A souvenir from a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. The ultimate flea market find. A mantel brimming with family pictures, children’s art and treasured heirlooms. Many of us have a belonging so beloved that we would go to great lengths to rescue it from harm, or a place in our home that tells a story so rich and meaningful that it helps to define our dwelling.
Interior designers spend their careers creating spaces where their clients can thrive, often scouring the globe for the perfect items, colors and textures to bring visions to life. But what treasures light up designers’ own homes? We spoke with six local decorators to learn the stories behind their favorite personal pieces and places.
A Family Heirloom
When Erica Burns’ grandfather Robert served in Europe during World War II as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he wrote to her grandmother Letty about his daily life and missions, and to let her know he was safe. Three of those framed letters now grace the walls of his granddaughter’s 1954 colonial-style home in Bethesda’s Wood Acres neighborhood, where Burns lives with her husband, Ryan, and two daughters, ages 6 and 8. “I got the letters from my mother,” says Burns, who owns Erica Burns Interiors in Bethesda. “I thought they were really cool, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them.” Her inspiration came while she was considering how to decorate a long wall in her living room. Burns says she wanted to fill the wall with a collection of related items instead of a large piece, and decided to hang the letters, which are displayed in antique gold-leaf frames. “I like a story,” says Burns, noting that her guests often take time to read the letters, which are written in cursive on Air Force stationery, and ask about their origin. “I was really close to my grandparents, and I like to be surrounded by things that remind me of my family.”
An Outdoor Oasis
When interior designer Lauren Sachs built her contemporary home two years ago in Bethesda’s Bradley Hills neighborhood, she wanted to create the kind of outdoor living experience that she might find in Morocco or another country bordering the Mediterranean Sea. “The idea was to transport people from a typical Bethesda experience to someplace else—kind of like a vacation,” says the owner of Lauren Sachs Designs in Bethesda. “I’ve always been drawn to Morocco. I love the lighting, the furniture, the tile—I’m really drawn to the geometric elements and the intricate designs.” To create this style of ambiance, Sachs curated an outdoor living and dining area filled with nods to the Mediterranean that are mixed among modern comforts, including space heaters and a flat-screen TV. The covered porch, which overlooks the pool deck, features an outdoor fireplace lined with black and white Moroccan tile, metal lanterns from Turkey that hang from the walls, and souvenirs from Sachs’ Mediterranean vacations, including tall black and tan baskets from Athens that hold potted palms, and an intricate metal side table from Tel Aviv, Israel. The porch has ceiling heaters that allow Sachs, her husband, Gene, and two daughters, ages 22 and 25, to enjoy the outdoor space from March through November. According to Sachs, the family uses the space to watch football games, host dinner parties or just enjoy the sunset—the way one might during an island getaway.
A Modern Makeover
“I love updating vintage pieces to make them feel current,” says Bethesda-based interior designer Marika Meyer. “I love to reimagine pieces in a fresh way.” During an October 2016 visit to North Carolina’s High Point Market, which bills itself as the world’s largest furnishings industry trade show, Meyer stumbled upon the perfect canvas: a pair of 1950s-era chairs in good condition from Hickory Chairs. Though a new set of chairs from the company would retail for thousands of dollars, Meyer scooped up the vintage pair for $200 and brought them back to Montgomery County to work her magic. To update the chairs, she swapped out their mustard velvet fabric for a white and dark brown tribal print, adding fuchsia pipping to create contrast and a little edge. Now the chairs sit prominently in the living room of Meyer’s 1949 colonial-style Bethesda home, flanking a midcentury console to create a sitting area. The chairs quickly became family favorites—her husband often chooses to sit on one—and were treated to protect the fabric from stains left by the sticky fingers of Meyer’s 7- and 10-year-old sons. “[The chairs] make me so happy and really reflect my design aesthetic,” says Meyer, who founded Marika Meyer Interiors in 2007. “They are the first thing you see when you walk in the house, and they just bring a smile to my face.”
One of a Kind
“I love, love blue and white,” says Bethesda-based interior designer Kelley Proxmire as she describes the many countries—France, China, the Netherlands, etc.—that incorporate the coveted color scheme into their designs, ranging from pottery to sculpture. Of the many blue and white pieces in her personal collection, Proxmire’s favorite is an 18-inch-tall porcelain lion. Proxmire, who has worked as an interior designer for more than 20 years, purchased the lion for around $1,500 in the 1990s at a now-shuttered Georgetown shop that was owned by famed local interior designer Antony Childs. Though the lion’s origin is unclear, Proxmire speculates that it was created in Italy sometime during the 20th century. The lion, which has occupied many perches around her Italianate-style home in Bethesda, currently sits on a shelf in Proxmire’s foyer. It is surrounded by decorative blue and white china plates—purchased from local antiques stores and during her travels—that match the plate the lion holds in a paw. “I love one-of-a-kinds,” Proxmire says.
The All-Purpose Piece
Jodi Macklin happened upon her favorite piece of furniture during a routine buying trip to New York City six years ago. “It was in the front of the showroom and caught my eye immediately,” Macklin says of the 54-inch-square tufted leather ottoman she discovered at Suite NY, a designer furniture and home accessories store. “I loved the scale, texture and versatility of the piece.” Macklin purchased the caramel-colored ottoman for $6,500 to serve as the centerpiece of her contemporary family room, which she was redoing at the time to expand its functionality and seating capacity. Macklin, whose four children are ages 26, 24, 21 and 16, describes herself as “constantly entertaining,” hosting her large extended family for meals and Redskins games at her Cotswold-style home in Chevy Chase. “We’re 18 strong—and all local,” says Macklin, who owns Jodi Macklin Interior Design in Chevy Chase. Depending on the type of gathering, the ottoman, which is flanked by a coffee table and club chairs, provides extra seating or serves as a footrest or even a table for dining and playing board games. “This piece is certainly very functional, while adding an unexpected element,” Macklin says. “It’s a more traditional piece, but its scale and surrounding make it less so.”
Wall of Wonders
“I love pieces that reflect someone’s personality—that’s what makes them special,” Bethesda-based interior designer Wendy Danziger says. Danziger’s favorite place in her Bethesda townhouse is an 18-by-13-foot wall in her living room that features some of her most treasured items. “It’s a place to display things that mean something to us,” says the owner of Danziger Design. Most of the wall is dominated by a large cherry wood armoire that was purchased almost 20 years ago at Theodores, a home decor store in Georgetown, and currently stores Danziger’s china, serving pieces and linens. The armoire shares the wall with a set of glass shelves made by River Glass Designs in Rockville that hold pictures of Danziger’s 11-year-old granddaughter and late mother and father, in addition to pieces she picked up while traveling abroad. Among the displayed souvenirs are a gold-plated metal sculpture of a man and woman that Danziger purchased in Greece, a decorative plate from Argentina that features a red and black picture of a fish, and an orange-frosted contemporary glass vase from Prague. Next to the armoire sits what Danziger says is a particularly special piece: a 2-foot-tall wooden pear painted “a wonderful red shade” that belonged to her late mother-in-law.
Amanda Cherrin lives in Chevy Chase and is a former reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine.