It’s a long way from Warsaw to Washington, and for former foreign correspondent Izabela Eisemann, owner of Eisemann Design,the journey from the rigors of reporting to the drama of design put her precisely where she needed to be.
Arriving in the U.S. in 1999, via a stint in Brussels, to work for a Polish division of BBC radio and later for Polish Radio ESKA, Eisemann’s professional interests ran the gamut from politics to social issues, art and culture, which she dubiously studied and reported to international audiences. “When you live in a new country, you’re curious about everything, so I was basically soaking (everything up), like a sponge,” she recalled of her early days in D.C.
Tiring of life in a media pressure cooker and mining a creative vein she admitted she’d always had, Eisemann, who loves color, sought ways to express herself artistically in Washington, taking art classes at a local college. “That led me into design classes,” she explained, adding she’d moved so often abroad for her work, creating a new home for herself each time and also extending ideas to friends, becoming a design professional was a natural evolution of her talents. “I went back to school and got a degree in design,” she said, eventually forming Eisemann Design. “I wanted to learn more and be more professional about it.”
In 2005, while still navigating the end of design school (and still working in news), and clearly before Eisemann had hung her own shingle, she participated in a National Symphony Orchestra-sponsored design house. As the gods would have it, a phone call followed from a couple who’d seen the design house project. “They wanted me to work on a Silver Spring area basement,” Eisemann said, “a very cluttered, disorganized space.” (In a stroke of validation that Eisemann had indeed chosen the right course for the next phase of her life, ASID later gave her a chapter award in a student category for the Silver Spring basement project, as she’d begun the work while barely out of school.)
At 930 s.f. of undivided space, the size of a small home, the designer was tasked with creating a TV/game viewing area, a section for a pool table, a collectibles display area and a bar/beverage space. Confronting challenges in the way of pipes, protruding columns, soffits and other irregularities, which many would instantly camouflage, Eisemann realized the true expression of color when she elected instead to use them to her advantage - storing speakers inside a column, for example - punctuating them with rich maroons, antique golds and more saturated colors. In fact, with the husband of Indian ancestry, the Silver Spring homeowners had requested an Indian theme for their basement recreation area which Eisenmann achieved using the aforementioned traditional colors of India. A Taj Mahal theme ensued, with arc’d window treatments made of MDF’s (medium density fiberboards), pendant billiard lighting and wall sconces, from Pottery Barn, the latter of which were born as floor lamps.
“Color is the first thing I suggest to my clients when I see walls that are just beige or no color at all,” Eisemann said of her overall design philosophy, basement or otherwise. “I think designers use it more and more often, especially in this economy when people don’t always have thousands of dollars to renovate a space. Irregularities like soffits or columns, a nook or obstructions that hide chimneys - I like to emphasize these using different colors,” she affirmed.
At a turn-of-the-century townhouse in Adams Morgan, Eisemann’s proclivity for color transformed a home-based 1,300 s.f. law office from nondescript white walls that disappeared into the space to a rich, robust environment. Sited on the second and third floors of the three-story structure and comprised of an office for the attorney, a conference room, secretarial space and small kitchen, the designer replaced white walls with a pigeon blue, a color she called “atmospheric,” with chocolate brown and deep orange used in accent areas such as a staircase wall. Also applying deep orange to a bump out wall that concealed the chimney, Eisemann said when these items are painted differently, “…they don’t look like accidental elements; they look like they were designed to be that way.”
Utilizing an original cherry colored desk and file cabinet, and incorporating office furniture from West Elm and IKEA (the designer endorses some, though not all, IKEA lines, like office furniture which she said is well-constructed), a definitive dark brown was a recurring theme. For the floor, Eisemann chose FLOR carpet tiles, which are rated for heavier or lighter use and come in a variety of colors and patterns. “That’s another way I introduce color into the area,” she said, adding she used them in the center of the room, to absorb office traffic, leaving a hardwood floor border. Irregularities in the space, like a nook, were filled with two built-in shelving pieces that accommodate an office fridge, with a granite countertop for a coffee maker and tray with mugs. This precludes ascending to the third floor kitchen and back when clients are present.
When Georgetown’s Jelleff Boys and Girls Club came calling, Eisemann used a primary (red; blue; yellow) color scheme to transform a tired, institutional-looking space with a repetitive dark coffee-and-milk color scheme into a bright, vigorous environment. A succession of doors, each one painted red, blue or yellow by the designer in a continuing pattern, created a vivid corridor; light floor tiles with accent colors also in red, blue and yellow replicated the theme. In fact, children have been known to use the tile squares interactively for games. Conversely, an upstairs gym painted a monochromatic navy blue that wouldn’t reflect light, natural or otherwise, was lightened, with the end result preserving energy. “The head of the Boys and Girls Club came back and said he saved on the lighting bill because he no longer needed the lights on in the gym, at all times, the way he had in the past,” Eisemann said.
“Color is such an easy fix,” the designer said, acknowledging that except for benches and a few other items, little was changed at the club except the color scheme. “It is a major factor in design.”