When Northern Virginia-based decorator Carrie Miller (Lapis Ray) first met widow Sally Horner at her newly acquired Ballston condominium in 2016, she was completely charmed, despite their age difference.
“She has such a playful and approachable personality,” says Miller. “Sally definitely knows what she wants, and we had so much fun figuring out how that would translate into her interiors.”
Horner’s nephew, Herb Aman of White Stone Custom Homes, had connected the two, knowing that Horner was ready for a fresh look.
“I’m originally from Arlington,” says Horner, who also has a home in Florida. “I got a place back here to be closer to family and to what was familiar to me,” she adds.
Horner’s ties to the area run long and deep. She not only attended graduate school in the early 1980s at The George Washington University, but also her deceased husband, Lee, was one of the three former owners of the original Ralph Lauren store in DC.
“I still have lots of those clothes. They’re timeless, not trendy,” she adds. “I wanted the same thing for my home. I wanted a warm, comfortable place to spend time.”
The condominium’s kitchen and two bathrooms had already been updated by Aman, and all the walls were freshly finished in gray paint, with new wall-to-wall carpets for flooring. Horner also possessed a few pieces of furniture, but otherwise she was wide open to suggestions.
“We settled on the idea of a classic Ralph Lauren-inspired decor, but with colorful, quirky and feminine touches to interrupt the somewhat traditional masculine feel,” says Miller.
An existing art collection inspired the decorating palette—mostly neutrals, with hits of aqua blue and coral red—including an artwork featuring striped “shirting” patterns that hangs above the sofa in the living area on the open floor plan.
“I played off the art, selecting textiles and patterns that worked well together, like a businessman’s ensemble,” says Miller, “juxtapositioning the heavy and delicate, the masculine and feminine.”
The existing sofa was reupholstered in a traditional herringbone, while a new cane backed-and-armed chair features a classic windowpane pattern. Miller playfully bolstered and complemented the menswear-inspired fabrics with whimsical accent pillows in quail feathers, floral prints and peacock-blue velvets, with faux fur pompoms.
“The fact that Sally loves color and was on board with bold punches of it throughout the space meant that we went with a red coffee table,” says Miller of that choice.
In an adjacent open dining area, the buffet’s paint finish is an unexpected aqua blue. It makes the space immediately more approachable and less formal, even though the pedestal-based, dark wood dining table is very traditional in style.
“Going with our theme of ‘updated classic,’ we mixed up the wood finishes here: the custom-painted buffet, the rich-stained wood table and the washed-white cane back chairs,” she continues.
Miller had originally wanted to wallpaper the dining nook for spatial definition on the open plan, but ultimately decided against it, because Horner loved how the ridged-glass light pendant threw striations of light around the walls.
“In the master bedroom, Sally had already acquired the bed, so I had to work off its tufted gray headboard. I fell in love with a Schumacher print on a beautiful emerald-green background that paired perfectly with her art,” says Miller of the above-bed painting by Michael Clark.
For balance, double night chests wrapped in a masculine menswear-inspired linen finish are paired with two feminine reverse-glass-painted pink lamps.
“We took color and pattern a step further in the guest room by adding saturated coral red pillows to the bed and exaggerating the high-contrast aspect, with black-and-white bedding and a striped lumbar,” she adds.
Horner even has a couple of enclosed balconies—what she fondly calls her “Florida rooms.” One is a home office and the other is a reading nook off the living room. The latter is furnished with a pair of swivel armchairs, and ceiling-to-floor pale aqua curtains to cozy it up, along with natural fiber Roman shades to filter light.
“Our philosophy behind this sunroom was threefold: to offer a place of quiet solitude for Sally; to provide a place where she can sit with a friend and enjoy a cup of tea or glass of wine; and, when she’s hosting a bigger group, to open the glass French doors and have this space be a natural extension of her main living area,” says Miller, adding, “because the chairs are on swivels, all she needs to do is turn them around.”
As for Horner, when she’s not being a snowbird at her beach place in Florida, she’s content at home in Ballston. “You’re so close to shops and restaurants and the Metro, and when I’m not out, I love being here,” she says, continuing, “Carrie was the only decorator who asked me how I envisioned my home, and was willing to listen and work with exactly what I wanted.”
This post was originally published in our May 2019 issue. Want more home content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.