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Light Bright Downsize

An intimate apartment lives large and luminous thanks to designers Ashley Waddell and Courtney Whatley.

Written by Charlotte Safavi

For interior designers (and sisters) Ashley Waddell and Courtney Whatley, downsizing is a good thing. Especially when the duo, founders of the design firm Olivia O’Bryan, is being called upon to transition former clients—a couple with two grown children and a high school student—from a large house into a much smaller home, a 2,500-square-foot split-level apartment.

A dark antique chair stands out against the white background and serves as a handy spot for lightening an armload when coming in the front door. 

“It was important for them not to feel cramped,” says Waddell. Luckily, the new space is bright and airy, with large windows facing east so lots of morning light comes in. “We all love the light,” Waddell says. “You don’t feel like you’re in an apartment; it reads like
a house.”

The expansiveness of the home also comes from an open floor plan and crisp white finishes. All the walls and even the ceilings are painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Super White”—matte on walls and satin on moldings. The oak floors are glossy gray-white.

“White creates a clean slate and highlights the architectural details,” says Whatley. “We chose it as a neutral backdrop to make the apartment feel open, fresh, and airy. Depending on the time of day, it takes on different hues, reading more blue or gray.”

Double brass pendants stand out against the kitchen’s white cabinets and quartz counters. To maintain continuity with the living area, yet define the dining area as a space of its own, Waddell and Whatley installed curtains and rods in the same materials but made the curtains café length. Floral accent pillows by Romo reflect the lavender linen fabric on an adjacent sofa. 

The white foundation also works with the Moorish-meets-midcentury decor that the homeowners wanted. In the dining area and kitchen, a Saarinen dining table blends seamlessly with hanging pendant lights that exhibit a Moorish influence. Contemporary fabric covers midcentury chairs in the living area. Gray, sea-glass blue, and green, plus an unexpected touch or two of lavender, pop against the otherwise white palette.

“The clients had existing midcentury pieces that they wanted to blend with newer furnishings to impart a collected look,” says Waddell. 

A white linen sectional from Lauralee Furniture defines the sitting area. An iron curtain rod adds a punch of black along with midcentury-inspired floor lamps from Circa Lighting. 

On the first floor, which encompasses the main living area, an open floor plan provides an easy flow between living and dining rooms and on into the kitchen. Three bedrooms and a small den occupy the home’s upstairs.

An iron-leg table with a marble top multitasks as a sofa table, a desk, and extra dining space. The antique staircase model on top adds interest.

Casual and formal furnishings mingle easily throughout the home. In the living area, a silk rug is layered over an abaca rug; art hangs above the TV on the fireplace wall.

“The homeowners like to entertain and wanted to have a formal space that also functioned as a family room, so we had to always keep this in mind,” Whatley says. 

Instead of filling the high-traffic space with a central dining table and chairs, designers Ashley Waddell and Courtney Whatley added a built-in banquette against one wall, grouping it with dining chairs around a Saarinen table. 

In the dining area, the designers opted for a banquette to allow for easy traffic flow, but incorporated a dressier tufted back to add a hint of formality.

They also created a pretty sitting area—complete with a small-scale lavender linen sofa—adjacent to the bar nook where guests can linger during parties. 

Opposite the dining area, a custom sofa sits pretty in lavender linen by Walfab.  

There’s always room for a well-stocked bar! The designers delineated this small nook with a subtly patterned wallpaper. 

“We like to create unexpected seating areas,” Waddell explains. “It’s all about adding unexpected interest in smaller spaces— instead of just designing a typical room.”

A dark-gray painted dresser creates a striking still life. A settee in a warm neutral linen by Kravet and a pair of antique side chairs create a cozy seating area. The banana silk rug adds subtle pattern.

 African baskets serve as striking wall art in the upstairs den.

Tips of the Trade

“When downsizing, it’s important to conceive of spaces and furnishings that serve two or more purposes,” says Ashley Waddell. Here’s how she and partner Courtney Whatley suggest clients downsize gracefully:

  • Make pieces multitask. “Use benches and ottomans that can work as side tables or spare seating. Have a sofa table that is of the right scale and dimension to serve as a dining table or work desk.”
  • Redefine your space. “Create different areas within the same room and layer rugs to delineate them.”
  • Play musical chairs “Use dining chairs in different rooms and put them to varied use as side, dining, or foyer chairs.”

Photography: Jessica Glynn