How Designers Furnish Their Own Homes

Three Arlington interior designers share their favorite spaces and the details they love most.

Photo by Darren S. Higgins

Nicole Lanteri

After I graduated from law school in 2004, my husband and I moved to New York and rented a loft apartment. Someone told me that “once you live in a loft, you can’t go back,” and it’s true.  When we moved to Arlington in 2007, we found the perfect home for us—our own loft.

My favorite room is the guest bedroom/den, or what we call the “green room.” It’s a cozy space that makes me feel like I’m on vacation in a boutique hotel in a big city.  It’s also the only room in our home that does not have an assigned task (such as cooking, sleeping or working), which is part of its appeal. One wall holds a little gallery of images and objects that have special meaning to me: a picture of the café where my husband and I got engaged; snapshots from my first trip to Paris; Latin American studies books from my undergrad years at UNC Chapel Hill.

The throw pillows, from West Elm, were the initial inspiration for the green room. Using them as a starting point, I found the artwork above the sofa bed at Home Anthology, a good source of mid-century modern art and furniture. I loved the colors. The hutch and desk (see page 66) are two pieces that I discovered at Upscale Resale in Falls Church (I paid $100 for the two of them) and refinished in “Antoinette” Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan. The chartreuse metal-frame chairs are from Target (designed by BluDot) and the tall table lamps are vintage. I love their scale.

I started my design business in 2009 with the thought of making interior decorating accessible to everyday people, not just luxury clients. In this area, a family’s home is often their largest asset, but few take the time to decorate. Many end up moving out of dissatisfaction, thinking they don’t have enough space, before putting any effort into design. I try to prevent that and think outside of the box to make a space work and feel like home.

Whenever I’m designing, I ask clients if they have a favorite city, and a favorite hotel in that city. You want your home to feel like a retreat—a place that makes you feel really happy. I also think about which colors they like to wear or look good in.  You aren’t going to wear a sofa, but you are going to be close to it. The colors you choose for your environment should be flattering colors that make you feel good.

Photo by Darren S. Higgins

Christen Bensten

When we first moved to Arlington in 2000 we lived in a rambler, but when I got pregnant with my third child, we needed more space. This is the second home my husband and I built ourselves (the first one was a spec home that we sold). He is from McLean and his dad is a developer, so he knows the ins and outs of construction and project management.

I was very intentional about the design and feel of our master bedroom. I wanted a white palette and a calming space that would serve as a retreat, an escape. We have young children (ages 6, 4 and 2) and our lives largely revolve around them, but I didn’t want to plan my dream space around my kids. They know that sticky fingers are not allowed through the door!

The focal point of the room is a custom-made, four-poster Layla Grayce bed with white linens. It feels like a lovely raft. It’s where I go to read, pray, meditate, rest and daydream. I put light sheers on the windows to allow sunlight to filter in in the morning. It’s a calming way to enter the day.

The rest of the space is layered with other white objects and textures, including a faux sheepskin, a chaise lounge from Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic, an old dress form that I spotted at an estate sale, and a standing screen of vintage shutters that I found leaning against a barn at Lucketts Spring Market in Leesburg. The TV is hidden inside an antique armoire that I found on craigslist. I refinished it in white using Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan, and then heavily distressed the surface to create a tea-stained finish. I am in love with the result. I like a piece that has character and feels like it has a storied history.

I’m not afraid of white. The things we have are washable. We have three kids, a dog, three cats…and a Wet Vac.

Photo by Darren S. Higgins

Danielle Sigwalt

My interest in design came when I was growing up overseas. We moved every three years—we lived in Istanbul; Athens; Amman, Jordan; and London—so I got to experience many different cultures and architectural styles.

My living room is the most designed space in our tiny home. Most of the furnishings are secondhand. The bright orange vintage sofa is something I found years ago on craigslist for $100. To me, orange is a joyful color that exudes warmth and happiness. Sitting on that sofa, I can look out the windows and see my friends and neighbors walking by. It makes me feel connected to those around me.

The English roll armchairs (also a craigslist purchase) were quite different in style from the sofa—English country vs. Hollywood regency—so I knew I needed to reupholster the chairs in something unexpected. I went with a cream and avocado chevron pattern to balance out the curves.

The antique wooden screen, which my parents found at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It was originally used during the Ottoman Empire to hide women as they looked out onto the streets, so men couldn’t see their faces. The vintage kilim rug is also from Turkey. My family tends to recirculate furniture, art and rugs, passing items back and forth between houses. We all live within 20 miles of each other.

Our Asian-style coffee table was also a secondhand purchase, which I painted a soft peach color. I love that this space isn’t perfect, but rather curated to my liking. It’s fun to see the potential in items that might otherwise go unnoticed—or worse, end up in a landfill. A chair might look tired and dirty, but a fresh coat of paint and new upholstery can bring it back to life. I believe the greenest piece of furniture is one that already exists.

Jenny Sullivan is editor of Arlington Magazine and a former architecture and design writer.

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