Jill and Ben Shaffer bought their house for its setting when their two children were young—being on the edge of Washington, D.C.’s Palisades and Georgetown neighborhoods, with easy access to the C&O Canal, was originally the main draw. “We loved the location, and it served us well,” Jill says. But with the kids approaching high school, the Shaffers turned their focus inside, longing to create a home they felt connected to versus one that mostly served the practical needs of babies and toddlers. “We came to a point where we could finally do something that reflected our style,” Jill explains. “We wanted to put things we loved in the house, to make it look original, not processed.”
Jill, a yoga instructor, and Ben, an orthopedic surgeon and doctor for the Washington Capitals and Wizards teams, turned to designer Liz Levin for assistance. “She didn’t have just one type of style in her designs,” says Jill, which suited the owner because she needed someone to artfully combine several furnishings she had purchased through the years and had tucked away. “I appreciated that collected-over-time feel,” Levin says. “And that’s exactly what we created, mixing in pieces Jill bought while adding new ones.”
Before Levin could start, the Shaffers hired builder Geary Deptula, who recommended they involve architect Stephen Muse to correct inconsistencies in the architecture. “The rooms didn’t feel right,” Jill says. “The windows were different heights, and the entryways were different sizes. We wanted a cleaner aesthetic.” Muse notes that while “the rooms were in the right place, they lacked balance, symmetry and consistent detailing.” With Deptula’s help, the architect devised a plan that switched out the windows and doors and reconfigured rooms and openings to create “seamless connections” between the spaces, he says. “We literally moved walls,” Deptula adds. Even the enclosed stairway got a makeover: Muse removed the wall between the stairs and family room and designed open risers to lessen their visual weight. He also added skylights to flood the area with natural light. “It’s my favorite part of the house,” Jill says.
Levin then created dramatic looks and beautifully bold statements within each of the newly tailored rooms. The living area, where she used a monochromatic palette, features a large black-and-white photograph of PEZ candy dispensers, titled Boys Will Be Boys, by Diana Adams. “It set off the entire room,” Levin says. The designer stuck to black, white and gray hues, and incorporated wool, velvet and linen with striped and zigzag prints. “It’s my natural instinct to vary textures with monochromatic colors,” she says. “It keeps things interesting.”
Levin thought it just as important to strike a balance between sophistication and accessibility. “They were taking things up a notch, but not creating a museum-like space,” she says. “They wanted comfort.” In the kitchen, a homey farm sink and Waterworks subway tiles ground the sleek white lacquered cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances. In the dining room, black leather barrel chairs and a fanciful mirror by Thomas Pheasant for Baker speak urban chic to the organic burl-wood Bond table by Jonathan Adler. And in the family room, a pair of blue velvet armchairs energizes the more muted linen drapery and wool-covered sofa.
Upstairs, Muse turned a guest room into a smaller homework room. “I used the square footage I gained to give Jill and Ben a new master suite, including larger closets,” he says. Levin then created a “cocoon-like” environment for her clients with heavy draperies and calming shades of cream.
“The new design makes me giddy,” Jill says. “Even though the house next door looks exactly like this one, it’s completely different. It’s a powerful notion to love your home and feel like a space is really yours.