Louisa Bargeron loved the 10-foot ceilings, the fireplace with the original tile and the claw-foot tub in her one-bedroom co-op at the venerable Ontario in Washington, D.C. The hodgepodge kitchen, the cracked ancient bathroom tile and her collection of mismatched furniture — not so much.
Bargeron felt unsure of how to get her taste and personality, and a bit of girly glam, into her 835-square-foot home while keeping its historical character. So she reached out to District designers Kiera Kushlan and Jessica Centella of Residents Understood. Today, she’s got a stylish new kitchen with an oak library ladder to reach high cabinets, a sparkly chandelier over her bed, a warm green dining room with an art-deco-inspired bar cart and a bohemian bathroom with black walls, brass sconces and white marble subway tiles.
“Louisa wanted to live in a pretty space,” says Centella, who started Residents Understood with Kushlan in 2010.
The designers got why Bargeron was in love with the Ontario, which opened in 1904 and retains its original details and charm. It’s one of Washington’s most recognizable apartment buildings. “These places still have the soul of the building,” Kushlan says. “That’s what brought Louisa here, and we wanted to keep that feeling.”
Bargeron, originally from New York City, moved to the District in 2009 and bought her co-op in December 2014. The Ontario reminded her of Brooklyn brownstones and Harlem prewar buildings. “I instantly fell in love with it and wanted to live here,” says Bargeron, 43, who works at the Defense Department. The apartment has separate living and dining rooms, a compact kitchen and a long hallway leading to a bedroom and bath. She spent nine months trying to furnish it herself. “I was collecting and buying pieces, but I didn’t know how to pull it together. There was no sort of flow or good feng shui here,” Bargeron says. “Although I was always buying things to try to overcome that, I was actually just adding to the clutter.”
She also realized the kitchen, with its jumble of different cabinets, skimpy counter space and old appliances, wasn’t working. So in November 2015 she contacted Kushlan and Centella. They agreed on a plan to redo not only her kitchen but also her bathroom, and to decorate the place. “I wanted them to blend the rooms so they had a flow and a theme,” Bargeron says.
She made a Pinterest board showing what she liked and filled out their client questionnaire. “My personal style is trendy and classy. I love the color pink,” she wrote. “In terms of design, I’m anywhere from modern to traditional to French country. I can’t decide on any one.”
Kushlan and Centella mulled over Bargeron’s profile. She mentioned loving a variety of styles, so their plan was to play up the vintage Old World charm of the place while balancing it with modern, clean-lined furniture. “I gravitate toward things from Restoration Hardware, but I like that look with more romantic colors like pink and green,” Bargeron says. The kitchen and bathroom renovations would maximize the grand ceiling height and details. The designers could incorporate some of what Bargeron already owned, pulling everything together with paint, wallpaper, lighting and accessories.
“Louisa has a wonderful feminine style, so it was such a fun project to work on from a style perspective,” Kushlan says. “We got to pick out hot pink rugs, fur throws, and use artwork from old fashion magazines — a girl’s dream.”
The kitchen was redesigned to be classic yet modern, accommodating five major appliances, including a washer-dryer set, while saving two original glass-front cabinets. More storage came in the form of new gray cabinets. The opening to the dining room was enlarged to make the space airier. On the kitchen walls, Centella and Kushlan used basic white subway tile in a matte finish so the counter-to-ceiling expanse didn’t come across as too shiny. For the floor, they chose a black tile in a herringbone pattern. A wood countertop was installed to warm up the look.
The dining room, which has its original corner cabinets with leaded-glass detailing, was painted a warm green. “The dining room gets such beautiful natural light and has great white built-ins and molding, so the dark color helped to highlight those features,” Kushlan says. Bargeron had bought a dining table at West Elm, so they added a rug, artwork and chandelier.
The long hallway was given 10-inch horizontal black and white stripes. “It added personality,” Kushlan says, and because the wall stretches almost the full length of the unit into the living room, it also helps visually distract from the television.
The bathroom was full of century-old details, but the tile was cracking and there was no storage. Although the designers urged her to go with an all-glass walk-in shower, Bargeron said she wanted to keep the claw-foot tub. So they added updated but classic materials such as marble subway tiles and 8-inch, hexagonal floor tiles in dark gray. A thick crown molding dressed it up, as did the Jet Black paint by Benjamin Moore and the Restoration Hardware washstand in antiqued wood, metal and marble.
Bargeron had an upholstered bed. The designers framed the wall behind it with a metallic silver lace wallpaper from Hygge & West.
The living room has a lot of windows and natural light. Bargeron wanted a space for overnight guests, so Kushlan and Centella chose the Room & Board Watson sleeper sofa and set it across from two leather chairs. The ugly ceiling fan was replaced by a sleeker industrial brass model by Rejuvenation.