Catrin & Chris’s “New Traditional” in Woodley Park

updated Jul 31, 2019
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Name: Catrin Morris, husband Chris, and daughters Lucy (4) and Miranda (2.5)
Location: Woodley Park, NW Washington DC
Size: 5 BR historic “Wardman” townhouse built in 1909
Years lived in: 3

Like probably many of you, I first spotted Catrin and Chris’s beautiful living room in Domino‘s 2007 decorating contest, and I immediately filed it away in my “dream house” folder. Well, my jaw quite literally dropped when that very same gorgeous living room appeared in the DC editorial inbox a few weeks ago as Catrin wrote in seeking advice for a new furniture arrangement. I knew right away that we needed to have a peek inside the rest of the house, and thankfully Catrin agreed!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

There is a lot to love about Catrin and Chris’s historic townhouse: the detailed plasterwork, the incredible natural light, the beautiful banisters and huge baseboards, and the list goes on. But as we all know, good bones aren’t everything; there are plenty of gorgeous DC homes that have been overwhelmed by fussy furnishings and dowdy decor. Their home, on the other hand, is refreshingly un-stodgy. The combination of Catrin’s modern-traditional pairings and easy-going attitude make for a home that is as inviting and comfortable as it is delightful to look at — not a common feat for a house bustling with two young children and a couple of (very cute) cats!

Every room seems to strike the right balance between old and new, laid back and formal, which means that every room, even the “formal” living room, gets used. Catrin explains that a lot of people think that antiques can’t hold up to children, but they’re often much sturdier than the dime-a-dozen furnishings that come from big chain stores — they’re built to last! And Catrin has ensured that hers will last by adding some protection — i.e., the slipcover on the antique camel back sofa — to the pieces that can use a little extra help. Catrin also seems to have both the right sense of humor and the ample space to be able to handle a home full of life and fine things. She admits that the family spends a lot of time in their “McMansion room” — the room on the third floor that’s home to their TV, computer, and big lounge-able furniture. On the main level, art supplies and toys can be tucked away in a pantry cabinet that’s easily accessible to her young daughters.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My/Our style: Eclectic. And, to steal from local designer Darryl Carter, I think my style could be called “new traditional.”

Inspiration: My parents, who took joy in collecting antiques and folk art and tchotchkes on their travels around the world. They taught me that decorating a house should be like telling a story of your life and travels. Their homes have always felt like beautifully composed paintings — but paintings you want to climb into and really live in. And they are still tinkering well into their 70s.

Favorite Element: The living room, with its ornate ceiling plasterwork. To me, this room is formal and elegant without being too stodgy or serious. In furnishing the room, I wanted to celebrate the age of the house (built in 1909) while also keeping the mood light and soothing.

I also love our spacious rooms, which you don’t normally find in a townhouse.

Biggest Challenge: Between the French doors, the endless radiators and all the windows, it can be hard to find a place to put furniture.

What Friends Say: “Children live here?”

Biggest Embarrassment: Some of the impulsive purchases I bought when we got the house because I so desperately wanted furniture and I wanted it NOW. I was 8 months pregnant and in a serious “nesting” crisis!

Biggest Indulgence: Antiques. I don’t spend a lot on couches and other upholstered new furniture but I splurge on antiques and iconic pieces that will never go completely out of fashion. Case in point: the Swedish barrel back chair and the Arco floor lamp.

I tend to splurge on key pieces but for accessories, folk art and “accent pieces” I turn to thrift stores, obscure websites and lesser-known designers. For basics (beds, bookshelves, kids’ furniture) I rely on the chain stores like Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and IKEA.

Best advice:
Don’t shop with a theme in mind or you will end up with a monochromatic house that looks like a showroom or a catalog. You should fall in love with the architecture or texture or originality of each particular piece — and then figure out where it will go later. I tend to like pieces that have beautiful curves and lines — from the winding, sinuous legs on the Spanish colonial table to graceful hump of the camelback sofa, to the striking arc of the Arco lamp.

I think that the best style is that which combines high-end with low-end, modern with antique, boutique with thrift-store. I try not to do too much of one style in any room, though I think I fell short of that goal in the dining room, which is decidedly old-fashioned and traditional.

I also believe that the home should be for the family. That means not just for the adults. But not just for the kids. For everyone. I don’t think having kids should mean turning your home into one big playroom. Having kids doesn’t mean giving up on style. I wanted the living room to be a zone where I can retain some semblance of style and formality. That said, I didn’t want the room to be off-limits to my kids, my cats or red wine drinkers, so I made some practical choices — a sturdy slipcover on the couch, a dark red Turkish rug, a lack of sharp edges. I guess I am an anomaly in a time when the “open-plan” kitchen or family-style “great room” is the norm. I believe that we underestimate kids. They do not have to have total free reign in every square inch of a home. Nor should they have to be banished from certain rooms. My kids can go anywhere they want but they have learned that certain rules apply to the living room, dining room and our bedroom. Still, even our more formal rooms have something for the kids to do. The key is finding a way to easily store the toys and games away when you want to free yourself of kid clutter (e.g. I put a collapsible tent castle in the dining room and there are crafts and toys tucked away discretely in every room of the house).

