Modern Marvel

Photo by Michael K. Wilkinson

Newly built houses can be difficult to decorate, especially when the architecture doesn’t match the owners’ style. Rachel Kent and Sean Shannon found themselves in that situation when the modern-minded couple purchased an Arts and Crafts-style home in Bethesda. They loved its location in the Westboro neighborhood more than its elaborate trim and coffered ceilings, though Shannon says he was drawn to the open-plan layout and solid construction by Bethesda-based Miller Custom Builders. D.C. designer Annie Elliott stepped in to help the couple achieve what was missing. “Our challenge was to design the house in a way that would reflect their more modern taste and sensibility,” she says.

On the edge: A vivid black and white rug, along with Room & Board’s Jake chairs, add liveliness to Kent and Shannon’s dining table. Elliott chose Room & Board’s Moro cabinets in different heights—the shorter one is topped with photography of Shannon’s native New Zealand by Matthew Greenslade, an old compatriot who went on to become a professional New York photographer. The asymmetrical design of the cabinets and art, Elliott says, is more modern than pairing cabinets of the same height on either side of the French doors.

Photo by Michael K. Wilkinson

Make a statement: Elliott chose B&B Italia’s Grande Papilio chair and ottoman in bright orange fabric—one of the couple’s favorite pieces—for the family room, Shannon says. “It’s a very sculptural, modern piece that really sets the tone,” Elliott adds. On the TV wall, custom floating shelves built by Landis Architects/Builders highlight the couple’s smaller works of art. “I really believe in using artwork on shelves—just leaning it,” Elliott says. “With its small size, it could get lost on a wall that’s too big.”

Photo by Michael Ventura


See the lights: To echo the bright blue rug in the adjacent family room, Elliott added blue Design Within Reach pendant lights over the kitchen island, and she painted the walls spring green. “It’s a little bit edgy, but still light and fresh,” she says of Benjamin Moore’s Castleton Mist. “We’ve got the natural light from the garden outside, and it keeps everything happy and cheerful.” Kent and Shannon added their own touch with hefty new cabinet pulls they purchased online to replace the more traditional brass hardware. “We wanted a little more industrial look for the pulls,” Shannon explains. “We didn’t want to rip [the whole kitchen] out for the sake of aesthetic, so we did what we could.”

Photo by Michael K. Wilkinson

Why white: Elliott downplayed the family room’s traditional architecture by painting the walls, trim and coffered ceiling all white. “I don’t think I’ve ever painted a room white in my life,” the designer says. “But we wanted to smooth out the edges. We didn’t want it to feel traditional.” There’s little chance of that, with a pair of Knoll Salsa Lounge Chairs, a clean-lined sofa with graphic pillows from West Elm and the homeowners’ whimsical cow paintings by British artist John Marshall over the fireplace—all grounded with a vivid blue rug by Surya.