The Element of Surprise | Page 2 of 2

The Element of Surprise

A renovated Chevy Chase Village home looks like it fits right in with the traditional neighborhood-until you step inside

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Elsewhere, Morris incorporated a variety of bright ikat and suzani fabrics—tribal-looking patterns that incorporate lots of saturated color—which Williams found during a shopping trip with Morris to The Washington Design Center.

Morris used a graphic suzani pattern to reupholster the dining chairs from Williams’ childhood home. She also refurbished the table, which Williams’ grandfather purchased at an Iowa farm auction. Mali’s family sideboard, an early 19th-century Regency piece, blends into the mix, but gets an unexpected jolt from another oversize Walter Williams’ painting that’s propped on top.

Matching the bold strokes of the fabric and art is a fireplace surround covered in vivid blue tile handmade in Morocco. Lodmell built a frame around the fireplace wide enough to display each tile fully, so none had to be cut.

The kitchen next door gets its shot of color from an ikat in orange, red and chartreuse. Morris had a settee custom-made for the bay window to create a seating area next to the banquette, which has deep blue vinyl cushions that echo the Moroccan tile of the dining room fireplace.

Morris used another suzani print to set the tone in the living room. It’s sewn into the upholstery of a custom sofa to mimic a colorful throw. Paired with a saturated pink-patterned rug by Timothy Paul and deep persimmon armchairs, the sofa provides the room with a sense of exuberance.

The color never reads as chaos, however. Morris infused each room with neutrals to offset the rich hues. “That’s the real trick with color,” she says. “You have to have a subtle enough backdrop to show it off.”

A consultant for Benjamin Moore, Morris used “elmira white”—one of her favorite neutrals—throughout the first floor. “If you’ve got a lot of art you need to show,” she says, “[the paint color] just changes with the way you need it to be.”

She went in the opposite direction with the small spaces. The powder room off the living room features vivid-blue “deep ocean,” and the mudroom behind it is awash in fuchsia-toned “gypsy love.”

“The smaller spaces have four distinct walls, so it’s easier to drench them in color,” Morris says. “When the walls [of different rooms] flow into one another, it makes it hard to have such distinct changes in color. It makes the spaces feel jarring instead of calming.”

The two-year renovation was completed in 2011. With its brick, shingles and columned screened porch, the house looks anything but modern—until visitors reach the cobalt-blue framed door and see Walter Williams’ bold abstract art through the plate glass.

It’s exactly the balance Sarah Williams and Peter Mali sought.

“I like the surprise,” Williams says. “I’ve always liked that it looks one way on the outside—and it’s something else on the inside.”

Jennifer Sergent is a home and design writer based in Arlington, Va. To comment on this story, email

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