A Northern Virginia Home Balances Modern and Traditional


After designer Raji Radhakrishnan received critical acclaim for her “private office” at the 2012 Kips Bay Decorator Show House, her husband, Murali Narasimhan, playfully requested that she give their own home the same show house touch, and she quickly leapt to the challenge. “My house is my lab,” says Raji—who goes by her first name—of the 12-year-old Georgian manor-style home she shares with Narasimhan and their younger child in Northern Virginia. “Ever since we bought it, I’ve been constantly tweaking it anyway.”

Prior to this recent transformation, the main level was an open floor plan, with little architectural distinction between the foyer, the dining and living rooms in front, and the kitchen/family room in back. “The layout worked, but I wanted to enclose all the rooms and make them more private,” says Raji, whose approach to interior design always begins with strong architecture.

To achieve the “architectural heft” she sought, Raji first created an enfilade—a contiguous suite of rooms whose doorways are aligned. In doing so, she added mostly 14-inch-thick walls to define the individual rooms, as well as 4-foot-wide entryways to transition between them. “A house should be revealed slowly, like the petals of a flower,” Raji adds when describing the effect. “You also shouldn’t see a whole room at once—just a sliver, something to admire, a nice view at every turn—just intriguing enough to draw you in.”

Next, Raji refreshed and added “a whole lot” of molding and paneling with the help of her contractor, Christian Temoche. Like the Baroque origins of the enfilade, Raji borrowed from historic European architecture to define the new suite. She designed French-inspired trim and plasterwork, and looked to London’s Kensington Palace as a muse for the triple-molded entryways. “I called it my Parisian pied-à-terre,” the designer jokes, referring to the pristine, newly paneled rooms before she filled them in.

Raji’s signature wallpaper murals ground many of the spaces. They also manipulate their scale, making rooms appear larger, as in the living room’s clever conversation piece: Raji’s own enlarged photo of an 1810 French painting at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art turns The Public Viewing David’s “Coronation” at the Louvre by Louis Léopold Boilly into a painting within a painting within a mural.

Avid art collectors, Raji and her husband have been gifting artwork to each other for years, and with so many more walls available to them now, they’re thrilled to have additional space for displaying their collection. “I’m not really interested in the salon style of hanging art,” Raji explains of her approach to placement. “I often group paintings with no spaces between them, like a collage.”

Just as vibrant art and potent sculpture pop against the walls, a handpicked collection of 1920s-1970s French furnishings enliven the floors. “Furniture can be architectural,” Raji says, “but it must be functional, too, like our Marc Newson fiberglass chair, which is surprisingly quite comfortable.”

The curated furnishings, which are assembled with the composition of a still life, balance hard sculptural forms with plush upholstered pieces in decadent fabrics. The modern and traditional contrast each other, yet mix with ease. Soft neutrals quiet vivid colors such as cobalt and vermilion, but rich textures are ever-present. “I love to use texture, especially cerused oak, bronze, shagreen, velvet, and silk,” Raji says.

Still, despite its winning looks, the home is first and foremost a family domain, where the designer spends time with her husband and kids, as well as close friends and extended family. “Everyone who comes over feels comfortable,” she says. “It’s our home, after all, not a show house.”