July-August 2016

Touring Barbara Black's Chevy Chase Home

How the restaurateur added warmth and personality to her new home

share this

Barbara and her dog, Otis, in the kitchen. Photo by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg

The house fits in nicely on its leafy Chevy Chase Village street—no different from its stately, prewar neighbors—which is why a visitor was surprised to learn that it’s newly built. The home’s owner, Barbara Black, who co-owns the Black Restaurant Group, liked the idea of buying new. She was drawn to the high ceilings with generous moldings, large kitchen and spacious master suite. Yet when she moved into the home in 2012, she discovered that the details that made new construction so appealing also posed a challenge: The house had no warmth.

Her belongings further complicated the matter, Black says, referring to a mismatched set of heirloom family furnishings and other assorted pieces from big-box stores. Her previous home with sons Simon, 17, and Oliver, 16, who attend Gonzaga College High School in the District, was a Victorian farmhouse in Kensington that Black had decorated in a French-country style—a look that can skew feminine. “I was trying to get away from that, because I have a lot of guys in my life,” she says.

Photos by Angie Seckinger

The family nonetheless settled in, living in their new home for two years before Black contacted Bethesda designer Marika Meyer, who’d been recommended by a friend. Black says living in the home before making any changes helped her understand what was missing. By the time she and Meyer met, they were able to choose a design direction quickly. “We more or less met in three hours and selected everything,” Meyer says.

Meyer and Black went through each space methodically, choosing wallpaper, rugs and drapes to soften the home’s hard surfaces and help unify the Blacks’ existing pieces. “The process was really interesting in terms of weaving in fabric and texture as a way to resolve conflicting styles,” Meyer says.  

Photos by Angie Seckinger

The designer points to the dining room as one of the best illustrations. Black wanted to pair an enormous hand-painted hutch that was once used as a serving station at Black’s Bar & Kitchen with a sleek modern console she’d purchased for the window niche. Meyer helped bridge that aesthetic gap with linen drapes—in a faded pattern, the drapes complement the colors of the hutch but are hung in crisp, straight panels, echoing the clean lines of the console.

The custom-made dining table and chairs have a similar contemporary shape, but the chairbacks are upholstered with a nubby tweed that evokes the rustic hutch. “It’s that balance of using my stuff and making new things work with it, and putting it all together,” Black says.

Photos by Angie Seckinger

In some cases, such as the small powder room on the first floor, Black asked Meyer to create a style where none had existed. Tall ceilings are nice for large rooms, Meyer says, but can feel confining in a tiny space, almost as if you are standing at the bottom of a well. And the builder’s neutral paint job made the powder room feel lifeless, Black adds. Meyer solved those problems with large-scale floral-print wallpaper that visually expands the space with its movement and whimsy. “It is the power of wallpaper,” Meyer explains. “You would never know you’re in a confined space.”

Photos by Angie Seckinger

Black’s first two years in the house illuminated how much the family used the kitchen. She had placed the French-country table and chairs from her previous home in a corner that’s bordered by large windows. But no one ever sat there, she says; everyone opted instead to crowd around the barstools at the island. “This area wasn’t being used. We wanted something more comfortable and accessible,” Black says. Meyer had a banquette built in the corner to give the space more weight, and she added plush bench cushions and down pillows to make it cozy. Simon, Oliver and their friends regularly hang out there now, and, Black says, “people have slept on it!”

Photo by Angie Seckinger

In the master bedroom, Meyer added a row of built-in bookshelves with an integrated desk to what had been a long, empty wall.  She backed the shelving with wallpaper in the same barely-blue color as the walls. “It really is amazing,” Meyer says, “adding that little extra dose of texture—it just softens it that much more.” Also helpful was the custom rug that solved the problem of “too much wood,” Black says, and furnishings properly scaled for the room’s grandeur.

Photo by Angie Seckinger

The master bedroom’s bath, with its marble surfaces and glass-enclosed shower, was one of the things that caught Black’s attention before she purchased the house. Yet that, too, needed some softening. Here, Meyer solved two problems at once. Black’s aunt had given her a chair that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the house, so Meyer had it re-covered and suggested putting it in the bathroom. Its new plush upholstery and dark legs create a pleasing contrast against the room’s shiny, bright surfaces (see photo on page 193).
In the family room, Black wanted to use a pair of vintage armchairs that were a bit fussy for the understated, casual look she was after. But once they were reupholstered in a soft linen that coordinates with the new drapes and rug, they look much more natural in the space.

Throughout the eight-month design process from November 2014 to the following July, Black gave Meyer carte blanche to carry out what the designer thought was necessary to achieve the goals they’d agreed to. Having gone through similar exercises with the Black Restaurant Group’s properties, Black says she knew she had to suspend her disbelief on some of Meyer’s choices until everything was installed. “It’s like the restaurants,” she says, pointing to Meyer’s selection of a large, chunky rock-crystal chandelier in the dining room.

“You think it’s going to be too much, but it never is.”

Jennifer Sergent (jennifersergent@verizon.net) is a home and design writer based in Arlington, Virginia. To comment on this story, email comments@bethesdamagazine.com.