Written by Krissa Rossbund
Photographs by Francesco Lagnese
Produced by Eileen A. Deymier
Just as in television, where shows follow a proven formula, design also tends to stick to orthodox techniques that dependably result in function, beauty, and style: A collection of blue-and-white porcelain, a comfy leather club chair, and a crystal chandelier all aim to please. And they deliver.
But when designer Barbara Franceski envisioned the scheme for her own town house, she didn’t follow the usual script. Instead, she relied on personal taste to give her home a style both spirited and hip.
&“Your house should make you happy,” says Barbara. “I encourage my clients to think outside the box for the design they would like to see, not what they think should be done. I want them to have a little playfulness within their homes.”
What first attracted Barbara to her Alexandria, Virginia, town house was its offering of just about everything she wanted—light-filled rooms, beautiful crown molding, and easy walking distance to popular boutiques, galleries, and restaurants in the city’s historic Old Town district. And elements that didn’t appeal to her, such as the golden shade of the oak floors, could easily be altered.
The three-story town house is laid out like a center-hall Colonial, with the living room to the right as you enter and the dining room to the left. But therein ends the expected. Barbara sanded and bleached the existing oak floors and painted the rooms in light and happy colors, then filled the spaces with quirky furnishings and accessories arranged in a way that is unexpected and chic.
The living room represents the first departure from the usual design narrative. Here a neutral palette of white and creamy yellow provides a backdrop for Barbara’s collection of contemporary art, not an uncommon practice for art lovers. But instead of arranging furnishings in the room’s center or around a fireplace—as many conventional design plans dictate—Barbara positioned seating to focus on a bold-colored contemporary abstract painting propped in front of her television. The art conceals the blank screen but is easy to remove when she wants to watch TV. Additional artwork in the room includes a black-and-white abstract painting hanging above the mantel and three compelling canvases that spike the otherwise neutral walls with vibrant red.
The living room’s seating pieces—a corner-hugging sectional sofa upholstered in a natural-colored linen fabric, two unmatched armchairs, and a tufted ottoman in white cotton with nailhead trim—mingle with small tables finished in faux metallic leather, Lucite, or mirrors. A polished nickel floor lamp adds sparkle.
The dining room’s modest size did not deter Barbara from taking the color wheel for a spin. Below the chair rail, walls are washed with chartreuse. For the narrow panels above it, she had a William Morris fabric backed with paper so it could be applied like wallpaper. “Instead of puffy upholstered fabric on the walls, it’s more like wallpaper, but you still get the softness of fabric with it, and it brings yet another texture into the room,” she says.
For one of the wider panels above the chair rail, Barbara had an aha moment on a rainy day. She had been wanting to add verve to her dining room—a space she says you pass by more often than you use—when she noticed her colorful umbrella drying in the hall. A friend helped her figure out how to display umbrellas by cutting off the excess handle lengths and attaching the tops to the wall. The umbrellas are framed with chunky nailheads—a punchy trim used on furnishings throughout the house. To complete the out-of-the-ordinary dining room, a mix of chairs and a banquette encircle a dark wood pedestal table illuminated by a beaded chandelier.
The upper floors of the town house also radiate charisma. The master bedroom’s iron bed floats in the middle of the room, balanced by a large piece of folk-style art—an original screen print executed on reclaimed wood boards.
Barbara’s enviable home office is ensconced on her third floor, a neutral space for a designer who toils all day with a dizzying array of fabrics, accessories, swatches, and paint chips. Uncluttered and meticulously organized, the workspace incorporates a glorious collection of books, auction catalogs, and her inspiration boards with an ever-changing collection of snippets of this and that, plus tearsheets from magazines. “I like a neutral envelope in which to work and lay out fabrics and draw plans,” Barbara says.
Now finished, her house is an honest expression of who she is and what she loves. “I don’t have a formula—that go-to sofa or paint color that I use every time,” she says. “I tackled this project as I do all my projects: Start from scratch by looking at the family to discover what they are and what they need. And then, like a client, I implemented the same standard of design for myself.”
Interior designer: Barbara Franceski, Barbara Franceski LLC, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703/927-5014, barbarafranceski.com.
Area rug (Aubusson-style, from estate sale): owner’s collection.
Sectional sofa (4800 series, small natural nailhead trim, Black Walnut leg finish); fabric (“Linato”/Linen); white throw pillows (“Boomer”/White): Lee Industries, 800/892-7150, leeindustries.com.
Pillows with appliqued circles (“Layla Pillow”); bolster pillow (“Lulu Pillow”): Crate & Barrel, 800/996-9960, crateandbarrel.com.
Bulls-eye pillow (“Bulls-Eye”/Blue Smoke): West Elm, 866/428-6468, westelm.com.
Ottoman (“Roth,” discontinued): Restoration Hardware, 800/910-9836, restorationhardware.com.
Gold tufted cube by sofa: Three Hands Corp., 800/443-5443, threehands.com.
Art (Mexican Family Tree, c. 1880, purchased at auction): GoAntiques.com, goantiques.com.
Square oyster shell mirrors (#1348): Currey & Co., 877/768-6428, curreyco.com. Fish plates on wall (vintage, “Fish,” by Johnson Brothers); fabric panel (“Kaivo,”/Orange and red, by Marimekko): flea market find.
Painting in hues of red (Clingin’ Fire, 1972, acrylic on canvas): Modernicus, no longer in business.
Lucite stool with white vinyl seat (vintage): flea market find.
Tufted chair (“Jacqueline Arm Chair,” Gramercy Collection): Four Hands, 512/371-7575, fourhands.com.
Trim on perimeter (#33132, color 9675): Houlès, 310/652-6171, houles.com.
Pillow on chair (“Lulu Pilow”): Crate & Barrel, 800/997-9960, crateandbarrel.com.
End table beside tufted chair (“Condotti Table,” by Lewis Mittman): Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman, 212/888-5580, ef-lm.com.
Lucite table lamp (vintage): Upscale Resale, 703/698-8100, upscaleresale.com.
Octagonal lampshade: The Lamplighter, 703/549-4040, lamplighterlamps.com.
Books, ceramic accessories: Home Essentials, homeessentials.com.
Wall paint (“String” #8): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121, farrow-ball.com.
Trim paint (“White Dove”): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667, benjaminmoore.com.