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Updated Federal-Style Home

Alexander Hamilton, meet Florence Knoll— Surprising pairings set the story line for a family-friendly Washington, D.C., home designed by Lauren Liess

Written by Sally Finder Weepie
  • Helen Norman

    Federal style has lived in this Washington, D.C.-area house since it was built, and it still feels absolutely comfortable here. Yet Mies van der Rohe wouldn’t hesitate to pull up a modernist chair—or kick back on a kidproof slipcovered sofa. It’s all part of the fusion formed by Lauren Liess, one of Traditional Home’s 2017 class of New Trad designers.

    “This is an older home that hadn’t been touched in years,” Liess says. “We modernized it to fit a growing family. Now it feels fresh but still has a traditional vibe in keeping with a Federal home.”

    Before the renovation, the house was gutted to the studs so some rooms could be reshaped for contemporary living. The impact of the change is evident from the first step inside the navy blue front door. “The architects moved the original stairs and designed a two-story foyer,” Liess says. “Being able to see both the first and second floors in one glance is amazing.”

    The front door, clad in “Dark Night” from Sherwin-Williams, introduces a thread of blue that weaves through the house.

    Photography: Helen Norman  
    Produced by Mike Grady

    Interior designer: Lauren Liess, Great Falls, Virginia; 571/926-7825;;

    Door paint “Dark Knight”: Sherwin-Williams;

  • Helen Norman

    Entry Hall

    Navy stair risers, echoing the color of the door, ascend along with a wood banister to the airy white-painted upper hall, where built-in bookshelves embrace a light-drenched window seat. To match the scale of the soaring space, the designer hung a massive multi-arm globe chandelier. Its modern, Stilnovo-esque edge drops a not-so-subtle hint: While this family lives in a Federal home—and respects its heritage—they love a modern look.

    A stately paneled hall guides main-level traffic to the living room.

  • Helen Norman

    Inviting Living Room

    The amalgam continues in the living room, where a slipcovered sofa converses with Barcelona chairs—the image captured in a -Federal-style convex mirror. Clean-lined moldings, painted a beige-tinged gray, pop against white walls, while hits of color on drapery trim and pillow covers are juxtaposed with the stateliness of the fireplace surround. “A mix of old and new feels young and fresh but doesn’t forget where the house came from,” Liess says.

    Eras—and a young family—come together in this space, an easy blend of Federal, midcentury, and contemporary elements.

    Trim paint “Richmond Gray” HC-96: Benjamin Moore;
    Armless chairs “Barcelona Chairs by Mies van der Rohe”: Knoll;
    Table flanked by chairs “Colmar White Marble Round Pedestal Table” by Noir Furniture, three-leg tables flanking sofa similar available as “Alanis Teak Side Table”: Luxe Décor;
    Gilt-framed artwork similar available from the Abstract Landscape collection: Natural Curiosities;
    Coffee table, mirror, ottomans, sofa homeowners’ collection.

  • Helen Norman

    Modern Moment

    Abstract art from Natural Curiosities brings a modern touch to the Federal home.

  • Helen Norman

    Blue Kitchen

    Eras also convivially mingle in the kitchen. A soapstone-topped oiled-walnut island sets a classic tone that’s furthered by a backsplash of white subway tile. “The tile is handmade and completely flat for an authentic historical look,” Liess says. “We used thin grout lines in charcoal to let the tile stand out.”

    Tile from Subway Ceramics nods to history while metal elements, including pendants from Visual Comfort, speak to today. A soapstone top contrasts the walnut island base and Silestone perimeter counters.

    Cabinet paint “Dark Knight”: Sherwin-Williams;
    Backsplash tile Subway Ceramics;
    Cooktop Wolf Appliance, Inc.;
    Wine cooler Sub-Zero;
    Microwave oven Miele, Inc.;
    Dining table custom: Lorimer Studios;
    Fabric for draperies “Moth Wing” in Navy from the Lauren Liess Textiles collection: Lauren Liess;
    Pendants at island “Eugene,” and pendant light fixture at kitchen table “Linear Pendant Ceiling Light,” both by Visual Comfort: through Circa Lighting;

  • Helen Norman

    Bold in Blue

    The white canvas stands in sharp contrast to banks of navy blue cabinets. “The family loves color, especially blue, so I wanted to bring that out on the kitchen cabinetry,” Liess says. “Blue is the linchpin throughout the main floor.”

    A Wolf cooktop teams with a custom bronze hood, catering to the family’s culinary adventures.

