Designer Lauren Liess Turned an Arts-and-Crafts Charmer in Washington, D.C., Into the Ultimate Family Home

horse painting above oak mantel
Helen Norman

My idea of a down-to-earth home is one that takes the best from the past and incorporates the conveniences and ease of modern living. This historic American foursquare in Washington, D.C., was originally built in 1918. It's a truly special place, with three floors of amazing woodwork and arts-and-crafts details. The owners loved those features, but are also drawn to midcentury furniture and prefer a contemporary vibe. They wanted a feeling of openness and plenty of room for themselves and their four little boys.

I felt like I understood exactly what this family was looking for. During the renovation, I was pregnant with my fifth child, my daughter Aurora, while my client was pregnant with her fourth son—and we had the exact same due date. Like most turn-of-the-century homes, this one didn't have a family room or a true master suite. So I worked with Shawn Buehler of Bennett Frank McCarthy Architects, in Silver Spring, Maryland; and Impact Remodeling and Construction, in Washington, D.C., to design a spacious two-story addition that would give them both. Then I set about creating interiors that would combine arts-and-crafts and midcentury sentiments, and be toddler-proof, all in keeping with the family's aesthetic.

Now that the work is done and the babies have arrived (on their due date!), I get lots of sweet photos of all the boys playing on the furniture. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them really live in and enjoy the house, and make it their own noisy, happy, loved space.

Excerpted from the new book Down to Earth: Laid-Back Interiors for Modern Living, by Lauren Liess, published by Abrams. Text copyright © 2019 Lauren Liess. Illustrations/ photographs copyright © 2019 Helen Norman.

01 of 09

A Happy Hangout

living room with vintage reversed rug and leather couches
Helen Norman

The light-filled den that was added onto the home's first floor gets its lived-in look from a vintage rug laid on the reverse and an antique Chinese table, and lamps made by local potter Lindsey Augustine. The chandelier is by Visual Comfort. The leather sofas from Liess's line will only improve with age; she also designs textiles and pottery.

On the previous slide: Liess preserved the original oak mantel in the living room. The wallpaper is Sanderson Woodland Toile, in Ivory and Charcoal.

  • Your Guide to Buying a Vintage Rug
02 of 09

A Kitchen with Style and Charm

kitchen with white-oak cabinets and deep apron-front sink
Helen Norman

To keep the new kitchen feeling original to the old house, Liess paired quartersawn white-oak cabinets (which echo the living-room mantel) with practical soapstone countertops and an extra-deep angled apron-front sink. The lighting is by Rejuvenation, and the backsplash tile is from The Tile Shop.

03 of 09

The Mood Board

finger painting and personal antique objects
Helen Norman

Personal objects that inspired Liess during the project included old keys, a handmade carving, hellebores, an antique etching, and a framed finger painting that her 4-year-old daughter, Gisele, made when she was 1 1/2.

  • How to Create a Vision Board
04 of 09

Create a Flow

white dining room with vintage oak table and black accents
Helen Norman

Painting the doors and windows throughout the house in Benjamin Moore Black helped unify the original rooms and the addition. Salt chairs from Design Within Reach and vintage-style cantilevered host chairs from Noir surround a vintage oiled-oak dining table; the light overhead is an antique.

05 of 09

A Nook for a Gallery Wall

vintage bench and rug lining wide hallway
Helen Norman

A vintage bench and runner, plus Indian art and mementos, line the wide hallway leading into the new master suite.

06 of 09

The Ultimate Bathroom

clawfoot tub inside of shower
Helen Norman

Its bathroom has a best-of-both-worlds clawfoot tub inside the shower. "This setup has a really relaxed vibe," Liess says. "No one has to worry about water splashing." The floors are black penny-round tile, and the walls are subway tiles with pencil-thin grout, all from The Tile Shop.

07 of 09

The Glam Details

brass-and-marble washstand
Helen Norman

The brass-and-marble washstand and all the brass fixtures and hardware are by Waterworks.

08 of 09

Add Personal Flair

master bedroom with black spool bed and sloped ceilings
Helen Norman

The master bedroom has deeply sloped ceilings with white-oak beams. To fill the space over the Noir traditional black spool bed, Liess framed and hung more pieces from the owners' vintage Indian-art collection, including Air India in-flight menus saved from family trips taken in the '70s and '80s. The graphic navy-and-white Jaipur kilim and woven leather chair from Bobo Intriguing Objects bring in pattern and texture.

09 of 09

More Inspiration

lauren liess down to earth laid-back interiors for modern living book cover
Helen Norman

Enjoy more of Liess' interiors in her new book Down to Earth: Laid-Back Interiors for Modern Living.

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