His, Hers & Theirs
For several years, Alexa Smith resigned herself to working on a laptop, surrounded by her three kids in a noisy kitchen. There simply wasn’t a suitable office in the Bethesda home that she and her husband, Larry, bought in 2007.
There was, however, an infrequently used library with builder-grade dark cabinets and a manly desk floating in the middle of the room. It was “the husband’s lair,” says Rockville-based interior designer Kristin Peake, who in three months last year transformed the space into a bright and airy office/multipurpose room where Smith can now work in quiet.
Peake previously collaborated on the kitchen and master bedroom with Smith, who works from home running her own firm, A. Smith Marketing, and is also chief marketing executive for London-based fashion designer Patricia Gomez-Gracia.
“My client was looking to create a place to work when she was home, as well as a place for everyone to hang out when she was done,” Peake says.
The library, accessed through French doors off the foyer, was the first room visitors saw when they entered the house, and it created a gloomy impression.
“It didn’t feel open, warm or light like the rest of our home,” Smith says. “It was heavy, masculine and dark…more my husband’s style than mine, which tends to be more Californian.”
Smith persuaded her husband, a Washington, D.C., attorney, to go along with the office overhaul. Meanwhile Peake dissuaded Smith from ripping out the woodwork.
The designer knew that with the right modifications, the wood could come to define the room.
“We restructured the mostly closed cabinetry to suit everyone’s needs, including improving office storage and adding a TV function,” Peake says. “I also opened up some bookshelves to let the room breathe.”
Once the cabinets were reconfigured, they were painted Farrow & Ball’s “Castle Gray,” which has placid blue-green undertones. And in a nod “to masculinity” to placate Larry for relinquishing his man cave, Peake installed leather cabinet pulls and textured sea grass wallpaper. In addition to covering the walls, the wallpaper was applied to the ceiling, making the newly painted coffered woodwork pop.
A neutral sectional in a durable cotton/linen blend was selected for the corner opposite the TV. And the yellow glass base of an existing lamp inspired the yellow and blue botanical print fabrics chosen for the office chair’s upholstery and the sofa’s accent pillows.
“The rug was another layer in the soft, buttery palette,” Peake says. Its honeycomb pattern is repeated in the fretwork on the base of the marble coffee table. “We didn’t want a typical coffee table or ottoman,” she says. “This is nice and open, while sturdy for the kids to do homework on.”
A large mirror hung on the wall facing the foyer creates visual expansion, and a Moroccan side table brings a touch of the unexpected. Linen Roman shades, with blue-green banding, add coziness and privacy.
“It’s now a soothing, quiet, comfortable space,” Smith says, “where I can shut the French doors and be productive and creative.”