  • Helen Norman

    Casual Dining

    A separate blue-painted cabinet, home to a coffee station and wine bar, sits ready to serve the informal dining area. Here, Liess teamed Windsor chairs—hers are a “cleaner take” on traditional style—with a soft banquette. “It’s covered in faux leather, so the kids can do their worst,” Liess says with a smile.

    Metals are also part of the medley here. “I like a mix of metals—unlacquered brass, stainless steel, and then bronze on the hood,” Liess says. “It feels collected.”

    Casual dining takes place at a handcrafted Lorimar Studios table off the kitchen, where a built-in with a coffee station and wine refrigerator adeptly handles both A.M. and P.M. traffic.

  • Helen Norman

    Formal Dining Room

    In the formal dining space, a slightly darker wall color sets a moodier, more intimate vibe. An antique mahogany table pairs with side chairs slipcovered in a charcoal-hue linen that meshes with a modern light fixture. Sparked by hints of green in her curtain fabric, Liess covered Art Deco-inspired host chairs with bold velvet.

    The antique table and a mix of chairs sit beneath a sleek Currey & Company “Jean-Louis” chandelier.

    Chairs: Lee Industries;
    Lighting “Jean-Louis Chandelier” by Currey & Co.: through Ferguson;
    Table and glass-front storage cabinets, both antiques: homeowners’ collection.

  • Helen Norman


    Metallic grass cloth crowns the dining room with subtle shimmer. Dinnerware tucks into a built-in walnut cabinet next to the formal dining space.

  • Helen Norman

    Family Room

    The colorful family room is ready for anything: Kid-friendly linen armchairs and a pair of sofas are suited for movie-watching or conversation; a cozy window seat perfect for naps and reading is fortified with throw pillows; and a built-in desk in the corner is ready to tackle homework or bill-paying.

  • Helen Norman

    Family Room

    Above the console table, the lively colors of the room are echoed in a piece of art.

  • Helen Norman

    Sun Porch

    The palette gets toned down on the neutral sun porch where the family likes to host football parties. Accordion-style porch doors open up completely, allowing guests to spill out onto the patio while still keeping an eye on the score of the game.

  • Helen Norman


    This petite mudroom is clean and orderly. Wooden crates stash boots and shoes while cabinet doors keep unsightly items tucked away. Hooks on the wall at high and low heights allow children and adults alike a spot to hang their belongings.

  • Helen Norman

    Library Landing

    Visible from the entry, the family’s library creates an artlike element on the upstairs landing.

  • Helen Norman

    Master Bedroom

    Greens and blues, showing their soft side, reappear in upstairs rooms. “I wanted the master bedroom to feel fresh, airy, and light,” Liess says. Morning sun streaming against desaturated gray-blue walls sets the desired mood. Bedcoverings and curtains—layered over woven blinds—continue the calm, light look while a floral pillow fabric and a simple stripe on a settee infuse just the right zip.

    An antique trunk and a vintage lamp bring age and character to this modern sanctuary.

    Bed “Emilio”: Verellen;
    Settee “Jacen Footboard Sofa”: Vanguard Furniture;
    Bedding: Peacock Alley;
    Fabric for floral pillow “Tree of Life” in Blue from the Jasper collection: Michael S Smith, Inc.;
    Trunk and lamp, both antique: homeowners’ collection.

  • Helen Norman

    Master Bath

    Liess used hexagonal floor tiles in the master bath to get the traditional feel fitting of a Federal-style home. She juxtaposed them with a modern floating vanity.

  • Helen Norman

    Charming Guest Room

    Down the hall, a sunflower-print paper covering both the walls and the ceiling gives a cozy, old-fashioned attitude to the attic-like guest bedroom, where a modern camel-hue headboard contrasts a menagerie of vintage furniture pieces.

    Wallcovering “Botanique Spectaculaire”: Cowtan & Tout;
    Chair and lamps, antiques, headboard: homeowners’ collection.

  • Helen Norman

    Vintage Finds

    Cowtan & Tout “Botanique Spectaculaire” wallpaper covers the guest quarters in coziness. A vintage chair and lamps comfortably share space with a new dresser that boasts the classic look of lacquered bamboo.

  • Helen Norman

    Kids' Room

    Cheerful color makes for a sweet kids' room. To get the children involved in the design process, Liess let them pick the pretty blue color used for their headboards.

  • Helen Norman

    Designer Portait

    Everywhere in this house, history lingers—never obtrusively, always willing to bend to the life and style of a modern couple and their kids. “The family and the house,” Liess says, “became the perfect blend.”

    Designer Lauren Liess

  • Werner Straube