My Mom’s Over-the-Top Decorating

“Oh. There’s wallpaper.” Those were basically the first words out of a real-estate agent’s mouth when she stepped into my mom’s home in McLean, which will formally go on the market this Wednesday.

Yup, and you’ve only seen the foyer.

Mom never went halfway on anything, least of all decorating. Hence, the Brunschwig & Fils “Bengali” paper in the Mimosa colorway, which covers the foyer and continues up the stairs—and shows up again in the dining room.

More Brunschwig chintz covers the windows in the dining room (which hang beautifully over the Baker table and chairs), and also the living room windows and accent chairs.

And let’s not forget the B&F stripe that covers the Beacon Hill sofa.

I was lucky enough to find much of mom’s purchase records from when she was working with a decorator (who is now retired and out of state) in 1997. She spared no expense on fabric—upon fabric—upon fabric.

I’m seriously bummed that the records don’t include the fabric reference for what covers her walls, headboard, bedspread, and (wait for it) — shower curtain!

Now, let’s get back to that original comment by the real-estate agent. While this decor was all pure catnip for my mom, who lived so happily in this house for 25 years (20 of them with this style), what will it be to potential buyers? Umm, well let’s just visit the agent’s next comment. “This is very old-school.”

But come on! Who wouldn’t want THIS bathroom:

I actually love this wallpaper, but I get what the agent is saying. I replied, “Yes, well, I agree it’s very specific.” Maybe in smaller doses for most people, like an accent wall, or just the shower curtain, but my Mom? She was always Go Big or Go Home.

And, judging from my copy of Elle Decor that just came in the mail today, maybe it’s not so “old school” after all:

After the house sale goes through, many of her furnishings and all those yards of fabric from the window treatments will be included in an estate sale this summer. (email me if you would like more information)

Plus, what you won’t see in the home tour are the boxes and boxes of china, silver, crystal and other accessories that filled her house. Many stylists on photo shoots add accents to give character to a room. Not here. We had to do some serious purging—no shelf or tabletop was spared from adornment when Mom lived here.

Over the weekend, I finally learned why.

I was going through my mom’s recipe folder when I found the 1996 obituary for decorator Bob Waldron, which Jura Koncius and Patsy Dane Rodgers wrote for The Washington Post’s Home section. (I won’t attempt to tell you why it was tucked behind recipes for ham casseroles and Beef Wellington.)

They write:

The Bob Waldron school of decorating had its own rules. If you found an empty tabletop to put your glass down in one of his rooms, he had failed to load it with enough porcelains, sterling boxes and picture frames … If you didn’t move fast enough, you might end up gilded like the Louis XIV commode in the powder room of his elegant turn-of-the-century townhouse.

This quote is significant because Mr. Waldron was Lady Bird Johnson’s decorator—and Mom had gotten to know him while she was a press aide to Mrs. Johnson. He subsequently decorated two of the homes I inhabited as a child, in the 70s and 80s.

Waldron’s formal, Old World style defined the essence of the traditional Washington way of decorating in the 1970s and ’80s: Vintage Oriental rugs, leather-bound books, antique silver and comfortable down-filled upholstery—preferably French.

Mom never tired of that style. She probably would have hired Mr. Waldron for this house if he had lived another year or two. Point in fact: There are four groaning shelves in her storage room that contain nothing but silver—trays, tea sets, candelabras, you name it. Not to mention three sets of family sterling silverware. Porcelain figurines? Check. French antiques? Check.

Here’s her circa-1800 breakfast table and chairs in the kitchen:

The walls are upholstered in Provencal fabric from the long-gone French Country Living in Great Falls.

According to The Post’s appreciation, Waldron participated in the city’s first decorator showhouse at Prospect House in Georgetown in 1973, and would go on to fill rooms in more than a dozen NSO showhouses that followed.

“Bob was a decorator in the old sense,” designer Victor Shargai told The Post. I would later meet Victor when I became marketing director at The Washington Design Center in 2012. Strange how life goes in circles, doesn’t it? Victor added this: “He made things look pretty and attractive. He was a man of style and grace, and that’s what he sold.”

He definitely sold it to my mom.

Waldron’s original touch still lives on in the basement, which contains seating from the last house he decorated for her in the 80s. The sofa and chairs were in our former den.

See that leather horse? It was a Christmas present to me when I was a toddler. And many bridge games happened in the green-leather inlaid table at the rear. That was from the first house Waldron decorated when we lived in Bethesda’s Kenwood neighborhood in the 1970s. The (80s-era) upholstery on my grandmother’s down-filled sofa still looks like new.

When Mom redid this house in 1997, she had my teenage bedroom desk repainted to match her “green room.”

There was just a desk and wing chair in there originally, but when my kids came along and she wanted them to stay the night, she bought a daybed from one of the popular retailers (I can’t remember if it was Resto or Crate or Horchow — one of the big catalog companies). But the upholstery was too bland. She had a custom fitted cover and TONS of pillows made so everything would be Just. Right.

You can see all the framed pictures that make up her White House “power wall” over the daybed.

So that was her green room. And here’s her red room—her home office (which she converted from my sister’s bedroom after she went to college).

And get this—the wallpaper and curtains in this bedroom below, where my sister and I would stay, were already there when my Mom bought the house. It strangely coordinated with the bedding I had in my first few apartments. Mom, of course, bought an extra set of the bedding so she could have a custom headboard made for the room.

