Boisterous boys with skateboards and grimy shoes aren't what you associate with 's serene, exquisitely edited interiors. One of America's preeminent designers, the Washington, D.C.–based Carter is a master at creating uncluttered oases enveloped in white and filled with sculptural furniture and rugged textiles.
In the living room of a Washington, D.C., house designed by Darryl Carter, the sofa, covered in an Arabel Fabrics linen, and bench are custom designs; the Savonarola chair is Spanish, a 19th-century Burmese temple chain hangs from a wall, and the drawing is by Edward Finnegan. The curtains are in a Rogers & Goffigon fabric, the custom-made rug is by Holland & Sherry, and the walls are painted in Bancroft White by Darryl Carter Colors by Benjamin Moore.
His unpretentious style appealed to a busy professional couple with three energetic young sons who were in the process of renovating a 100-year-old Spanish Colonial–style stucco house in one of the capital's leafy, historic neighborhoods. The place was run-down and painted pink—neighbors dubbed it the Pepto-Bismol house—but the owners were confident it could be transformed into an understated, modern residence where no room was off-limits to their children and guests needn't worry about spilling a glass of Bordeaux. The husband, a consultant, and his lawyer wife were determined to bring the relaxed vibe of their native Seattle to staid D.C.
Vintage Milo Baughman armchairs and circa-1952 chairs by Laverne International surround a custom-made dining table; Carter designed the light diffuser and sliding screen, the painting is by Purvis Young, and the cowhide rug is by Yerra from Horne.
"We live our lives out loud, in color, a hundred miles an hour, and I wanted to create a calm backdrop to all that," says the wife, who entertains often and doesn't hesitate to rearrange furniture for post-dinner dancing to the Black Eyed Peas. "We knew we wanted a modern interior with a lot of organic elements to warm and soften things. But I had no idea how to do it." The decorator she originally enlisted became too busy to undertake the project and recommended Carter. "When I met him, there was great chemistry from the get-go," she says. "It was a no-brainer to go forward."
Circa-1965 club chairs by Geoffrey Harcourt, a concrete side table by William Earle, and a 19th-century Spanish olive jar in the master bedroom; metal trays from a plaster artisan's studio hang on the wall.
But before Carter could begin, George Myers of GTM Architects did an extensive, yearlong renovation, keeping the original facade (in compliance with the capital's historic-preservation laws) and building additions at the rear and side for a new kitchen, family room, master suite, office, screened porch, and playroom. The florid exterior was repainted classic white.
The library's sofa and vintage Jens Risom armchair are upholstered in an Elmo leather, and the cocktail table is made from a 10th-century millstone.
To seamlessly meld the original house with the additions, Carter employed his favorite "connective tissue" of creamy walls and ceilings in a dozen shades of white, contrasted with espresso-stained oak floors. In the kitchen and family room, he installed ceiling beams and windowsills made of salvaged wood, weathered and pitted with a few lovers' initials to add warmth and character.
The kitchen stools are by Mark Albrecht, and the heartwood cabinetry is custom made; the pendant light is by Darryl Carter for the Urban Electric Co., and the sink fittings are by Waterstone Faucets.
When it came to the decor, the homeowners and designer were in sync, favoring clean-lined furniture—like the ebonized-oak dining table and 1950s leather sling chairs—but avoiding extraneous flourishes such as window treatments. The carefully chosen accessories include a Burmese bronze chain suspended from a living room wall and an enormous antique Spanish olive jar in the master bedroom.
A pair of Art Deco–era industrial lights hangs above a custom-made table and benches in the screened sunroom; the sofa by Lawson-Fenning is upholstered in a Perennials canvas, and the flooring is bluestone.
"I didn't feel cautious about presenting anything to the clients, because they just embraced everything and gave me so much freedom," says the affable Carter, who has written two decorating books and owns an eponymous home-design store in northwest D.C. The wife is equally effusive: "Whenever Darryl got a glint in his eye and said, 'I have a fabulous idea,' I was always game to roll the dice."
In the master bedroom, the bed, which is upholstered in a Scalamandré fabric, bedside table, and rug are all custom made; Carter designed the sculpture, and the painting is by Catherine Lauerman.
Such a moment occurred when Carter crumpled a piece of paper to show her the origami-like light diffuser he had in mind for the dining room, which artist Margaret Boozer translated into sanded glass and steel. As a counterpoint to the luminous floating sculpture, he designed an industrial-style "barn door" of gypsum cement to close off the kitchen.
The master bath cabinetry and mirrors are custom, the sink fittings are by Vola, the stone flooring is by Walker Zanger, and the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Decorators White.
Carter unleashed his inner artist in the airy master bedroom, for which he conceived a Mondrian-esque steel light fixture for the ceiling, a tall, whimsical sculpture, and the pièce de résistance: a huge metal artwork that is actually four attached skids (metal trays used in plaster making) he found in a local studio. "It's classic Darryl to create this spectacular abstract installation from a bunch of stained metal trays," says the wife. "It's one of my favorite things."
The playroom hanging seats and ladder came from Ikea, and the rug is by Holland & Sherry.
Unique art and minimalist decor weren't the clients' only priorities. Ease and practicality were imperative in a house swarming with boys (ages 5, 7, and 10) and their posse of friends, who catapult through rooms, leaving backpacks and bike helmets in their wake. Carter designed bunk beds with secret compartments for stashing treasures, installed wood paneling in high-traffic areas, and upholstered furniture in durable materials like leather and Ultrasuede. In the playroom, wall panels conceal floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with toys and a pull-out crafts table.
"This house is so much more than I expected," the wife says. "I've been through renovations where things fall short of the mark and you end up disappointed. But there is nothing I would do differently."
The bunk bed and lamp in the boys' room are custom designs, the side table is antique, and the rug is by West Elm; the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Soft Chamois.