The New Formal

Cathy Austin transforms a 1930s Georgian home into a youthful retreat that reflects its stylish owners—without taking itself too seriously

Giving an old house a second act can be one of life’s greatest pursuits. This is especially true for Atlanta native Cathy Austin, whose educated eye and history with these homeowners made her a natural fit to revive their 1930s Georgian treasure in Washington, D.C. 

Austin’s clients, now busy executives with three active children, first called on the Charlotte-based designer nearly two decades ago to outfit the interiors of their first home, followed by two more projects to suit the needs of their growing family. “Watching my clients’ tastes evolve from wanting what their parents had to discovering their own design aesthetic has been a joy,” remarks Austin. “All of their design experiences have helped them define what they desired for this project.”

While the stately façade of the residence is decidedly traditional, the interiors are a well-mannered mix of classic and contemporary. A renovation sensitive to the historical integrity of the house allowed for the addition of modernized spaces, including “the kitchen and family room, the heart of the home, which center around the original brick fireplace,” Austin explains. 

Calming hues—such as Farrow & Ball’s Light Blue in the family room—elevate the living quarters into a serene oasis where the couple unwinds from their demanding professional lives.

“We worked in the same way that a curator at a museum pulls colors from a painting for the background of the walls,” the designer says of selecting the soothing tones. Indeed, the family’s growing collection of commissioned pieces, acquired under the knowledgeable guidance of Austin, was the starting point for each room. Works by New Orleans-based Amanda Talley and Charleston artist Kate Long Stevenson hint at the home’s subtle Southern sensibilities. 

Much of the home’s textiles and furnishings were culled exclusively at ADAC—from porcelain Christopher Spitzmiller table lamps (through Ainsworth-Noah) gracing the living room to a kicky Lindsay Cowles wallpaper (through Bradley) bedecking the powder room. But Austin’s most gracious interpretation of her clients’ lifestyle shines in the library, a lacquered jewel box, where a pair of shagreen desks offers a serene spot for husband and wife to work from home.

At the end of each day, the family finds respite in the surroundings tailored just for them. “We brought the house to life in a youthful way that reflected how they live,” Austin says of penning a new, more modern, chapter for the storied home.

INTERIOR DESIGN Cathy Austin, Catherine M. Austin Interior Design,  (704) 517-8622; ARCHITECT Eric Binder, (704) 375-1001; BUILDER Brendan O’Neill, O’Neill Development, (301) 840-9310;

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