Homeowners collaborate with designers and elevate a project to success

Bill O’Leary

The Washington Post

Tim Price, right, and Jerry Sealy have used works of art as centerpieces in each room of their co-op in the District’s Adams Morgan to create a unified whole.

Like many couples considering moving in together, Jerry Sealy and Tim Price had difficulty deciding on design preferences.

Sealy, an editorial design consultant, liked contemporary. Price, an internal medicine physician, liked traditional.

But a design team helped them convert Price’s 1,600-square-foot, 1928 co-op in the District’s Adams Morgan neighborhood into a comfortably curated home contrasting styles and textures and melding elements of both personalities.

“Luckily, around that time we met Josh and Viv at the D.C. Design House and we all liked each other,” says Sealy, now married to Price. “They helped us figure out how to make this place our own.”

Josh Hildreth, owner of Josh Hildreth Interiors in Reston, Va., and Vivian Braunohler, owner of Braunohler Design in Washington, collaborated with Price and Sealy in a four-way partnership. Unlike most design projects that start with furniture and a color scheme, they started with a search for objects and artwork that would inform the design. Price and Sealy had rented a farmhouse in France for a vacation that inspired their approach to interior design.

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“The 1800s farmhouse was owned by a designer and a furniture maker who had mixed beautiful art and a modern interior into this old house that was full of visual surprises,” Sealy says.

Price says the experience led them to a new appreciation of how much design can elevate the experience of living somewhere.

‘Structured chaos’

While the couple didn’t have a preconceived idea of what their co-op should look like, they had a few photos of things they liked and were certain that they didn’t want their home to appear as if it were on trend for a particular year, Sealy says.

“I like a soft feel to design, sort of a structured chaos, like the way you taste food and find it interesting at the first bite and then tease out more flavor as you eat,” Hildreth says. “Creating depth in design requires layering and it takes time to find and pull together the pieces that will work well together.”

Angie Seckinger

Price and Sealy started with a search for objects and artwork that would inform the design.

A big mistake people make, Braunohler says, is to make everything match too much. She recommends buying a mix of new pieces and antiques to get the effect of collecting over time even if you’re buying everything at once. Ideally, though, designing your home takes patience, she says.

The redesign of the Price-Sealy co-op took about 14 months from April 2017 through June 2018, during which the couple also planned their wedding. Price and Sealy kept a few of their treasures, such as an antique painting that has been in Sealy’s family for generations and a photo Price purchased at an art auction, but the majority of their home now features artwork, accessories, furniture and fabrics that Hildreth and Braunohler found.

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“We wanted the co-op to be a reflection of both of us, so it made sense for us to work with Josh and Viv to do everything from the ground up,” Sealy says.

Hildreth and Braunohler found accessories and artwork at various auctions, antique stores and art shows, sometimes without an immediate idea of where the item would fit in the co-op.

“Our first purchase was what we call the ‘wall of noblemen,’ which was a panel from 17th-century Parma that we saw in an antique store in North Carolina,” Hildreth says. “We sawed it into squares and installed it on their dining room wall in a contemporary layout with the portraits pushed out from the wall.”

The wall is a favorite feature for both Price and Sealy.

“We would see these items in little photos on our iPhones and try to visualize where they would go,” Price says. “Ultimately, we just had to trust Josh and Viv to make the right choices.”

Thought process

A collaborative relationship between homeowners and their designer is preferable and can lead to a successful project, Hildreth says.

“Both Tim and Jerry were thoughtful with each other and with us, so when they weren’t sure about a design choice, they would ask us what our thought process was rather than just reject it,” Braunohler says.

At the same time, Sealy says, the designers would listen to them if they decided a particular item didn’t fit their style.

Clients who listen and ask questions and are open to encouragement create a great space for open discussion, Hildreth says.

“Our philosophy is that we hire professionals for their design instinct and their expertise, so we have to trust them,” says Price. “As a physician, I explain things to patients as much as I can, but they don’t know everything I’ve learned over decades in medicine. Ultimately, they have to trust me. Jerry and I collaborated with Josh and Viv, but we also trusted their instincts and knowledge.”

Angie Seckinger

The dining room serves dual purposes – as a gathering spot to entertain family and friends, as

well as a home office.

