Plaster Is the Star of This DC Townhouse TransformationWords by Morgan Goldberg
When Zoë Feldman’s best friend inherited a cookie-cutter D.C. townhouse, the interior designer knew exactly how to turn the place around.
“It was nondescript, unimaginative, and uninspiring, so we wanted to infuse soul by adding old-world charm,” explains the Expert. “My friend’s family is Portuguese and she’s been living in L.A. for years, so she has a great appreciation for Spanish Mediterranean style. That was a big influence.”
Zoë used plaster to create archways, textured walls, and a curvy, Guggenheim-inspired staircase, then layered in white oak floors and doors for warmth. She paired honed Carrara marble surfaces with unlacquered brass hardware, all of which will elegantly patina over time. And she furnished the space with vintage finds wherever possible for additional character.
In the kitchen, Zoë forwent an island in favor of a long, wooden dining table and vintage bentwood chairs in the heart of the action, à la Nancy Meyers. “Being surrounded by the kitchen is a beautiful and interesting part of the dining experience,” she says—and she’s not wrong. The result is warm, cozy, and just right.
The project: A nondescript 1990s townhouse
The location: Palisades, Washington D.C.
The space: An eat-in kitchen and entryway
The client: The designer’s best friend and her husband
The biggest problem to solve
The space was pretty cookie-cutter with plain drywall, rectilinear angles, and no thoughtfulness to the design. There wasn't a lot of room to explore and discover the space. You walked in and it was all laid out for you. So we were trying to create more of an experience.
The piece that anchors the space
The arched white oak doors, which hide a bar on one side and a TV on the other, really set the tone because you walk into the space and see them straight away. We made them 100% percent custom for the house.
The steal and splurge in the room
We initially thought we would do all these different exotic stones, and in the end, we decided on Carrara marble everywhere, just to simplify it. That ended up being a pretty big steal. Stone doesn't always have to be the star.The plaster became the star because we were able to add a lot of gracefulness and curves into the architecture. Plaster itself is very affordable, but the technique adds a layer. Labor was the splurge because we also invested in custom millwork, and artisan-style doors—those were expensive.
The little detail with a big impact
We used Forbes & Lomax brass light switches, which made such a difference because they add an architectural detail. They really add an old world touch and just elevate the space. And with the plaster, it’s almost essential to have them.
In the dining room, we have vintage bentwood chairs. We shop vintage a huge majority of the time because we believe that it helps the environment to not be just constantly producing new things. Also, the space didn't have soul and vintage is an easy way to infuse that into a space.
The design risk with the biggest payoff
We redid the entire staircase. We had to figure out how to add all the plaster detail because it was just a regular 1990s railing. We wanted there to be a little more privacy, so we rebuilt some of the walls and curved and plastered everything so it would have a real gracefulness. That really nods to the whole Spanish Mediterranean vibe, but also keeps it somewhat modern.
The happy accident
When we opened up a wall, it turned out there was all of this unused space that the builder had drywalled over. We were able to install jib doors a door that is flush-mounted right into the wall—often without hardware—essentially making it invisible for hidden storage along this entire long wall. We really like to use these especially when plastering because it’s a beautiful way to hide a door that's not so beautiful or not in the most ideal location and create discreet storage.
Why this space works so well
Adding in all the texture with the plaster and the wood and the stone just added so much warmth to the space. It feels like a warm blanket. If you're willing to spend a little bit of cost and time on getting the architecture correct, then the materials can be quite simple. And then you can dress it up, but you really need to get the bones right.
The final vibe
It feels very old world European and warm. It’s textured, layered, and a bit quiet. Some rooms can make your head spin and overstimulate you with eye candy—this is quite the opposite. The vibe is consistent throughout the house and it really invites you to experience the space in a way that feels very natural.