Thomas Preston Imagines An Eclectic, Midcentury Gallery Space

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.”

In our recently released aspire design and home Showhouse Issue, we sat down with Thomas Preston to learn more about his creative process in designing a gallery space for this project.

aspire design and home: How much time did you have to complete this room, start to finish?
Thomas Preston: We had several months due to COVID delays.

aspire: What was your biggest challenge? Did you have a Eureka moment during the process?
Thomas: The biggest challenge was making a “pass-through space” look important, vital, and inviting. But also not over-decorated! 

aspire: What did you and your team accomplish that you thought would not happen in time?
Thomas: Finishing the custom wall treatment on time was a challenge as we had a major change at the 11th hour!

aspire: What was your inspiration for this room?
Thomas: Inspiration for the spaces was Italian mid-century eclecticism.

aspire: The room features luxurious materials – smoky-gray stained wood wallcovering, stained Oak ceiling, and a richly veined black marble counter create a space of high contrast and drama.
Thomas: I stepped out of my comfort zone financially for this space! There’s always a lot of self-funded cash outlay for these showhouses with no immediate return.

aspire: Did you step out of your comfort zone for this project, and if so, why?
Thomas: My project was not coordinated with other designers. However, I made sure to do something that I knew would “play well” with spaces around me so didn’t use anything too bold and crazy!

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?
Thomas: Re: space size, I tend to prefer intimate spaces as opposed to massive rooms. Though I’ve done both in my history of designing showhouse rooms.

aspire: Describe the town of McLean in one sentence.
Thomas: McLean is a charming, well-to-do community with beautiful residential architecture- but too many

Photos by Ron Blunt.

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