A Home Makeover with Brazilian Accents
For this thoughtful renovation in Arlington's Bluemont neighborhood, a couple and their designer drew inspiration from a chair.
Amanda and Ed Malini’s home renovation was inspired by a chair—specifically, the Duda stool by Brazilian designer Aristeu Pires. Rendered in sustainably harvested wood, the elegant seat features sensuous lines that are organic yet modern.
The couple, who hail from a coastal Brazilian city called Vila Velha, wanted that aesthetic to carry through their 1950s split-level in Bluemont, and they sought a design that incorporated elements from their country.
“We love Arlington,” says Amanda, an international public policy research analyst at Bank of America. “It’s where we chose to raise our son, Victor, and to call home. But ask any Brazilian and they will tell you: You can leave Brazil but Brazil never leaves you. There will always be that longing, or yearning—what we call saudade. So the only way for us to truly feel at home and unwind at the end of the day was to bring a little bit of Brazil to Arlington.”
When the Malinis bought their 2,000-square-foot house in 2012, they figured it would be a starter home, and that they would eventually move to something bigger. As it turned out, the warmth of their new neighbors changed their minds. “We were welcomed with cookies at the door,” Amanda says. “I thought this only happened in the movies.”
The neighborhood was great, but the house had its shortcomings. They lived with its cramped layout until 2020, when they decided it was time to renovate and began searching for a designer. They didn’t have to look too far. Cindy Eyl, owner and principal of Jefferson Street Designs, lives around the corner.
Typical of 1950s split-level homes, the house had an awkward layout, including a wall that cut off the kitchen from the living room.
The galley kitchen was small, “with one door that led to the outside and one door that led down to the basement,” says Eyl, a former high school history and government teacher who founded her design business in 2018. “You had to walk through the kitchen to get to those doors. Then the sink was not facing the window.”
Phase 1 of the renovation concentrated on the main floor living/dining area, kitchen and bathroom, but involved very little structural work. Eyl’s first order of business was to knock out the wall that obstructed the kitchen, freeing up space for an 8-foot island with a cooktop, and relocate the kitchen sink under the window.
The new, open plan is ideal for entertaining guests and is a versatile stage for Amanda, who likes to cook while Ed, a primary care physician, sits and keeps her company.
Brazilian modern furnishings were fitting, given that the home’s architectural style is rooted in the 1950s. Emphasizing texture and layers, the materials palette blends leather, pops of color, lush plants and artwork from the South American country.
The Malinis chose Brazilian quartzite for the island countertop, sourced a modern Brazilian living room chair from 1stdibs, and commissioned a custom walnut dining table.
The inexpensive tan leather pendant lights (Tudo & Co.) above the island took some convincing. Eyl loved them; Amanda was initially resistant.
“She likes things that are a little shinier than I do,” Eyl explains. “I like things that are a little lived-in with more patina. I just kept pushing and pushing with lots of images, and she finally agreed. Now she loves them.” (The leather lighting is one of the features visitors comment on the most.)
The walls are lined with vibrant works by Brazilian artists and American artists with Brazilian connections. Amanda personally selected the pieces from art galleries in her country, then worked with Eyl to determine where to hang them. “She purchased them all and had her mother bring them to the United States,” says the designer.
The bathroom also embraces the vibe of the owners’ homeland, with green floor tiles, a slatted wood Modway vanity and a backsplash of vertical white subway tiles. Collectively, Eyl says, these elements give the space a midcentury feel.
The Malinis are delighted with the outcome of Phase 1 and have now moved on to Phase 2, with plans for an exterior makeover, a small mudroom addition and a dedicated front-entry foyer. New landscaping, an expanded driveway and a reimagined owner’s suite will come after that.
Happily, their friend and neighbor Cindy Eyl will be there to guide them through the process, Amanda says, making sure everything is cohesive. “The truth is, we don’t make any decisions without her anymore.”
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Freelance writer and DIY remodeler Nigel F. Maynard is currently having a custom home built in Bowie, Maryland. Follow him on Instagram @products_hound and @custom_home_hacker.