September-October 2015 | Featured Article

Interior Design that's Stylish and Practical

A young family remakes their Bethesda home

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A FEW MONTHS AFTER having their first daughter in 2011, interior designer Erica Burns and her husband, Ryan, moved into a home in Bethesda’s Wood Acres neighborhood. “We bought it pretty much unchanged from the original owner,” Burns says of the 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom colonial built in 1954. “We weren’t ready to embark on an extensive renovation, but we were interested in updating and refreshing the home—in making it ours.”

The biggest job was to redo the outdated galley kitchen and expand its cramped dimensions by absorbing a formerly closed-off dining room. With the first floor opened up, the project became purely cosmetic. Wood floors throughout were stained a darker hue, and everything was repainted.

Burns used a palette of bright, unexpected colors, and decorated the home with furniture, art and accessories that she’d collected over time. “I like to use new and old things,” she says. “Even though we’re starting out, I wanted our house to feel unique and interesting, not like it was bought out of a catalog.”


“Formal dining simply isn’t happening at this stage in our lives,” says Burns, who now has two girls, ages 4 and 1. The wall between the kitchen and dining room was removed, creating a larger eat-in kitchen. The dining area is defined by vibrant green grasscloth walls and a blue and green Roman blind made of fabric by Christopher Farr. Three Crate and Barrel Windsor chairs and a custom upholstered bench surround a reclaimed wood pedestal table that can be expanded for dinner parties.

A mounted collection of blue and white dishes makes for personal, colorful artwork in the dining area. Burns began with pieces inherited from one of her grandmothers, and has added flea market finds to the collection. Photos by Anna Routh.



“The old kitchen was a hodgepodge of mismatched cabinets and dated appliances,” Burns says of her costliest remodeling project, which was done before the family moved in. Reico Kitchen & Bath cabinets with nickel pulls, quartzite countertops, and gray subway tile backsplashes made by Architectural Ceramics define the workspace. The retro-looking Viking range is a pale robin’s egg blue.

Photo by Anna Routh



Because the house doesn’t have a formal entry, Burns set out to design an adult-feeling living room. “I wanted to walk into a clean space, not a room filled with sippy cups and kids’ toys,” she says. The sofa is upholstered in white linen, though treated to be stain-resistant, and faces a pair of chairs from Noir upholstered in a Sister Parish pattern. The chairs have a strong presence with their distinct retro look and darker wood frames. A dark wood coffee table delivers similar gravitas and helps to anchor the light, airy room. Burns balanced these bolder pieces with an old-fashioned impressionistic painting in an unexpected acrylic frame. It hangs above the traditional mantel, which is also adorned with contemporary sconces from Visual Comfort.

Burns gave this Crate and Barrel bar chest, which was purchased as a floor sample by the couple years ago, a coat of green lacquer paint. It sits in a corner of the living room. Photos by Anna Routh.

TIP FROM BURNS: Though robin’s egg blue can be spotted throughout the first floor—from the kitchen’s range and the den’s walls to the living room’s sateen curtains on Lucite rods—each room introduces pops of unexpected color. In the den, there are coral-orange Ro Sham Beaux lamps; grassy green enlivens the dining area; and the backs of the built-in shelves in the living room are covered in lavender grasscloth.



Of course, Burns has also added new life to the house in the form of her two young daughters. Her 4-year-old loves pink, so she chose a pink-and-white striped rug and pink duvet covers for the two twin beds in her room. To balance the bold color, Burns bought vintage headboards from Etsy and painted them kelly green.

Burns designed her younger daughter’s room when she was pregnant. “I kept that room gender neutral, because we didn’t know if we’d have a boy or a girl,” she says. The room has a navy palette; she added a pink monogrammed pillow to the chair after her daughter was born. The wallpaper, by Osborne & Little, is designed to look like vintage book spines. It adds lots of color to the space, and also echoes Burns’ collection of old books, some of which line the shelves in the living room.

Photo by Anna Routh


5. DEN

Covered in fabric from JAB Anstoetz, the custom throw pillows on the couch in the den served as the color inspiration for the entire house. “I toted the swatch everywhere with me,” Burns says of the bright, happy-hued print, which she says reminds her of Florida, where she used to live. “I love the colors—the orange, the green, the lavender, the turquoise, the robin’s egg blue.” Gray is Burns’ favored neutral—which you can see in the kid-friendly CB2 sofa and the side tables from Ballard Designs.

Burns chose an acrylic table because it’s easy to keep clean and takes up little visual space, making it a good choice for the small room. In matted Pottery Barn frames, the gallery wall features five generations of family photos.  Photos by Anna Routh.

Tip from Burns: Mix Old and New | Burns inherited this cane-backed chair, which sits in the den, from one of her grandmothers, and had it reupholstered in a fun wool plaid. “The house’s character is trendy and fresh,” Burns says, “but I love old things that have a story and like to layer them in.” The gilt mirror in the foyer niche off the living room was purchased from the home’s first owner. “I love having something original to the home,” Burns says.






Charlotte Safavi is a freelance writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.