Victoria & Michael's Sunny Art-Filled Home in DC

Victoria & Michael's Sunny Art-Filled Home in DC

Catrin Morris
Oct 1, 2012


Name: Victoria "Tory" and Michael
Location: Washington, D.C.
Size: 1350 sq.ft.
Years lived in: 7, Owned

Within minutes, it was pretty obvious that Victoria (Tory) and Michael are patient, thoughtful and thorough people. The first thing I noticed when visiting their condo in a lovely old building in northwest Washington D.C. was the remarkable collection of artwork Tory has collected over the years, a collection that transverses an eclectic array of styles, value and media. Collecting works of art takes time. It takes patience. But it also takes courage.

Indeed, Tory has developed a assured and adventurous gift for discovering artistic gems at all manner of venues, from craft shows, galleries to online stores. Tory knows what she likes (and has a terrific artistic sensibility!) and is confident enough to take risks — but at the same time she takes a careful and studied approach to building her art collection.

I think Tory's relationship with art spills over into the rest of her design aesthetic, which she calls "streamlined English." Every small step has been savored and executed with a joyful studiousness, from choosing fabrics to picking out light fixtures. The style is certainly formal and traditional, but it is not generic or overly orchestrated. The walls are stacked with the books of a voracious reader. And each chair, lamp or knick knack has a story behind it; these are rooms that have evolved slowly, with care, deliberation, and a genuine and joyful love of design.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Streamlined English.

Inspiration: My college roommate's mother. Her house is a wonderful mix of heirlooms, art and crafts collected from stints overseas, and family photos. She has a great eye for proportion; she told me (and she's right!) to look for narrow arms on sofas and upholstered chairs.

Favorite Element: The pendant light in the kitchen (Roll & Hill, Bluff City Pendant), which was an inspired choice born out of frustration. We had a schoolhouse-style, flush-mounted light in that spot and every time the bulb needed replacing we had to balance on our 5' ladder and fiddle with the tiny screws that held it in place. And then I realized, "We don't have to do this. We can get a pendant. A pendant with a bulb that is installed from below." Et voilà. So much easier.

Biggest Challenge: Michael's office, which is a work in progress. Michael, a writer, moved in shortly before we married in 2010. At that time, the office was a screened-in sleeping porch — a solarium design that is frequently found in apartment buildings of 1920s vintage in Washington DC. We had the space winterized (windows, insulated walls, weatherproofing) last year. Now we're trying to pick out window shades, a wall color, and cabinetry that will suit Michael's needs for an efficient and ergonomically comfortable office and my wish for a space that doesn't look like a cubicle.

Quirkiest Feature: Michael's model of the starship Enterprise, which sits elegantly amidst the art, sculpture and modern light fixtures in our living room. Michael's taste in furniture ran (as he puts it) to Late Twentieth-Century Graduate Student and when we moved in together, he was happy to defer to my taste. The Enterprise was, however, one of the few things that Michael did want to see in our shared home. I think it's charming.

What Friends Say: "Your cats are ruining that sofa/chairs/rug." It's true. One of our cats is an irrepressible, unstoppable furniture scratcher. So, I buy extra fabric whenever I have anything recovered and then have damaged sections reupholstered as needed. Having pets keeps me from thinking that I can keep things (anything, really) perfect. And isn't a fluffy cat with a poker face better than a perfect sofa?

Biggest Embarrassment:
The floor in the hall bathroom. It's a white 1-inch hexagonal tile with white grout. It's impossible to keep clean. I thought the small tile would be the right scale for a small bathroom — but I was mistaken. It looks busy and the surface area is probably 20-25 percent grout, which is harder to clean than tile. We're going to replace it with a larger tile (3" hexagonal) and grey grout.

Proudest DIY: I went to Galbraith & Paul's sample sale last December and scooped up a bunch of fabric remnants and then made some throw pillows from them. This is a pretty sad accomplishment in the universe of Apartment Therapy DIY, but it was really fun to see the G&P studio and very satisfying to resurrect my sewing skills.

Best Practical Advice: If you're moving into a new apartment and the floors need refinishing — refinish all of them before you move in. If you're trying to spread renovation costs over a period of years, hold off on some other aspect of the work because you'll never want to deal with the inconvenience of refinishing floors once you've moved in.

Best Philosophical Advice: You should never feel bad about spending money on art. It's important to support working artists.

Best General Advice: It takes time to furnish a home. This apartment reflects acquisitions made over the last 16 years. If you are just starting out and aren't
rolling in cash, you should buy yourself one comfortable, beautiful upholstered chair
(with arms) for reading. You'll feel pleased every time you look at it and every
time you sit in it. And a chair can move easily from one room to another or one
apartment to another as your life changes.