Dream source:

And I fantasize about antique/thrift store shopping in small towns (but this won’t happen for years given my kids’ ages!)

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:

•Appliances: JennAir range; LG Steam washing machine; nothing else exciting
•Hardware: Brass Knob in DC
•Rugs: Chilewich, antique oriental, Dash and Albert
•Linens: Restoration hardware sheets and towels. Simply the best.
•Pillows: I love Anthropologie, Thomas Paul (from
•Lamps: Random Harvest and Kellogg Collection, both local shops.
•Beds: Restoration Hardware works for us because we are tall people.
•Window Treatments: conveyed with house; custom
•Artwork: We need some! All random thrift store or from my talented uncle Stewart MacInnes, who lives in Australia
•Paint: Pratt Lambert in most rooms, William Morris wallpaper in all bathrooms
• Flooring: Many rooms on main floor is original untreated parquet from 100 yrs ago. Wall-to-wall carpeting in most bedrooms.

• Table -Saarinen tulip table in white laminate from
• Chairs from; fiberglass with wooden legs
• stools from burke décor (
• Kitchen rug by Chilewich

• Table -Saarinen tulip table in white laminate from
• Chairs from; fiberglass with wooden legs
• stools from burke décor (
• Kitchen rug by Chilewich

• Couches: Petrie from Crate and Barrel in stock color; camelback vintage from Random Harvest, which I had custom slip-covered.
• Coffee table from 1950s Danish modern teak.
• Coffee table-French antique purchased in Australian auction house
• Side tables: mid-century modern nesting tables from thrift store
• Lamp: Arco lamp by Flos. Purchased through
• 18th century Swedish barrel back chair from Tone on Tone in Bethesda MD (
• Lamp behind Crate and Barrel couch is also from Crate and Barrel
• Side pillows on camelback couch from Ralph Lauren fabric from Calico Corners
• Center pillow on camelback couch from anthropologie
• Lamp on round table from Kellogg Collection (
• French antique armchairs from Grant Antiques in Kensington MD (
• Pillows on armchairs from Gore Dean in Georgetown DC (
• Oriental rug from Turkey
• Painted bracket on wall (that holds up Swedish doll) is from Kellogg Collection (
• Vintage 1930s camelback sofa from Random Harvest (
• Swedish painted doll on bracket on the wall to the right of the fireplace is from Moss & Company, Oliver Dunn, and Catharine Roberts, 1657 Wisconsin Ave., Georgetown; 202-337-0540.
• Matching candle sticks on mantle from Moss & Company, Oliver Dunn, and Catharine Roberts
• African seed birds on mantle from South Africa
• African antique water jug on mantle from South Africa
• Vintage toy tricycle from thrift store
• Sculpture of film director from South Africa

• Table – William IV style mahogany antique from
• Chairs from auction house in Australia
• Flame mahogany commode from Random Harvest (
• Mirror on commode from Grant Antiques
• Shelves from Urban Country in Bethesda MD
• Slipper chairs inherited and recovered in white fabric
• Spanish Colonial side table (to right of mirror) from Tone on Tone (
• Glass lamp on Spanish Colonial side table from Random Harvest
• Flower decorations on Spanish Colonial table from Anthropologie
• Vase Alex Marshall from
• Oriental rug from auction in Australia

• Bed: Restoration Hardware
• Black chest drawers: Crate and Barrel
• Large Chest Drawers (“gentleman’s chest) from Kenny Ball Antiques in Charlottesville, VA (
• Antique mirror from auction house in Australia
• Lamps from Restoration Hardware

As they were when we purchased. Wallpaper by William Morris

• Bed Restoration Hardware
• Side table from Finials in Chevy Chase, DC
• Chest/armoire and changing table from Pottery Barn kids
• Rug Dash and Albert
• Lamp and mirror from Kellogg Collection
• Chair from Crate and Barrel
• Pillow from Thomas Paul (

• Bed Restoration Hardware
• Rug Pottery Barn
• Vintage chest of Drawers
• Chair from Blue House in Bethesda (floor model)
• Pottery Barn Kids chest of drawers
• Vintage side table I painted
• Art work -old posters from Cheshire Cat Children’s Book Store (a DC staple until the 90s)
• Pillow from Thomas Paul (

The TV/ “McMansion Room”
• Couch and Chaise and Restoration Hardware
• Coffee Table from urban Country

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks, Catrin!

Images: Leah Moss

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