Dane Austin instills a family’s new Arlington home with color, personality and a carefree attitude
Repeat clients expecting a second child called on designer Dane Austin to outfit their new, transitional-style home in Arlington. “With a toddler in tow and an infant on the way, the homeowners requested interiors that were sophisticated yet long-lasting and durable,” he explains. “Our clients envisioned a cozy, comfortable and playful environment for the children but also refined spaces where they could entertain.”
The builder, Madison Homes, had already customized interior finishes to the couple’s liking so no structural alterations were required. This freed Austin to focus on creating an eclectic, collected-over-time look throughout the four-bedroom home. He repurposed some of the owners’ existing furniture and designed a number of bespoke pieces, from seating to colorful rugs that were fabricated by a North Carolina workroom. Austin considered every detail—from the size and scale of furniture to trim and accessories—so his clients could relax and enjoy carefree interiors.
“My biggest joy is seeing photos of the family on social media actually using their home, playing on the rug in the living room, reading on the sofa,” he says. “Great design is about ease of use and peace of mind. We’re simply setting the stage for a life well-lived.”
Please share your inspiration for the project.
Classic American design is our starting point for most projects. The ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s—that era is timeless. I enjoy mixing genres so rooms feel collected over time. For example, in the living room, the red lacquered coffee table is Asian in style and mingles seamlessly with Mid-Century Modern lamps, Art Deco side tables and a David Hicks-inspired rug.
What’s your secret to bold fabric pairings?
Don’t overthink it. Style is about tapping into one’s innate sensibility for mixing texture, color and pattern. My mantra is, “Fabrics don’t have to match; they just need to go together.”
How do you weave in elements of surprise?
The most memorable rooms have a wow factor. We find that the happiest outcome is when clients are willing to take risks and step out of their comfort zone. For example, the red-lacquer coffee table is unexpected. Generally, you can use a pop of color in a space as long as it’s repeated three times. The red is echoed again in the trim on the club chair pillows and in the painting over the fireplace.
What’s your take on mixing metals in décor?
In the living room, there is brass on the floor lamp, the red lamp’s base and the sabots on the coffee table legs. We see iron on the end table base and plant stands and chrome on the legs of the club chairs. It’s far more interesting and dynamic to mix metals rather than match every piece; it feels less studied and more layered.
How do you protect interiors with little ones afoot?
We were mindful of using durable fabrics that are all protected. The homeowners preferred a dining room where the children can sit at the table without concern for stains on the upholstery, so we covered the dining room chairs in vegan leather. They can simply wipe them clean. In the kitchen, we used aluminum chairs from their previous home. The iconic Eames counter stools with molded plastic seats are low-maintenance and easy to care for.
What are the advantages of custom furniture?
Part of the value we bring as designers is creating one-of-a-kind spaces with furniture made just for you. Investing in custom furnishings on the front end means you won’t be replacing them a few years down the road. Bespoke items can be repurposed in other homes and will become the antiques of tomorrow.
Do you worry about wear and tear on furnishings?
I’m not one for “precious things” in a home. Good design should be easy to live with and unfussy. For instance, I love the unfinished-wood breakfast table that shows the living and loving that goes on
in this home.
When it comes to color, do you think less is more?
Yes. Instead of doing a whole room in your favorite hue, you will notice it more when the color is used as an accent while other finishes take a back seat.
How did the dining room palette evolve?
The homeowners originally wanted a beachy vibe, but that didn’t make sense for the home’s location. In the end, it was the colors they were drawn to, so I suggested that we implement a coastal palette rather than make the space overtly beachy. There are subtle nods to that idea, such as the organic Holland & Sherry grass-cloth wallpaper, the chandelier that resembles river stones, aqua-colored window treatments and the rug, which adds movement with the colors of sand, water and fallen leaves.
How does trim elevate drapery and upholstery?
Luxury is in the details. Like a custom-tailored suit, a few thoughtful details will create visual interest, as they are memorable and elevate interiors. Adding tape trim to the dining room draperies immediately makes them feel more high-end—and makes them one-of-a-kind.
How do you instill a collected-over-time feel in a home?
I think of a home as a 3-D installation that is experienced in real time. Great interiors are a mix of high and low, combining custom-made pieces, flea market finds and something bought off the showroom floor.
Interior Design: Dane Austin, Dane Austin Design, Washington, DC, and Boston, Massachusetts. Builder: Madison Homes, Inc., Tysons Corner, Virginia.
How has covid made a lasting impact on design?
I see a greater focus on health and wellness. As much hardship as the pandemic has caused, it’s been a necessary reset for how we use our built environments and how we spend time.
Name a design mistake to avoid.
Most people want to paint first, thinking it will get the dirty work done. But then you’re stuck selecting everything in your home based on one color.
What’s your litmus test for choosing furniture or materials?
I always ask: Is it special? Is it interesting? Is it unique?
Share your top source for vintage finds.
My favorite haunt is GoodWood, where I’ve shopped for years. I always find pieces there to work into my designs.
Design pet peeve?
I’m not one for superfluous accessories; everything has to have a reason.