Meet The ASPIRE HOUSE McLean 2020 Designers: An Exclusive Interview With Mary Douglas Drysdale

Mary Douglas Drysdale is more than a participating designer at the ASPIRE HOUSE McLean Decorator Show House this year; she’s also the design chair, working in collaboration with Artisan Builders and Harrison Design to design all the fine interior details, such as ceiling and wall trim, room layout and more, that will contribute to a spectacular show house. Drysdale shares more about her involvement in the show house in this exclusive interview with Sherry Moeller.


Master bedroom sitting area by Mary Douglas Drysdale. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Sherry Moeller: Tell us about your roles as design chair and master bedroom designer at ASPIRE HOUSE McLean 2020.
Mary Douglas Drysdale: About two years ago after participating in a designer panel for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME about how and why to photograph and publish your design work, I was approached by the magazine’s publisher, Steven Mandel, to be the design chair for an upcoming show house in the Washington, DC area. At the time I wondered what a design chair does and how much time it requires. But it wasn’t until I was contacted a year later to be the design chair at ASPIRE HOUSE McLean 2020, to which I said yes, that I found out the full scope of the position.

At the initial meeting with the magazine team and Artisan Builders, the builder of the show house, we reviewed the house plans. What some may not know is that as an interior designer, more than 75% of what I do is review base drawings and then create architectural interiors, especially for a new home like this one. I put my skills to work on this home’s planning issues, including understanding the circulation of a show house, photography, the relationship of one room to another, and of course all the ceilings, doors, stairs – my favorite elements – as well as the floors and trims. Each floor was reviewed in detail for design appeal, sales appeal and photography – as an art director of the home. I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity with such a wide latitude of discretion, and also to have the distinct pleasure of working with such a talented group of designers.

But at the core of why I said yes to being the design chair was to give back to my community. I have participated in many show houses over the years and realize the good ones had great management and planning. While a show house is a way to build a designer’s business, there is often a delay between when the show house is open and when it appears in a magazine. I wanted to help bridge that gap. After discussing this with Steven, it was decided that a July issue of ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME will feature ASPIRE HOUSE McLean in its entirety, a publication dedicated to show house design. This will provide participating designers with a positive push for their businesses for years.


Master bedroom by Mary Douglas Drysdale. Photo by Peter Vitale.

SM: Describe your room at the show house. How did you come up with the concept and what’s the backstory?
MDD: This is such a wonderful master bedroom – a room with a view. It’s 10 feet tall and wide with expansive windows overlooking a peaceful landscape, hidden from other homes in the Mackall Farms neighborhood with a beautifully-designed yard by Charles Owens. This room is romantic, comfortable, and beautiful. I wanted to create a space focusing on the view outside that is enhanced by the modern art I love inside and that I imagined the owners would love.

SM: What’s a favorite element you plan to incorporate into your space at the ASPIRE HOUSE McLean?
MDD: While my master bedroom design is quiet and serene, the house, however, is full of decorative elements including ceiling trim, paneling, staircases, and general architectural detailing that I designed.

SM: What projects have you done in the past that most resemble or relate in some way to what you plan to design at the ASPIRE HOUSE McLean? Or is this a completely different concept?
MDD: There aren’t other master bedrooms that I have designed that look like this one, but there is a bedroom that I planned, decorated and adore in the Marwood Estate in Potomac, Maryland. That, too, is a room with a view, balanced and peaceful. In that room, there was comfortable seating, remarkable views, a fireplace, and a soft and textural color scheme.


Marwood Estate master bedroom by Mary Douglas Drysdale. Photo by Peter Vitale.

SM: Have you participated in other show houses and why?
MDD: As a designer, I work for clients whose ideas and preferences I must respect. In a show house, I can create a space that represents my taste. I have participated in more than 20 show houses, including National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Show Houses in the DC region and the Traditional Home New York Show House, a favorite of mine, where I designed an orange kitchen for Bette Midler, which appeared on the cover of the Traditional Home January 2001 issue. I also participated in another house in Charleston, SC 2018, also for Traditional Home, as well as the Richmond Symphony Show House in 2010.

SM: Tell me something about yourself/design firm that you’d like to share with ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME readers – maybe your most inspirational trip or something in your past that inspired you to become a designer.
MDD: When I was a very young woman, I met someone from Paris, and decided to move there. But it was not without some planning. My father asked how I was going to pay for the trip, as I was a freshman in college and working weekends at Lord & Taylor. After saving my pennies, I left on my self-paid trip to Paris and stayed for three years. The time I lived in Paris and traveled across Europe changed my life and strongly influenced my design career.


Bedroom design by Mary Douglas Drysdale. Photos by Ron Blunt.

SM: What’s next for you design-wise—are there some projects you’re particularly excited about? Are there any projects you’re dying to tackle, sort of a design bucket list?
MDD: More and more of my work takes me across the United States, exploring design opportunities in places that are distant. I want to write a book – a sort of monograph of my career – and may seek a platform where I can have a broader reach than one family at a time. But I will never leave the field of interior design.

Proceeds for ASPIRE HOUSE: McLean will benefit the Cancer Support Community. Click here to learn more, and purchase tickets for the event; open to the public June 13 – July 12, 2020.


About the Designer | The signature style of Mary Douglas Drysdale is consistently recognized as both original and timeless, seamlessly bridging tradition with modern. From farmhouse to townhouse, she provides architectural and decorative solutions crafted for the individual, but appropriate to the project type. The projects she undertakes carefully reflect her education, abilities, and interests: interior planning, detailing and decoration. Mary Douglas Drysdale’s projects have garnered more than 72 career magazine covers both in the US and abroad. Drysdale was named for five consecutive years as one of House Beautiful’s Top 100 and was selected in 2011 as one of the members of House Beautiful’s Family Tree of American Design. She is a frequent National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) winner for her work in the kitchen and bath industry, has been vote by her industry to the Interior Design Hall of Fame, and was also vote a Top 100 Interior Designer in the Andrew Martin 2019 competition. In 2019, Mary was named one of 50 top innovators by Kitchen & Bath Design News and has participated in more than 20 show houses in her career. 


Sherry Moeller is a contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine.

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