Beating the alarm by half an hour, Claire Messinger (already two cups of coffee deep) ignores her 5 a.m. wake-up call and races out of her North Arlington door, hitting the pavement and finding her stride in a morning run that has become a ritual. “It’s a personal challenge,” says the athlete, visual artist and interior designer who snaps photos along Arlington’s Glebe Road as she goes, focusing not on the early morning commuters speeding to work but on the how the sun shimmers across the sky and how the dogwood flowers in bloom react with their dew-laden limbs. “It’s my inspiration,” Messinger says. “In nature, color combos otherwise not possible come together.”
Coming together is what Messinger Designs is all about—tying colors and patterns into a room that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, according to Messinger, but also “undeniably you.”
“I don’t want to decorate,” she says. “I want to energize [the home] for my client through vibrant artwork, not just chairs or knickknacks.” The artist is both commissioned for original paintings and caught assigning “homework”—buying fresh canvases and encouraging clients to express themselves. Messinger coaches their art along the way and gives each project a personal touch to develop a piece with both meaning and memory behind it.
The latter is certainly evident around the Messinger home. The mother of four makes a school lunch for her youngest while her attention is caught in the red canvas splatter-painted white and hung above the fireplace, a painting created on a late ’90s summer day when Messinger had a space to fill. The predicament resulted in a “labor of love,” as Messinger calls it; she instructed her oldest boy and two girls to splatter across the red backdrop, creating a work you wouldn’t know was done by children and their mother. “I want to help people step out of their comfort zone, to take risks but not necessarily with the $10,000 sofa,” she says. Her aesthetic is anything but type-A. “I want bright and adventurous. People are too safe with neutral colors, and that just isn’t how life is. People don’t live neutral, and life is too short to live in a boring house,” she says.
Messinger describes her own home as far from quiet, thanks to the foot traffic coming through and her sense that a “space should evolve over a period of time, becoming reflective of your own life and emotion.” Each room of the Messinger home possesses a distinct feeling, even the dining room, which is painted in a lavender-and-white harbor stripe, adorned with tin star light fixtures and an oceanic painting Messinger was inspired to create due to her love of the sea. “I spent my childhood on the Chesapeake,” says Messinger, who, as a rebellious teen, often took the boat out without her parents and stared at the lighthouses set against the blue waters.
“What’s lacking in the industry is pure self-expression. Designers [are] living by color rules—‘this fabric with this color to make it look beautiful’—and that just doesn’t work for me. The true beauty comes from a space that is my client’s own, that shows their beauty.” Messinger pushes for an end product that always stands out but is never standard.
However, according to Messinger, that doesn’t mean it has to be complex. “It is too easy to get lost in the clutter, and no one wants to dust their knickknacks all day.” Messinger instead advocates for large statement pieces: a sculpture or an original painting whose bold coloration and abstract design loses the viewer in what she describes as the mystery attached to it. Messinger herself thrives off a self-described “creative groove,” a vision of how she wants a room or a painting to look. “The room comes to me fully formed,” she says. The home’s end game is visualized in both aesthetic spacing and architectural drafting, in which Messinger is fluent. That is the kind of knowledge that allows Messinger Designs to work up from the ground floor. Messinger converted her own home (a restored Civil War hospital) with a barnyard red and white finish, and she supplied a Mad Men-esque makeover to her most recent project—an Arlington home complete with a catacomb-style wine cellar and a library.
“Space-wise, the house is very hip,” says Messinger. “I wanted to bring that out visually, creating a swanky, youthful abode full of eye-catching, ’60s-era impact.” The project is a testament to the Messinger aesthetic. She and her daughter Grace—poised to take the reins of the company someday—lined the library bookshelves with leather-bound novels by authors like Fitzgerald and Kafka while a cherry oak record player bumped an unplugged James Taylor album, the same collection Messinger listened to while envisioning the home’s final state while she sprinted by D.C.’s cherry blossoms. “The running allows me to sink into thoughts, to find the revealing details of each design and visualize a space livable in its own right and lovable in personality,” she says.
( March 2016 )