Designer Breeze Giannasio puts a fresh spin on tradition in a vintage Palisades abode
The lure of a house with a yard can be powerful even for dedicated urbanites, once kids arrive on the scene. This was certainly the case for Amalie Weber and Michael Frantzinger, who finally tired of squeezing themselves and two boys into their beloved downtown DC apartment and decided to make a move. They gravitated to the Palisades neighborhood where the kids, then five and seven, were already enrolled in school. “It was as close to the suburbs as I was willing to get,” laughs Weber.
The couple, both attorneys, are modernists at heart—so Northwest DC’s traditional enclaves required an adjustment. What’s more, leaving behind light-filled contemporary living spaces didn’t make the transition any easier. “We were looking mostly for that ‘it’ factor,” reveals Weber. “Also, a lot of houses here are enormous, and I didn’t want that.” Eventually, they found a 4,250-square-foot brick 1940s Colonial that fit their needs—with a beautiful backyard that induced them to overlook the home’s traditional architecture.
Though the interiors were immaculate, they felt stodgy and dated. One of the couple’s favorite local haunts, the Line DC hotel in Adams Morgan, inspired a vision for what the house could be. “The hotel is in a former church so it’s a very traditional space, but they took it in a timeless-modern direction,” Weber says. “We didn’t want antiques and felt full-on modern would look jarring, so we decided to thread the needle—and I knew I couldn’t do it myself.”
Enter designer Breeze Giannasio, a longtime friend of Weber’s who had recently relocated to California (though she continues to work in the DC area). Giannasio helped outfit the couple’s previous abode and Weber never considered hiring anyone else. “Breeze sees a space and knows immediately what it’s missing and what it could be,” she enthuses. “She’s right every single time.”
While in town for an installation, Giannasio toured the Palisades property, then executed plans that she put in motion from her Malibu office. “We looked for streamlined ways to bring their sensibilities into the home while paying tribute to its classical bones and not changing anything structural,” she notes. “You see it a lot with urban infill in Europe where, for instance, Rococo paneling might be juxtaposed with something highly contemporary. This elevates both traditional and modern vernaculars, which act as foils to each other. We did a baby-steps version of that here.”
The designer began by painting walls, trim and architectural details in Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace—a transformative move that covered over a hodgepodge of wall colors. Against this fresh, bright backdrop, she introduced blacks, creams and natural hues through textiles, modern furniture and art. “Half the time that palette is how Amalie dresses,” Giannasio observes. “She’s very chic and I wanted the space to be a reflection of her.”
Visitors enter directly into the dining room—which presented the project’s first hurdle. “It needed to read like a dining room but also like the entry,” Weber relates. “I had no idea how to do that.” In their previous dwelling, the couple had enjoyed hosting as many as 12 for dinner; to enable that scale of entertaining here, Giannasio selected a round, light-stained ash table from Italy that doubles as an entry-hall table but can expand to seat 12. Cherner dining chairs set a Mid-Century Modern tone. A motif of circles softens the room’s squared-off angles: An oversized round mirror from RH Modern hangs above a rectangular bench while a Tech Lighting fixture over the round table integrates lines and circles with delicate flair.
Rounded contours crop up again in the adjacent living room, where the family cuddles up on a curved, circa-1970s sofa to watch a TV that can be concealed behind artwork. The sofa shares space with curved, leather-clad chairs and a circular coffee table atop a cream-colored geometric tribal rug. Ivory drapes contrast with darker grass-cloth shades.
Just off the living room, the sunroom overlooks the back garden. An existing wood-paneled ceiling was resealed for added luster, and the room’s strong architectural features are emphasized by the white paint; a coat on the existing shutters made them feel new. “We really wanted to forge a connection to the garden with the furniture and palette,” explains Giannasio. “We went with organic materials like the sisal rug and woven poufs. And plants make it feel kind of magical.” She purchased furniture with family in mind; the kid-friendly poufs from CB2 are the perfect height for games around the coffee table.
Giannasio deftly combined art and decorative items from the couple’s travels with the graphic, black-and-white artwork that imparts continuity throughout. Ornate wood panels from Pakistan, used in the family’s former apartment to hide a Murphy bed, have been repurposed as doors between the living room and sunroom, while Indonesian carvings decorate Weber’s home office. In the owners’ suite upstairs, photography collected over the years hangs above an RH bed.
For Giannasio, the project’s main challenge lay in implementing the plans long distance: She only saw the house once after her initial tour, and that was during installation. “One of the benefits of a restrained palette is that it’s forgiving; that’s what made it possible to make choices remotely,” she comments. “It was so gratifying to see it come together.”
Interior Design: Breeze Giannasio, Breeze Giannasio Interiors, Malibu, California.
Table: bauline.it. Cherner Chairs & Bench: dwr.com. Small Cabinet by Stair: westelm.com. Chandelier: techlighting.com through circalighting.com. Wall Art: Mid-Post Series through celadonart.com.
Sofa: vladimirkagan.com through 1stdibs.com. Sofa Fabric: donghia.com. Chairs: customfurniturela.com. Rug: jaipur.com. Coffee Table: cb2.com. Graphic Art: celadonart.com. Drapes: rh.com. Shades: theshadestore.com. Fireplace Screen & Sconces flanking Fireplace: arteriors.com.
Sofa: dwr.com. Chairs & Side Tables: noirfurniturela.com. Rug: meridastudio.com. Table Lamps: anthropologie.com. Door Panels to Sunroom: Owners’ collection. Throw Pillows: fschumacher.com, target.com. Poufs: cb2.com.
Bedstead, Bedding, Drapes & Lights: rh.com. Rug: usa.armadillo-co.com. Corner Chair: rscollection.com. Shades: theshadestore.com. Bamboo Chair & Pictures over Bed: Owners’ collection. Small Round Nightstands: cb2.com.