X Marks the Spot

In an elegant and modern Alexandria home, functional is far from mundane.

Photos by Angie Seckinger

Tom Crawford has plenty of home-buying advice to offer, but his best is this: “Don’t buy a house when your wife is seven months pregnant.

“Your rational thinking is, ‘I just want to get another bedroom for my children,’” says Crawford, who, with his wife Carla, bought their second home while expecting their third

child, Witt, in 2003.

They got more than an extra bedroom when they upsized from their starter home in Alexandria’s Beverly Hills neighborhood into a 9,000-square-foot colonial in nearby Belle Haven. It featured grand rooms, marbled windowsills and an upstairs ballroom that became a playroom for the kids.

“It was like a copy of the Williamsburg Governor’s Mansion,” says Tom, 46, a senior managing director at Washington, D.C.-based FTI Consulting.

“Formal, formal, formal,” Carla, 47, adds in her charming Georgia accent. “It wasn’t us.”

Their next, and current, house, a whitewashed-brick colonial they moved into in 2008, is everything that house was not. Still capacious at 5,500 square feet, the home they now share with their three children (the youngest is 12) traded grand space for the sake of closeness.

“This house makes us live together,” says Tom. “People need a place to go, but it doesn’t need to be like another ZIP code.”

What the Crawfords’ home lost in space it more than makes up for in functionality, with fewer, more multipurpose living areas that strike a balance between elegance and livability. That’s one of the signatures of D.C.-area interior designer Marika Meyer, who was quick to understand the couple’s vision for an interior that would stand out among Alexandria’s many Old-World style homes.

“We looked at a bunch of her work and we couldn’t see a commonality other than what she did seemed perfect for each space,” says Tom, who worked closely with Meyer on the renovations he describes as “a love letter” to his wife of 20 years.

DESIGN DRIVEN

At the beginning, Tom says half-jokingly, he didn’t realize how much being “different” would cost. The Crawfords had been eyeing the Rosemont neighborhood off Braddock Road for some time when they found this house, located between the lower and upper schools of St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, which their children attend.

Built in 1919, the house’s interior had become an awkward mishmash of contemporary and traditional styles with divided living areas. So they took it down to the studs, replacing everything, including the wires.

The painstaking reconstruction included widening corridors, removing walls and doors and creating sightlines that span the length and breadth of the house. With little to separate one room from another, a unifying palette of bright neutrals became the lynchpin of the home’s design—and a reflection of the family’s easygoing lifestyle.

Instead of a dark Persian rug at its entry, an abstract and faded Ikat pattern rug adorns the foyer floor; an understated fixture hangs above. It sets a tone of warm beiges and sophisticated grays that’s carried throughout the house.

“I just didn’t want anything fussy or glitzy,” says Carla. “I wanted it to be comfortable and easy to move room to room.”

A subtler theme running through the house is the X. The shape appears on the backs of chairs, the legs of tables, closet doors and kitchen cabinets. “I had years ago pulled an image of a bedroom with huge closet doors with Xs stacked on it,” says Meyer. “We loved it, and then it became really fun to repeat all over the house.”

Finding the Xs also entertains guests. While the pattern is obvious in the kitchen, where it stands out on dark taupe cabinets, it’s less so on a monogram that Tom designed for a pair of chairs in the dining room that bear an X-like infinity symbol linking his and Carla’s initials.

Another distinctive feature of the home is its gray fumed, or “pickled,” wooden floors, which Carla requested. A chemical process, rather than a stain, achieves the look by lightening the white oak planks to draw out contrasts in the grain. Meyer said the process is growing in popularity but was new to the contractors in Alexandria when the Crawfords requested it.

“It was really something completely unique to Tom and Carla,” she says.

To match the home’s palette of elegant neutrals, anchored by those signature floors, custom-made furniture was either commissioned or handpicked for each room. In the master vestibule at the top of the stairs, even the wall coverings were made for the home.

There, an inviting “tree of life” mural inspired by the master bedroom’s whimsical drapes—and hand-painted on canvas for texture—covers the walls.

Throughout the house, wooden pieces are finished in light colors, distressed and on-theme. Muted silvers, airy whites and clean comfort replace the mahogany finishes and gold embellishments of the Crawfords’ former residence.

LIVABILITY

The home is polished and sophisticated, but it is also lived in.

Since completing the renovation in 2013, the newest addition to the family, a one-year-old Boston terrier named Baxter, has left his mark on several of those custom furniture items. Meyer barely stifles a gasp when she sees the latest set of teeth marks on a chair she procured for Carla’s office.

“It’s only 18th-century French, but that’s fine,” she says with a laugh. “He has wonderful taste.”

Though the home’s palette is mostly neutral, splashes of color add personality to many of the rooms, including those of the couple’s three children, ages 12, 14 and 16. Meyer worked with 14-year-old Grace to incorporate tasteful notes of pink in her upstairs bedroom suite, while a colorful hockey-stick chair, won at a Washington Capitals charity event, pops in 12-year-old Witt’s bedroom.

A unique shade that Meyer calls “minty seafoam” or “Carla green” also appears throughout the house. Long, chinoiserie panels in Carla’s office make generous use of the color. A painting that was originally slated for the office found a permanent home on the dining room wall, spreading hints of green toward the entrance.

“Given the rest of the house being so neutral, I think it’s about as much color as we wanted to inject,” says Meyer.

A burnished bronze-and-silver Julie Neill light fixture accents Carla’s office, helping her to cross a piece from the New Orleans designer off her wish list (for now). The chandelier hanging over the dining room table is equally unique, featuring candle covers made with honeycombs.

“Like I said,” Tom adds with a grin, “take your budget, and just double it.”

Real Life Renovation

Tom says replacing the frames on every piece of art in the house was when the “serious commitment” phase of redecorating kicked in. In an otherwise neutral living room, three reframed portraits of their children, each at the age of 4, are mounted across from another painting of their family splashing in a faraway river.

“We would go away every summer to that spot in the painting,” Carla says of their family’s vacation home in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

The Crawfords escaped to that home for weeks, actually, while renovations were taking place at the Alexandria house. At one point in the process, when they had neither working showers nor a functioning kitchen, the family decamped to a hotel for 33 days. Their kitchen was out of commission for another six months while the entire eating area was reconfigured.

Now, the kitchen island overlooks a round table that can seat eight, including the family’s 6-foot 3-inch 16-year-old son, Trice. The eating area spills into the family room, where a TV mounted above the fireplace is concealed inside a mirror. This is where everyone gathers to watch Modern Family on Wednesday nights, says Tom, or to entertain friends.

“We didn’t have that space before, and you want your kids to be here, to live here,” says Tom.  

Behind the kitchen table, a wall of X-marked panels conceals a door into the butler’s pantry, where the X theme carries through on mirrored-glass walls. Besides this pantry, which functions as the mail drop spot when the family isn’t entertaining, there are no off-limits rooms. (The closest thing to a trophy room might be Carla’s shoe closet, where an extensive collection is organized behind glass cabinets.) Rather, keepsakes are displayed in Tom’s office, where Boy Scout memorabilia blends with his grandfathers’ historic grave markers. Paintings by relatives hang throughout the house.

During the design process, Tom was more workhorse than wallflower, says Meyer. He can explain the minutia of design decisions, such as why there is basket-weave tile in the guest bathroom and not in the master, where a geometric floor pattern and floor-to-ceiling marble tiles set it apart from others he has seen.

And, while he remembers all too acutely what many of those decisions cost, he says it was worth it for “our last house.”

“At the end of the day, I’m glad we did it,” he says, “and didn’t compromise.”

This article originally appeared on Feb. 8, 2016.

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