sisal rug. The pattern reminds me of Missoni. I also love the desk and the desk chairs. The chrome chairs were originally covered in white vinyl, and I had them reupholstered in distressed and waxed chartreuse leather. They are so minimal, but so comfortable.

What you would change if your budget were unlimited: Nothing. I'm a big believer in great design in all different price points.


A palette of green and white with pink and yellow accents makes this nursery by Elizabeth Krial feel fresh and vibrant. The white leather glider by Monte Designs can be found at Daisy Baby & Kids in Bethesda. The crib is by Bratt Decor, and the poufs and baskets are from Serena & Lily. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Modern nursery: Elizabeth Krial of Reston

Inspiration for your room: As soon as I saw all the light in the space, I knew this was supposed to be a happy space for a child. I wanted it to be a room a little girl would grow into.

Elizabeth Krial. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Describe your room in three words: Peaceful, ethereal, exuberant.

First thing you picked out: The wallcovering and trim color. They really set the tone for the room. [Peony wallpaper, BP 2315, and Skimming Stone paint, both by Farrow & Ball.]

Best tip: I stained the wood floors in a custom white color for a relaxed and weathered look.

Number of show houses you've done: This is my first.

Something we would be surprised to know: The room was almost orange or indigo.

Favorite detail in someone else's room: The grapefruit-color cabinet in Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey's formal dining room. It's so fabulous. I never would have thought to use that color.

teen getaway

Victoria Sanchez says her two children provided inspiration for this teen space. Her design includes vintage furniture and pieces found on eBay and at CB2. An infusion of Missoni fabrics and accessories (an area rug, ottoman, pillows, curtain panels and fabriccovered ceiling fixture) complete the look. The paintings are the work of Takoma Park artist Joan Belman. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Teenager's getaway: Victoria Sanchez of Alexandria

Three words to describe your room: Hip, groovy and easy.

Favorite part of your room: The colors. They are a little unconventional for a D.C. show house.

Victoria Sanchez. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

First thing you picked out: The sheer curtain panels. It's a kid's space; I wanted it to be bright.

Splurge: The Missoni fabric for the curtain panels. It's an embroidered sheer fabric in the infamous Missoni flame-stitch, interpreted in a clean, light way. Price: $844 per yard.

Cheap chic: Everything from CB2. The table lamp was $49; the bookcase was $499.

Something that would surprise us about the room: How easy it would be to re-create it in your own home. Search eBay for upholstery to re-cover, CB2 for accessories, add a colorful area rug, pillows and window treatments. It's very doable.

What you would take for your own home: All of it. I wish I could transplant this room. It makes me feel energized

Favorite detail in someone else's room: The wall panels in Dan Proctor's family room are genius. We can take that idea and concept and modify it to hide a million sins.

More coverage

(Courtesy of Robert Radifera)

Photos: Tour the DC Design House

VOTE: Pick your favorite room

Which of these seven rooms looks the best?

Q&A: Ask the designer

Kelley Proxmire, who turned a ballroom into a l'orangerie, doles out design advice.

If you go

The 2012 DC Design House is at 4951 Rockwood Pkwy. NW. It will be open April 14 through May 13. Hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $20. Find more information on the DC Design House Web site.

Emily Ingram - The Washington Post. Published April 11, 2012.