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Handsome, Traditional Townhome

Designer Mary Douglas Drysdale channels historic charm to restore a 1920 townhouse on Embassy Row

Written by Brielle M. Ferreira
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  • Ron Blunt

    In certain circles in Washington, D.C., asking the question “Who has the best dining room in the city?” won’t score you the address to a posh new restaurant or even directions to the White House. Instead, it will lead you down the tree-lined streets of Kalorama to the front door of Barbara and Bill Sullivan’s home. There, on the second floor of their handsome townhouse, is a light-filled, paneled room—complete with a painstakingly rendered painted dining table, a hand-stenciled floor, and a dazzling crystal chandelier—that’s more exclusive than any reservation in town. “Almost everyone who’s seen it has fallen in love with it,” Barbara says. “I know I did.”

    While the Sullivans like to keep their guest lists small, there’s always space at the table for one person in particular: interior designer Mary Douglas Drysdale. Like the ornate fireplace surround in the entry foyer, Drysdale has become a fixture of the home; she’s been working to restore the classical jewel box to its full potential for more than 20 years. “I worked on the interiors for the previous owners and was brought on again when it was time for its new family to renovate,” she says. “It’s really evolved just as I have.”

    Sometimes, however, in order to move forward, one must first go back—all the way back to 1924 when the home was built to the design of local architect Robert O. Scholz. By the time the Sullivans moved in, most of the home’s founding architectural elements had been lost to a host of overambitious remodels, so they turned to Drysdale to help them replace what had been stripped away, encouraging her to reintroduce elements like beautiful crown moldings, friezes, paneling, and wood trim. “We love Mary’s taste and what she had done for the previous owners,” Barbara says. “We even ended up buying a lot of the furniture she had initially selected for them when we first moved in, so we knew that she was the one for the job.”

    Designer Mary Douglas Drysdale made the foyer’s original fireplace a focal point by placing an 18th-century gilded overdoor with a bolection mirror on the mantel. 

    Photography: Ron Blunt
    Produced by Jenny Bradley

    Interior design: Mary Douglas Drysdale, Mary Douglas Drysdale Inc., 2026 R St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; 202/588-0700, marydouglasdrysdale.com  

    Mirror on mantel (English Regency); andirons (English): antique.
    Art flanking mantel (by Per Kirkeby): owner’s collection.
    Settee: John Saladino, Saladino Style, saladinostyle.com.
    Mirror over settee: Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.
    Ottoman (custom): Mary Douglas Drysdale, marydouglasdrysdale.com.
    Ottoman fabric (“Couture Interlace N.5”/Clay #9708-4): Glant Couture, glant.com.  

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    Tailored Foyer Decor

    “I’m a tailored person,” Barbara says, “and the house is, too. Every detail has been carefully considered. There’s nothing frilly or fussy.” As much as Drysdale has a soft spot for history and preservation, she’s taken great pleasure in ushering out the furnishings, little by little, that the Sullivans had held onto from the previous owners. “They had saved lots of lovely decorative pieces,” she explains, “but those pieces didn’t feel like they belonged here anymore. The house has grown up. It has a simplicity and a directness to it. It almost doesn’t need anything else.”

    There is one exception: the various animal prints that appear on a throw pillow and on the cushions of six antique chairs in the entry foyer. “I’m never giving those up,” says Barbara with a laugh. “I love them. They make people take a second look, and at the end of the day, that’s what I hope people take away with them when they visit us: that they’ve been to a warm, inviting home that offers up a little bit of a surprise in each and every room.”

    Animal prints from Kravet (on Regency-style chairs) appeal to homeowner Barbara Sullivan’s sense of fun.

    Commode (“Breakfront Cabinet” #5332): Baker, bakerfurniture.com.
    Art over commode (by Maxwell MacKenzie): Cross MacKenzie Gallery, crossmackenzie.com.
    Black vase: Hines & Co. Showroom, 202/484-8200.
    Sculpture: J. Lambeth Showroom, 202/646-1774.
    Flooring: limestone.
    Area rug: Patterson, Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
    Chair: antique.
    Chair fabric (“Plush Tigress” #29179): Kravet, kravet.com.
    Ottoman (custom): Mary Douglas Drysdale, marydouglasdrysdale.com.
    Ottoman fabric (“Couture Interlace N.5”/Clay #9708-4): Glant Couture, glant.com

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    Beautiful Living Room

    Drysdale started on the home’s lower level, designing custom millwork and choosing new marble flooring for the sitting area off the formal living room, in order to bring a touch of historic charm to the formerly haphazard, too-modern addition.