And nothing brings together a room like a Stark rug, right? Mom also added the armchair in yet another pattern during the redesign.

Our contractor estimated that a potential buyer would have to spend about $5,600 to take down all the wallpaper and repaint all the rooms. But for a $1.1 million house, that’s not so much, right?

And just look outside this house on a great McLean cul de sac. She was just as meticulous with her landscaping services as she was with her interiors.

 

 

 

 

I will always remember all the summers we had dining out on the back deck, watching the glow of the pool as it grew dark. We had a final celebration out here on Easter. I still can’t quite belive we won’t have another summer here.

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Comments

  1. Jennifer Sergent says:

    How cool, Tricia! What street did you live on? We were on Woodlawn Ave.!

  2. Great article! I grew up in Kenwood during the same time frame!

  3. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thank you Kim! Sad to see the old house go.

  4. Kim Zorn says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Mom! Loved the article!

  5. What a beautifully written tribute to your mom, Jennifer! She and I could have been great shopping buddies. When reading your description of various rooms, I thought of the quote: “More is More and Less is a Bore.” by Iris Apfel, and it sounds like this motto would be fitting for describing her style. Guess where I’m going with this is that I positively love her rooms. And while I see the dated details in the 80’s and early 90’s decor, her classic taste was so exquisite, that it’s like a jewel box encased within the time frame when it was created. It highlights the best of design during those years. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. Personally, I always enjoy your posts. But this one is even more special because it’s so personal. Just perfect!

  6. Hi Jennifer – I was totally mesmerized reading about your mom’s home, her passion for it, & her partnership with talented designers & craftsmen. My mom was a decorator in Darien CT & NYC & she always said that the most beautiful & successful projects were when the client knew who they were & what they valued – then you could design to amplify the beauty! Clearly your mom had a great joie de vivre & I’m sure her legacy will live on through you – & now readers who get to admire what she created too! Thank you.

  7. C.C. Christakos says:

    Jenn I loved reading about your childhood home. It’s obvious that your mother took great pride and care of all the decorating details that made your home a beautiful one. I can see where you get your love of interior design from!

  8. What a great post, Jennifer. I was only in your mother’s house one time, and I wish I could have spent more time appreciating all the detail. (But a bride needed showering!!)

  9. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thank you for that story, Rebecca. That means so much coming from a designer!

  10. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Laurie, thank you for sharing this incredible story! I loved my mom’s enthusiasm for good homes—and great decorating.

  11. Rebecca Penno says:

    I had the privledge of seeing your moms home in person when recently helping her with a few cushion upgrading here and new carpeting there. Your mom is someone I wish every client could be – she didn’t cut corners and she valued design. Her home may be over-the-top for many but I drooled walking through just wishing I had more time to take it all in. Her taste was impeccable and her attention to detail was not lacking. Thanks for sharing this post!

  12. Laurie Minkler Bowles says:

    What a wonderful article and tribute to your mom Jennifer. I loved your mother’s house and the time I spent with her in those beautiful surroundings. I was with her at an antique show in DC when she bought one of the paintings in her living room and I remember what fun it was watching her buy it! As a young wife and mother she definitely influenced my decorating taste. But, the memory that most touches me, is when she visited me on the Main Line soon after we purchased an extremely rundown 1890 farmhouse. She came a few days after we had moved in as I questioned what on earth we had done and was overwhelmed by the amount of work the house would need. I apologized about the state of the house as I took her on the tour of all three floors. After seeing everything, she exclaimed the house was “marvelous” had “wonderful bones” and that I should ” NEVER apologize” for my house. She always made me feel so much better about myself… I know you must miss her desperately, she was a wonderful lady.

  13. Amy Johanek says:

    What an amazing space and piece of decorating history…and a great Tribute to your Mom!

  14. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thanks Quintece! I’m so with you on the bathroom paper — who doesn’t love circus monkeys??

  15. Well I happen to LOVE some of those papers! Especially the bathroom paper, so FAB!…and that landscape….sigh….love! I think the home looks so welcoming and even if the styling is not to everyone’s liking you can simple feel the love in that house just by looking at the pictures! Beautiful Home.

  16. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Isn’t it fab? In both bathrooms, no less 🙂

  17. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thank you Hope! I will be in touch soon, promise.

  18. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thank you — I will hold on to these pictures and remember all our great times in this home.

  19. The matching shower curtain is my favorite! Such a beautiful home, Jenn!

  20. I never made it to the top floor of your mom’s beautiful home, but I had the honor of being everywhere else. I loved working out with your mom and think of her every time I pass her street, which is quite often. She was such an amazing woman and I thought of you this past weekend, with your first Mother’s Day without her. Please know i am thinking of you and your family. Fondly, Hope

  21. Lizabeth Lopez says:

    So sorry to hear about your mom.Hope your beautiful memories bring you comfort.

  22. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thanks Liza, she sure did!!

  23. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thank you. That’s the sign of successful design — something that completely and totally reflects the one who inhabits it. She was so happy there for so long, and never minded living on her own because of her beautiful surroundings.

  24. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Thanks Emilia!

  25. Emilia Philip says:

    Beautiful home and great memories. I see where you found your love for design.

  26. Your family home is beautiful reflection of your mom!

  27. Such a beautiful home. Your mother had lovely taste.