Dream Sources: Odegard (rugs), Madeline Weinrib (fabric), George Smith (new furniture), Raoul Textiles (fabric), John Rosselli (antique furniture).

Resource List:

In DC: Random Harvest (for vintage and new furniture); Antique Row in Kensington MD (antique, but not precious, furniture); Woven History (rugs); the Washington Craft Show (ceramics and other objects); Susan Calloway Fine Arts (fine art, antique prints); Gallery Plan B (fine art); Chevy Chase Gallery (framing); Framesmith DC (framing); Timothy Paul Bedding & Home (for bedding, throw pillows, tableware); Tabletop (tableware and a great place to buy a gift when you have no idea of what to get); Woodridge Upholsterers; Silver Spring Furniture Service (furniture refinishing).

Further afield (places that I have visited or found on the Internet): John Derian, New York City (decorative plates, trays, platters and objects); Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, CA (fine art photography); Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art, Calgary, Alberta (Canada) (fine art).

• Paint: Benjamin Moore Golden Groves (50% formula)
• The hall table is a classic Parsons table that I scavenged from my building's loading
dock when a neighbor discarded it. Underneath the table are two litter boxes for our cats - a brilliant solution to a common apartment puzzle. The tablecloth is a Galbraith & Paul fabric (Tulip in Persimmon).
• The chair came from Baker's annual floor sample sale and the cushion is covered with another Galbraith & Paul fabric (Small Star) - one that I picked up very cheaply at Galbraith & Paul's annual sample sale.

• Paint: Benjamin Moore Cottontail
• The sofa is from Ethan Allen, covered in a Kravet linen. The throw pillows are made from Pollack (Blossom) and Donghia (Prism) fabrics - which are expensive; but throw pillows are reasonable place to splurge, because it doesn't take much fabric to make a pillow (and both manufacturers had no prohibitive yardage minimums).
• The other chairs are from Random Harvest. The barrel chairs are covered in a fabric from Calico Corners (Rebecca). The chaise is covered with another Pollack fabric (Hanabishi).
• I like a trunk for a coffee table; it may not be the most elegant choice, but the extra storage is valuable.

• Paint: Benjamin Moore Crowne Hill Yellow
• The fabric is Muriel Brandolini.
• The light fixture is the Collage Pendant by Louis Poulsen.
• The butler's tray table is from Red Egg.
• The chest of drawers, table and end chairs came from Random Harvest.

• Benjamin Moore Rock Harbor Violet
• Cabinetry: Kraft Maid
• Light fixture: Roll & Hill
• The table and chairs were purchased at stores on Antique Row in Kensington MD. The table has leaves that slide out from under the top, extending its width from 36 inches to 60 inches. In my last apartment, which didn't have a formal dining room, this piece served as a dining table and desk in the living room. The chairs were re-upholstered in cotton duck fabric that cost less that $10/yard; the welting was made from a toile that was nearly as cheap.

• Benjamin Moore Boardwalk
• The library chair was a salvage from my office - in 1995! It was battered and needed to be refinished and re-upholstered.
• The sofa is from Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, slipper chair from Random Harvest.

* The round table is a pretty campaign style occasional table, slipcovered in a Galbraith & Paul fabric (Ovals in Tobacco and Red). The other fabric-covered table was very cheap and is very ugly - I think it was advertised as suitable for the waiting area of a doctor's office; I bought it to hold books and a lamp, and knew that I would cover it.

• Benjamin Moore Bird's Egg

Paint: Benjamin Moore White Chocolate
• The headboard is slipcovered in a fabric from Calico Corners.
• The chest of drawers cost $45 at the Georgetown Flea Market in 1994.
• The pictures hanging over the bed are three slides that I bought from a vendor at Eastern Market for $5 each.
• The rug is from Woven History.
• The large pastel was painted by Michael's grandmother.

• Benjamin Moore G.I. Green
• I like open shelves for storage, but they have to be maintained tidily. In addition to flower pots and odd glasses, I used clear, acrylic boxes from the Container Store for holding supplies. I cut up an old Graham & Snowe calendar to make paper linings for some of these boxes so that no one can see what's inside.
• I like art in the bathroom, but I wouldn't put anything valuable in there because of water and humidity. The Marie Antoinette drawing/collage is actually a birthday card - proving that a generous 8-ply mat can turn the humblest piece into art.

• The chair is Embody by Herman Miller.
• The ergonomic split keyboard is made by Goldtouch.
• The painting of Michael's beloved cat (recently deceased), Elvis, is by Dina Kuhar of Visual Content, a talented artist and graphic designer.

Thanks, Tory and Michael!

(Images: Lauren Ackil Photography)

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