    A neutral palette allows the focus to remain on the strong, traditional lines of the living room furniture, such as the “Marler” sofa and “Virginia” chair from Hickory Chair, both upholstered in Manuel Canovas fabric. 

    Walls (custom): glaze by Rising Tide Inc., risingtideinc.us.
    Area rug; secretary: Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.
    Art (by Lyn Horton): Cross MacKenzie Gallery, crossmackenzie.com.
    Sofa (“Marler Sofa” #108-80); lounge chairs (“Virginia Chair” #1527-24, by Suzanne Kasler): Hickory Chair, hickorychair.com.
    Sofa and lounge-chair fabric (“Savannah”/Ecru #4575-03, by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Pillow on sofa (“Overland Desert” #16476.16): Kravet, kravet.com.
    Coffee table: owner’s collection.
    Wooden arm chair (“Governor Alston Arm Chair” #2543, Historic Charleston Collection); pedestal table; pillows on lounge chairs: discontinued.
    Side chairs at table: antique.
    Fabric on side chairs (“Panthera”/Black, Gold #BF10129.960, by GP&J Baker): Lee Jofa, leejofa.com.

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    Blue-and-White Kitchen

    Drysdale's next step was to turn her attention to the kitchen. While the space had plenty of pretty natural light, it wasn’t taking advantage of it, which made it feel heavy and unwelcoming. Armed with a large stack of paint chips and fabrics, Drysdale sat down with Barbara to find the ideal colors that would lend energy and excitement to the room.

    “I must have showed her about 375 options because I needed to find her the perfect shade of blue,” Drysdale recalls. “Barbara’s a wonderful cook, but she spends a lot of time traveling for work. I wanted her to be able to walk into the kitchen and have it feel like a breath of fresh air.” Together, the two decided on a silk checkered fabric for the draperies that would accomplish just that, while also setting the groundwork for the rest of the room’s design.

    A generous dose of blue in the Cowtan & Tout checked silk curtains and in the Duralee fabric for the cushions on the Michael Taylor chairs infuses the room with a fresh, calming vibe, as do the Niermann Weeks chandelier and the painted floors by Billet Collins.

    Wall and cabinet paint: custom.
    Cabinetry (custom): designed by Mary Douglas Drysdale, marydouglasdrysdale.com.
    Cabinetry hardware: Top Knobs, topknobs.com.
    Drapery: discontinued.
    Chandelier (“Italian Chandelier”): Niermann Weeks, niermannweeks.com.
    Dining table: owner’s collection.
    Decorative finish on table: Billet Collins, billetcollins.com.
    Dining chairs (“White Arm Chair” #0700): Michael Taylor Designs, michaeltaylordesigns.com.
    Chair-seat fabric (“Silk Ottoman” in Ivory and Aqua, discontinued): Clarence House, clarencehouse.com.
    Pillows on dining chairs: Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.

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    Kitchen Table

    The frieze detailing on the crown moldings is the same shade of blue that appears on the matching cushions atop the Regency-style chairs at the kitchen table.

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    Formal Dining Room

    By contrast to the kitchen, the rest of the house is done in soothing, neutral tones that appeal to Barbara’s love of fuss-free, no-nonsense design.

    In the dining room, a Niermann Weeks chandelier presides over this elegant space. Armless 18th-century dining chairs with slipcovers crafted from Rogers & Goffigon fabric surround a Baker table, which, like the stenciled floors, was painted by Tom Hickey. 

    Decorative painting: Rising Tide Inc., risingtideinc.us.
    Dining table; secretary: Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.
    Dining chairs; mirror on mantel; urn on secretary: antique.
    Chandelier (“Swedish Crystal Chandelier”): Niermann Weeks, niermannweeks.com.
    Drapery (#26409-23, discontinued): Kravet, kravet.com.

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    Classic Secretary

    A charmingly detailed secretary, a classic Drysdale design staple, dominates the wall opposite the dining table.

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    Homeowner Portrait

    Homeowner Barbara Sullivan poses in her much-admired dining room.

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    Lovely Home Library

    Art by Maryanne Pollock hangs above the green velvet sofa in the Sullivan's home library. Bookshelves were custom designed by Drysdale.

