By Beth Herman
With grand scale entertaining paramount for a Georgetown family of six, in many ways their late 19th Century Queen Anne Victorian did not support a contemporary lifestyle. For interior designer Marika Meyer of Marika Meyer Interiors LLC, issues of storage and functionality were high on her design dance card for the historical residence while preserving its authentic fabric.
Gilded by antiques and spare, elegant furnishings, the home’s towering entryway lacked practicality with no place for guests to hang their coats during frequent social events. In an effort to retain and reproduce the home’s period flavor and flourishes, Meyer chose to create an adjacent coat closet by using custom millwork to replicate the original late 1800s entry door. Turning an empty vestibule into a utilitarian closet, the result appeared as though it had always been there.
“We transformed this space by matching the door’s historic millwork detail and creating a new (closet) door, so it was almost seamless,” Meyer said. “Most people think of millwork in terms of bookcases, but this was a good example of repurposing and reusing the space” without compromising the home’s architectural history.
In the imposing living room with its 13-foot ceilings, a lack of storage did not facilitate the family’s voracious reading habit. Calling it “somewhat unorthodox” to furnish a more formal space with bookcases, the designer explained the floorplan was such that the room was used on a day-to-day basis, rendering the idea of millwork in this manner more appropriate. Accordingly, Meyer created two bookcases to house many hundreds of books and family artifacts. In an effort to make the room more scalable and approachable, she dropped the bookcases’ height for the illusion of a warm and family-friendly area. Detail from the home’s existing entry hall wainscoting was reproduced in the living room, as was crown detail from the 19th Century crown molding, along with custom ogee.
“The millwork here shows you can add depth and functionality, and also give the residence personality,” Meyer said. Though the room was painted in a more neutral palette from its former canary yellow, pops of color from the books and objects that line the book shelves brighten the space. “You can never underestimate the power of a good book installation!” Meyer quipped.
The new black
In a Logan Circle row house, a young family – also voracious readers, and the husband and father an author – desired additional storage and a way to showcase their many hundreds of books. What’s more, a singular art collection—and especially a prominent piece of art that occupied an entire wall—caused the room to appear off-balance. “The rest of the space just felt empty,” Meyer said, adding something was needed to carry the eye from a fireplace around the rest of the room.
To that end, and desiring some drama in the otherwise quiet space, the designer created a black, high-gloss finish bookcase. “Rather than white or a tint, the colors really pop off the black,” Meyer said of the books and displays. “You get a sense of movement, color and interest, but it’s also truly reflective of the clients and their love of reading.”
Because their collection of reading material was so extensive, books are actually double-stacked—two on each of seven shelves. With a 10-foot ceiling height, the designer again chose not to bring the millwork all the way up but to keep it on par with the cutout over the fireplace.
“Here it’s important to point out that custom millwork does not have to be cost-prohibitive,” Meyer said. Though the bookcase was customized and looks expensive, it was actually purchased from an unfinished furniture vendor and then spray-painted.
Here’s tinting at you
Also in Georgetown, a late 20th Century row house suffered many of the constraints and design gaps that accompany newer construction. With virtually no architectural details and a bland palette (think neutral walls, sisal rug and sofa), and boasting a large piano that anchored one side of a room, Meyer said the challenge was to create a balance that would offset the weight of the piano, add height and grandeur, and strategically brighten the room.
On the piano side, the designer created an entire wall of the homeowner’s extensive collection of colorful antique world maps, along with colorful chair fabric. On the opposite wall, millwork provided the balance in the form of a floor-to-ceiling neutral bookcase, but with a tinted interior.
“A lot of the decorative objects the homeowner—who traveled extensively—had to fill the bookcase were also neutral in color,” Meyer said, “and if you were to place them against a similar backdrop, they’d be completely lost.” She added it would all also feel a little more ordinary or average, so tinting the millwork makes it feel “more intentional – tying everything together.”
When she wants to dress the millwork, the designer said she looks for objects and books in her client’s possession, whether hard cover or paperback, and groups them by hue for concentrated punches of color and a more powerful statement. “They are fun accents that really warm up the (neutral) space.”
Catalysts and cornices
In a mid-20th Century Georgetown row house, a galley kitchen with no table space was judiciously transformed by custom millwork, including bead board, into a space that accommodated two banquettes. Comfortably seating four, cabinets and drawers provide for aesthetics and ample storage. According to Meyer, nooks and other small spaces should not be deterrents but rather catalysts for creative millwork.
In the same residence, a living room space, “contemporary and cold” and devoid of character, was badly in need of promotion. A large floor-to-ceiling window reiterated the room’s stark, contemporary feel. “There were no arches, no molding detail anywhere,” Meyer recalled.
To create a warm space and traditionalize the environment, decorous carved millwork arches with glass shelves and storage underneath, and extensive pilaster detail, were incorporated. A wood cornice was conceived to conceal harsh drapery hardware, all of it creating dimension and interest in an otherwise pedestrian room. “Every piece of molding was added to the home. Nothing was original,” Meyer said of the finished design, which included hallway wainscoting.
“From a real estate perspective, it just goes to show you what can be changed. You can transform contemporary spaces into traditional; you can push traditional into contemporary based on the elements you choose. You can use millwork for storage or to shorten a long, narrow space but still maintain a sense of functionality,” Meyer affirmed. “It’s all in the details.”