Center Stage: Mary Douglas Drysdale

A “family piece that needed a spot,” a cheery yellow chair, decorative stained walls and an art shelf uplift a newly fashioned vestibule at the upstairs laundry room.


Buddhist art from the owners’ collection profiles throughout the home.


A light-flooded, glassed-in sitting room and new staircase now take the place of a previously cramped and dark hallway, part of Drysdale’s overhaul of the home’s lower level.


Washington,, D.C. designer Mary Douglas Drysdale unveils a traditional home’ s multi-faceted makeover, thirty years in the making.

A tree coming down on a house is not typically thought of as a stroke of luck.

For D.C. designer Mary Douglas Drysdale, however, one stormy night’s misfortune turned out to be just that: a unique opportunity to go back and reimagine the home of her very first clients; a project which she initially undertook nearly three decades earlier.

A porch, railing and stoop were some of the first elements initially added by Drysdale to the Center Hall Colonial’s conservative façade.


A favorite Buddhist art piece from her collection greets the homeowner daily outside her bedroom door.


An antique table and chairs in the dining room, family pieces which belonged to the owner’s mother, contrast a contemporary print on the wall.


The curved Saporiti Italia sofa, re-upholstered three times, reflects the owners’ modern Italian aesthetic. On the dining room wall, the antique clock is one of the couple’s first pieces bought as newlyweds.


“I started working on this house almost 30 years ago,” declares Drysdale, who was then setting out as an up-and-coming professional. “I certainly never realized that this family, among my first ‘paying clients,’ would be patrons who would return numerous times throughout the years.”

The owners originally sought to find an outlet for their modern minimalist aesthetic within their 1930s Center Hall Colonial in one of D.C.’s more traditional communities. After completing several renovations years earlier, Drysdale received “a frantic call” in 2014 that a tree had fallen on the house, knocking out windows, breaking the roof and severely damaging the kitchen.

“One thing led to another and the restoration of the kitchen turned into a whole house renovation,” she recalls. “It was a gift! Really, how many are given the opportunity to go back and rework projects from the past?”

A glass-encased bathroom creates a bright, airy retreat with glossy white-on-white and plenty of natural light.


A B&B Italia bed and geometric carpet by J. Brooks Designer Floors set up the new Guest Suite alongside the Wink Chair, originally taken from the daughter’s study and re-upholstered.


A new two-story deck, a guest suite for the owners’ daughter and a master bathroom revamp kicked off the makeover. A pivotal moment was reshaping the lower floor: lightening up with plenty of glass and replacing walls and doors around a formerly dark, cramped hallway and powder room. Now the glass-enclosed space frames a floating staircase, looking out onto a pond that spouts a lighted fountain after dark.

“I wanted to make this difficult urban lot feel like an estate and bring the presence of the tall trees into the experience of every room,” Drysdale explains. “All the glass opened up remarkable views, so the effect now is that one has opened the door to an exquisite view of a forested lot.”

More glass encircles the guest suite sitting room, affectionately known as the terrarium; and the sunroom, centered around a funky mint-hued table on bold column legs, topped with one of the homeowner’s ceramics collection.

“They like a spare environment that shows things that they inherited or purchased in their life,” Drysdale remarks. “I wanted to encourage them to use pieces they love, and that reflect a family history.”

Furniture and artwork were kept mainly modern throughout, to counter the home’s traditional bones. “I like to have a classical base, and then add elements of surprise,” says Drysdale, who leaned toward an Art-Deco inspired color scheme in the design. “For me, this contrast made the house experience far more interesting.”

The project that started it all, the kitchen was designed by Drysdale in 1999, built in 2000 and re-built in 2015. Custom cabinets by a local millworker and chair by J Lambeth, a showroom at the Washington, D.C. Design Center.


Funky mint-hued table on bold column legs.


Sleek, clean-lined silhouettes – the living room’s reupholstered curved Saporiti Italia sofa, JANUS et Cie deck seating, a B&B Italia bed – are warmed up with personal mementos and family antiques: a dining table and chairs that belonged to the client’s mother; a clock that was one of the couple’s first purchases as newlyweds; a cheery yellow chair, a family keepsake, in the vestibule. The wife’s love for Buddhist art comes alive in the sculptures scattered throughout, alongside a dynamic selection of prints, many by one of Drysdale’s favorite local artists, Maryanne Pollock. Eloquently textured wall finishes by Tom Hickey create the perfect understated backdrop.

“We have added modern art, and there are no rugs and minimal window coverings,” notes the designer, who frequents D.C. galleries and auctions in search of the perfect piece. “It is spare but rich in content. They are both very aesthetic people and they appreciate the grand impression, but it had to work for their busy and complicated lives.”

The tightly scheduled project had to move swiftly, with frequent site visits and steady workflow. And the result, reflects Drysdale, is so much more than the sum of its separately-built parts.

“Over the years we had all grown in our abilities and moved more toward a modern sensibility,” she remarks. “They love their experience of the house and connection to the outside; it’s comfort combined with WOW.”

Photography Courtesy of John Cole Photography.

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