Fond Memories of the DC Design House

It’s taken me a while to write this post, probably because the closing of the DC Design House is so tangled up with memories for me. The inaugural show house in April, 2008, was just after I started work at Washington Spaces magazine—probably the best job I ever had—and it was my official introduction to the DC design community. I would go on to be great friends with many designers I met that day—Michael Roberson, Nancy Colbert, David Mitchell and Dana Tydings are just a few.

After Washington Spaces shut its own doors in 2009, I started my blog in January, 2010, and Taylor Wells was kind enough to let me tour that year’s empty showhouse with my sons, who were then 8 and 5. Taylor and owners Rob and Robin Wilder were bemused as the boys wrestled in the grand ballroom, which would soon get this treatment from Barry Dixon:

via Barry Dixon

It was there I got to know Victoria Sanchez, whom I now count as one of my best friends. I still remember her sophisticated library off the home’s entry.

via Victoria Sanchez

Victoria, who now runs the Victoria at Home shop in Old Town, would go on to create one of my personal favorites in DC Design House history—the Missoni-infused teenage retreat in the 2012 show house:

via Victoria Sanchez

She also partnered with Nadia Suburan of Aidan Design on this gorgeous wine room and an adjoining family room in the 2014 house.

Photo by Angie Seckinger

Meeting Nadia through the design house, and also through stories I wrote about for local magazines, is why she was my first and only call to revamp our own kitchen and master bath. In fact, Nadia’s kitchen (attached to the wine room above), inspired us to choose the very same cabinetry and floor tile for our master bath:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

I had met Tracy Morris while I was at Washington Spaces—I made cupcakes for a photo shoot of a kitchen she designed in Bethesda!—but got to be better friends with her at the design house in 2010, when she did this breezy artist’s studio. She used art from Susan Calloway, thus introducing me to one of Georgetown’s coolest galleries:

Photograph by Gordon Beall

The house also gives me memories that are bittersweet. I had the pleasure of meeting designer Scott Cooke while I was the marketing director at the Washington Design Center in 2012, when he did a room at the design center’s annual DreamHome. He was one of those designers with tons of talent but not quite on the radar like other better-known names in DC.

The following year, Scott did a room at the 2013 DC Design House—a lower-level family room—and upped the ante two years later with this stunning gentleman’s bedroom in 2015:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

In December, Scott died unexpectedly after a short but intense illness, at the age of 59. I still can’t belive he’s gone.

On a happier note, I also got to know Susan Nelson through the Washington Design Center—another quietly talented designer whom showroom managers had raved about. I loved her inaugural room at the design house, a delightful girl’s bedroom in 2012:

via Susan Nelson

She’s since partnered with Todd Martz, who formerly ran the design center’s AmericanEye showroom, and they own the chic Home on Cameron shop in Old Town. Their entry in the most recent design house was a feast of color:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

It’s been so cool to see designers grow over the past 10 years and pursue new opportunities like Victoria and Susan have with their stores. Likewise, I met Richmond designer Susan Jamieson for the first time at the 2013 show house, with this dazzling master bedroom:

Photograph by John McDonnell, Washington Post

She also wowed us again in the final design house last fall, with this dining room below. And Susan just opened her own shop in Richmond last month, the Bridget Beari Home Store.

Photo by Angie Seckinger

The show house also featured plenty of well-known designers who, year after year, presented their takes on its rooms. Kelley Proxmire dependably turned out designs for the houses’ more prominent rooms, from her first entry in 2008—a dreamy master bedroom:

via Kelley Proxmire

to the final one last fall, a Brooke Astor-inspired library:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

Another consistently great presence was Camille Saum, who is particularly good at bringing unexpected elements together in a single space, like this dining room in 2011, where she covered the mantel in moss:

via Camille Saum

And this living room in 2013 with a ceiling painted in a metallic stencil:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

Camille also had a presence in the final design house, with this unusual color combination that had me thinking back to the 80s:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

Marika Meyer, too, could be counted on for her sophisticated understatement. I first remember meeting her in 2012, when she did this beautiful family room:

via Marika Meyer

She deprived her family of a dining room another year when she used her own table and chairs in a display; and most recently this past fall, she got tons of attention for a huge wall she filled with framed Hermes scarves—an homage to her fashionable grandmother:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

Now, I’m going to take personal credit for this one: I asked Jeff Akseizer to do a room for the Washington Design Center’s DreamHome in 2012 (note the acrylic piano in the corner!):

Photograph by Morgan Howarth

He and Jamie Brown so wowed everyone that the design house invited him to do rooms for the following three years, like this media room in 2013—with a built-in fish tank, which he would emulate in a client’s Arlington penthouse that I later wrote about for Washingtonian magazine:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

A family room in 2014:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

And a dining room in 2015:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

I wish I could go on and on, but I’ll end here with some designers I’ve gotten to know in just the past couple years, who I expect to do great things.

Josh Hildreth entered the residential design scene with a splash in 2016, when his library made the cover of the Washington Post’s Local Living Section. Until then, his company focused almost exclusively on commercial design.

Photo by Angie Seckinger

He returned to acclaim this past year with his deft mix of traditional and antiques against modern art and sculpture:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

I was also thrilled to see Caryn Cramer, my fellow classmate from Potomac School who is now a textile designer, in the 2017 house. Her unexpected mix of patterns and colors was the talk of the house:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

And then there was Mary Amons’ chic powder room. I had of course heard of her work but got to see it in person for the first time at the final design house, and I hope to see more of her soon:

Photo by Angie Seckinger

I’m hearing that the design house might come back to life before too long, and I’m dearly hoping that’s the case, because the past 10 years have given us a rich annual offering of design talent—all in one place—that we’ll be sorely missing in 2018.


  1. I’m so sad to hear this! I always looked forward to seeing the beautiful spaces, creativity and vision of the designers. Thanks for the great article Jennifer – fingers crossed they’ll find a way.

  2. What a great article! Here’s hoping the Design House is resurrected.It filled a great void.

  3. Such a wonderful round up of some of the Design House’s most memorable spaces! And what a wonderful tribute. Sad to see it end, too – and what a wonderful gift it gave to the patients and staff at Children’s over the years.

  4. What a walk down memory lane this post was! I went for the first time in 2009 (the old rectory in Georgetown…I still see the laundry space on Pinterest) and always made a stop when I was in the areas for business trips. Thank you for sharing all those beautiful images.

    I hope something fills the gap soon!

  5. Jennifer, thank you so much for your kind words. I still remember how warm and welcoming you were when I first met you while working on the Design Center Dream Home. It’s been such an honor to participate in the DC Design House. I’m sad to see it come to an end. I’m optimistic that it will be resurrected in the future.

  6. Than you Jennifer for including me in this story. I am sad to see the end of the DC Design House. These experiences would never have happened were it not for the incredible board and other volunteers who gave so generously of their time and made this annual effort possible. I am also truly fortunate for the friendships that have come about including ours!!