The Aspire House McLean project began in 2018, when Bill Harrison, renowned architect and principal of Harrison Design, introduced aspire design and home CEO and Founder Steve Mandel to a developer he worked with called Artisan Builders. Mandel was immediately impressed, and planning began for a showhouse in this elegant suburb of Washington, D.C.
The residence, which adapts Palladian concepts of geometry, proportion and symmetry, is modern and light-filled, with vast windows to flood the space with sunlight. In order to make sure the interior design matched the caliber of the architecture, Mandel invited Mary Douglas Drysdale to be the design chair. Drysdale explains, “A talented group of designers and creatives from the Mid-Atlantic region displayed their skills to create a home that is a modern classic mix, referring to the architectural traditions of our region and to the lifestyle that people aspire to today.”
Inside the Showhouse with Alaina Ralph
aspire design and home: How much time did you have to complete this room, start to finish?
Alaina Ralph: As soon as I found out I would be participating in the showhouse I created a rendering of what I imagined my room would look like. Right after that, I was distracted by planning for my wedding (which took place at the beginning of the year) and a last-minute move into a house we had not finished renovating. When the dust settled at the beginning of March, the pandemic shut the world down. Once I was able to give the room my full attention it took about a month to complete. Getting everything that was being custom made for the room was down to the wire though!
aspire: What was your biggest challenge? Did you have a “Eureka!” moment during the process?
Alaina: Many of my projects are long distance, and I love working in different areas which offer a change in environment and architectural detail which helps inform my design, but for the showhouse there was an added challenge of having everything I needed on the truck to go up there and not more than that. I was not sure I would have any space to store extra accessories, so I set up each tabletop here in Charleston, so I would know exactly what to bring up there and—more importantly—what extras to edit out.
aspire: What did you and your team accomplish that you thought would not happen in time?
Alaina: Due to the pandemic, several of the workrooms were experiencing longer lead times and delays due to materials being in short supply. Right up to the last minute, I was not sure what would make it on the truck. Luckily, everyone came through, and I can’t be more appreciative. Great design cannot happen without the many vendors and workrooms that go out of their way to help.
aspire: What was your inspiration for this room?
Alaina: I started with the beautiful scenic paper from Alderman Arts. I liked the juxtaposition of that traditional paper in this modern house. From there, I layered in key antique pieces with some more contemporary art and new upholstery to create a more eclectic mix.
aspire: Did you step out of your comfort zone for this project, and if so, why?
Alaina: I think all design done well requires finding the sweet spot just past your or the client’s comfort zone. That is where the magic happens. The main elements of the room were familiar to my typical design style, but I did try to push the color relationships in the room.
aspire: Despite the fact that there were so many designers involved, there is an inherent cohesiveness to the home. Did you all converse/collaborate? Or was this a completely individual process?
Alaina: I thought the house was cohesive too! It was a bit of both. I am based out of Charleston, SC, so I was unable to attend many of the events leading up to the showhouse. So my approach was to let the house itself inspire me for my initial design. But I am close friends with Mary Douglas Drysdale, who was the Design Chair, and she was a great resource for talking out ideas and developing the design.
aspire: Is your preference for a showhouse a small space or a large space? Does one or the other provide a better opportunity to stretch your creativity?
Alaina: This was my first showhouse, and I had thought to do a smaller room, but I ended up with one of the larger bedrooms. In the end, I appreciated the space that gave me the opportunity to create separate moments within the same room. Any challenge within a space can give you an opportunity for a creative solution! One of my early steps on a project is to identify those challenges and start there.
aspire: Describe the town of McLean in one sentence.
Alaina: Simply glorious in late summer.
“This or That?” with Alaina Ralph
aspire: Paint or wallpaper?
Alaina: If I can fit a paper into the design I will.
aspire: Hardwood or rug?
Alaina: Rugs layered on hardwood.
aspire: Beach or Mountains?
Alaina: I love the mountains, but I choose to live near the beach.
aspire: Saturated color or black and white?
Alaina: Color, but I like them to be muddy. Colors that are hard to describe with one category.
aspire: Brunch or Dinner?
Alaina: Brunch at any time of day.
aspire: Mid-century or 18th Century?
Alaina: I like mixing the two together.
aspire: Draperies, shades, or nothing?
Alaina: I often see a bare window as missing something, although there are always exceptions.
aspire: 2001: A Space Odyssey or The English Patient?
Alaina: I would prefer a Wes Anderson movie.
aspire: Week at the spa or week of Broadway shows?
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Photography by Ron Blunt.
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