Forgoing typical pops of color, a Potomac home gets prepped for summer with sophisticated splashes of fresh pattern and modern texture.
It’s hard to imagine this neutral home in Potomac Falls, Maryland, furnished in pastel yellow and sage green, but that is exactly how Bethesda-based interior designer Erica Burns first found it.
“The color scheme was rather dated,” says Burns. With three kids, the home “was really worn out. It didn’t feel cheery or bright, but dark and tired.”
Burns set about establishing a palette, but found there were no colors that both the husband and wife loved. The only agreement was a disinterest in bright hues, and in the end, the decision to go completely neutral prevailed.
“We settled on greige and ivory and pops of chocolate brown,” says Burns. “Greige is a great neutral. It doesn’t read yellow and beige, like a tan, or go too blue or cool, like a true gray.”
With a timeless, neutral palette in play, Burns looked to the current wealth of patterns, textures, and finishes to create interest, add detail, and ensure spaces never get dull. The key, she says, is in the mix.
“I’m seeing a lot of fresh takes on traditional patterns, which promise to become new classics.” —Erica Burns
“A lot of people get tired of color,” Burns says. “Neutrals are always on trend. But in this home, we achieved a fresh crispness through high contrast; instead of traditional black and white, we used chocolate and ivory for a warmer look.”
Burns removed the old sectional squeezed into a family room corner and brought in an English rolledarm sofa in chocolate brown, as well as double armchairs in a windowpane- checked print and a pair of quatrefoil-and-dot-patterned ottomans, with a nubby texture.
“I used the sofa to define the layout and add balance, so I picked a darker color for it to contrast against the off-white paint,” says Burns. “I also added tape trim, with nailhead, along its base for interest.”
Adding trim or piping to the edge or silhouette of furnishings has made a strong resurgence. In the living room Burns designed, ivory piping outlines the greige velvet of reupholstered sofas, and in the dining room, chocolate brown trim on curtains makes their geometric pattern stand out on a cream background.
“I wanted to create an interior that was crisp and clean-lined, yet interesting,” says Burns. “Since I wasn’t using a lot of color, I had to focus on the details, as well as layer in patterns, finishes, and textures.”
Reclaimed wood side tables in the family room repeat the ottomans’ quatrefoil pattern in their shapely tops; the square coffee table in the same space is lacquered white, with a textured raffia inset. “Lacquer is popular now, partly because it’s a safe way to do a trend,” adds Burns. “You can take a traditional piece of furniture and refresh it with shine.”
Burns further enlivens the neutral home with varied materials. She pairs porcelain, metallic, wood, and mercury-glass lamp bases with ivory lampshades. Her occasional table selection runs the gamut, including one of Lucite and another of stone and iron, both in the living room.
But perhaps the biggest strength in the home’s design comes from the effortless blending of contemporary patterns, playing with their different forms and scales, all while only working with neutral hues.
“I’m seeing a lot of fresh takes on traditional patterns, which promise to become new classics,” says Burns, who uses linear plaids, over-scale checks, and playful geometrics throughout the home. “Just because a pattern is neutral doesn’t mean it has to be boring or lack depth. It can pack as much punch as a bold color,” she adds.
The dining room began afresh in a textured Phillip Jeffries grasscloth wall covering. Although existing host-and-hostess chairs got reupholstered in petite houndstooth, the dining chairs are the real design stars.
“I found this crisp, large-scale pomegranate pattern,” says Burns.
After the fabric was applied to their backs, the chairs were given chocolate brown velvet seats. To balance the strong botanical, the curtains have a smaller geometric fretwork and dot pattern.
“The homeowners wanted timeless pieces, but nothing oldfashioned. They wanted a casual feel, nothing stuffy or formal. Everything I chose, whether fabric or furnishings, was classic with an updated look,” adds Burns.
To achieve the right balance in the dining room, Burns removed the fussy top off an existing hutch and created a useful buffet. Instead of a customary chandelier, she hung double whitewashed lanterns.
“From the beginning, to keep this home from becoming overwhelmingly neutral, I wanted to have pops of interest. This is something ordinarily done through a bright and contrasting color, but here we did it with patterns and materials—and sometimes, the unexpected.” Erica Burns, 202-262-5212