Sometimes the “big reveal” moments so familiar on home-renovation TV shows happen in real life, too. Price and Sealy moved out of their co-op for three weeks so their interior designers could finish the painting, polishing and arrangement of artwork and objects. While the couple approved every purchase, seeing the collection of objects with newly painted walls, new rugs and new furniture was a transformative experience.

“One of our friends mentioned that he likes to come to our place because there’s always something beautiful to look at or something that elicits curiosity,” Sealy says.

The “wow” factors start right in the foyer, where an 1800s Dutch chest with a weathered patina provides contrast to the polished floors, columned entrance to the living room and traditional moldings. Brutalist lamps, which Sealy initially resisted, rest on top of the chest in front of an antique Chinese screen. An 18th-century Swedish chair with a sculptural shape sits next to the chest and offers a prime spot to rest a bag or place a book, a signature Hildreth element.

“I love interesting chairs even if they’re not necessarily going to be used for sitting,” Hildreth says.

Hildreth gravitates toward antiques and eclectic finds, while Braunohler leans toward modern accessories.

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“Accessories can cost as much as 30 percent of the furnishings for a project,” Braunohler says.

The custom-designed, contemporary-style dining table, built from antique Italian walnut, also functions as Sealy’s office when the couple isn’t entertaining.

“This is a great table but because of the patina it’s also usable for an office without anyone worrying about scratching it,” Hildreth says.

The room has traditional wainscoting on the walls, yet modern photography and a modern light fixture over the table fit easily into the decor.

The focal point for the living room is a photo by the Danish photographer Trine Sondergaard, whose work caught Price’s eye in Hildreth’s room at the D.C. Design House, which was a fundraiser for Children’s National Health System. At the event, multiple designers transformed rooms to showcase their work. The photo, taken from behind, shows a contemporary woman in a ruffled red shirt wearing an antique embroidered cap.

“These caps were made by farm women, which was one of the few ways they had to make money at the time,” Price says. “It’s just such a powerful image with a subtle message about empowering women. It looks almost like a Vermeer with the lighting but it’s a modern photo.”

Other features of the room include an antique African mask with a black-and-white fashion photo below it, and two bright blue sculptures, one of which is modern and the other antique. Price found the low coffee table, and the designers had two armchairs made to comfortably accommodate the heights of both Price and Sealy.

Contrasting textures and styles

Price and Sealy use their living room frequently for entertaining friends, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday newspaper.

“We really wanted to make a space that we would use, not just something to look at,” Price says. “If you buy things that you love that have good quality, you’ll always find a place for it.”

While Braunohler and Hildreth didn’t always know where something would fit when they bought it, Braunohler says mixing textures and pieces from different centuries can be eye-catching.

“Some of the items we purchased were what my daughter calls, ‘I can’t keep my eyes from looking at it’ kind of objects,” Braunohler says.

Angie Seckinger

The compact, neutral kitchen complements the design aesthetic in the rest of the home.

A successful room, Hildreth says, is one with complexity that makes you want to linger and keeps you noticing different features at different times.

“Every room has to have something ‘ugly’ in it, because pretty on top of pretty just gets to be too much,” Hildreth says. “A little surprise or a bit of tension keeps a room interesting.”

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Abstract paintings and sculptures add that spark in the traditional co-op, along with furniture pieces such as an unusual narrow bench with curving arms and legs in the hallway that links the living room with the family room and bedroom.

“Adding the bench and the large photo above it opens the vista from the family room into the hall and seems to make the space bigger,” Price says.

The family room, one of the few areas that needed reconfiguration, originally had four sets of doors in addition to the pocket door to the hallway. Braunohler suggested closing off the door to the bathroom to increase the wall space in the room.

The bedroom, which originally included Sealy’s desk in the corner by the window, was also reconfigured with a built-in bench in the space.

“Instead of putting in an upholstered chair and an ottoman, we installed this bench and dropped the ceiling above it to create a nook,” Hildreth says.

The corner includes an antique sconce above the bench and a small octagonal wood table with mother-of-pearl detailing from an auction in Tuscany. A set of black-and-white photos above the bed were also sourced from an auction.

Hildreth added more character to the room with table lamps in the bedroom repurposed from antique glass French seltzer bottles set on wood Art Deco-style side tables that purposely don’t match exactly.

“We feel like we’re living in a magazine,” Price says. “Very few people get to have that experience, so we feel very fortunate.”

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