    Paint: custom.
    Area rug; coffee table; sofa; art behind sofa (by Maryanne Pollock); octagonal end tables: Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.
    Lounge chair: Michael Taylor Designs, michaeltaylordesigns.com.
    Sofa and lounge-chair fabric (green velvet): Yoma Textiles, yoma.com.
    Bookshelves: designed by Mary Douglas Drysdale, marydouglasdrysdale.com.
    Art seen through door (by Maxwell MacKenzie): Cross MacKenzie Gallery, crossmackenzie.com.

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    Neutral Master Suite

    The master suite—which makes use of most of the home’s third floor and includes the Sullivans’ bedroom and bath, as well as a study for Bill and an office for Barbara—is calm and cohesive thanks to the creams, grays, and beiges that pervade the spaces. There are no loud colors or busy patterns; the important thing here is that each room fulfills its purpose, whether it’s to allow the couple a place to finish work or indulge in a little relaxation.

    Walls (naive graining): Rising Tide Inc., risingtideinc.us.
    Area rug: J. Brooks Designer Floors, 703/698-0790.
    Bed (custom): Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.
    Headboard, bed-cover and drapery fabric (“Trapunto”/Igloo #93105-06): Rogers & Goffigon, 203/532-8068.
    Bed linens: D. Porthault, dporthaultparis.com.
    Throw on bed (“Shetland”/Camel and Beige #4677-07, by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Art (by John Brown): Cross MacKenzie Gallery, crossmackenzie.com.
    Bedside tables: custom.

  • Ron Blunt

    Colorful Artwork

    Framed photographs by John Brown from Cross MacKenzie Gallery offer the sole bit of color in the homeowners’ sanctuary, joining neutral accessories like the oversize rug from Patterson, Flynn & Martin, as well as bedding and drapery crafted from the same Trapunto fabric in Igloo from Rogers & Goffigon. 

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    Whitewashed Chest

    A silver sunburst mirror from Baker shines above the three-drawer chest from the Drysdale collection. Beige "Ocelot" fabric on the antique chairs adds pizazz. 

    Three-drawer chest: Drysdale Collection, 202/588-0700.
    Mirror over chest (“Sunburst Mirror”/Silver #7013S): Baker, bakerfurniture.com.
    Chairs; figurines on chest: antique.
    Chair fabric (“Ocelot”/Ecru, Beige #10877-01): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Candlesticks on chest: Holly Hunt, hollyhunt.com

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    Master Bathroom Tub

    The mirror above the deep soaking tub in the bath reflects a double vanity on the opposite wall.

    Tub; faucets; sconces: Waterworks, waterworks.com.
    Vanity: design by Mary Douglas Drysdale, marydouglasdrysdale.com.
    Mirror (“Sunburst Mirror”/Silver #7013S): Baker, bakerfurniture.com.
    Walls and surfaces (custom glazed and antiqued): Rising Tide Inc., risingtideinc.us.
    Chair: antique.
    Chair fabric (“Ocelot”/Ecru, Beige #10877-01): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com

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    Traditional Gray Study

    Artist Maryanne Pollock’s contemporary painting over the fireplace adds an unexpected edge to Bill Sullivan’s personal escape off the master bedroom, which is otherwise as traditional as they come, with gray paneled walls, a Rose Tarlow sabre leg chair, and an R. Jones sofa. 

    Walls (custom glaze): Rising Tide Inc., risingtideinc.us.
    Art over mantel: by Maryanne Pollock, maryannepollock.com.
    Area rug (solid gray sisal): Patterson Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
    Wooden arm chair (“White Arm Chair” #0700): Michael Taylor Designs, michaeltaylordesigns.com.
    Sofa (“Lindsay Sofa”): R. Jones & Assoc., rjones.com.
    Ottoman (custom, “Cocktail Ottoman” #7168-53): Hickory Chair, hickorychair.com.
    Sofa and ottoman fabric (“Featherweight”/Green Tea, discontinued): Kravet, kravet.com.
    Pillow with velvet dots (“Broome Velvet”/colorway discontinued #GWF 2915-11, by Groundworks): Lee Jofa, leejofa.com.
    Drapery (“Neptune”/Silver #8821-02, by Larsen): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Art to right of mantel (by Lyn Horton): Cross MacKenzie Gallery, crossmackenzie.com.
    Tray on ottoman: Timothy Paul Collection, 202/234-2020.

  • Ron Blunt

    Townhome Exterior

    Renovations to the 1924 house continued outdoors with elegant, classic plantings.

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