Early in her career, when Rachelle Roth worked in fashion on New York’s 7th Avenue, she developed an affinity for Ralph Lauren’s classic Eastern Seaboard style. So when she and her husband bought their Bethesda home in the mid-1980s, she designed the interiors to reflect Lauren’s rugged American aesthetic. “The house had dark, rich tones—reds and hunter greens—with big prints and plaids,” she says. “And it had layers of fabric.”
Together, the couple opened Urban Country, a home design and furnishings store with many offerings in that same style. But when Roth lost her husband, she realized that her own home’s interiors no longer suited her. “I loved it, but it was really too much on the senses,” she says. “After my husband died, with everything that I had to deal with—running the store, two of my kids in college—I just needed a place of calm.”
Roth brought in general contractor J Martin Oliva to repaint all of the home’s interior walls in gentle colors and give the wood floors a more modern look. “The floors were a bleached wood—they were almost pink—and I hated them from day one,” she admits. “In the ’80s, everything was whitewashed and pickled, and she wanted something more elegant,” Oliva says. “So we sanded down the floors and mixed three colors—walnut, a bit of black and a bit of hickory—to get the rich color she desired.” And as Roth’s daughter’s wedding approached, Oliva swung into action, quickly stripping the front door’s layers of brown varnish and refinishing it in white to complement the newly painted foyer.
To furnish the rooms, Roth brought in pieces from her store, but also incorporated items that she had bought with her husband, including a few favorite belongings and folk art that the couple had collected during their world travels. “The house needed to be a blending of old and new,” she says. “It needed to reflect my aesthetic and the things that I love.”
Roth received help from two members of her Urban Country team, Terri Johnson, the store’s visual director, and Cass Key, who heads the store’s interior design program, and together they repurposed whatever they could. “I had a Niermann Weeks cabinet in deep tones that was being used as an end table in the family room,” Roth says. “I loved it, so we made it a little bit cleaner and softer for use in the bedroom.”
The designer also refinished a simple 100-year-old farm table that she and her husband picked up at an antiques auction in New York. “It had the original milk paint and the top was beat-up pine,” Roth says. “Nobody wanted to get rid of it. So we refinished the piece to create a grayish washed top and a darker ink gray base. I use my breakfast room as an office, and that farm table is usually spread out with layers of stuff. It’s my sanctuary, where I can think clearly.”
Like that farm table, most furnishings can stand up to the activities of daily life. “I have a lot of family dinners and casual get-togethers,” Roth says. “I usually have staff over from the store and they bring their kids, and this way nothing can get ruined. As hard as losing a soul mate is, this house gives me a space to create a different life.”
And although Roth loves her revamped environs, she made one change that met some resistance. “Before, the kitchen door was painted like a gate with flowers and farm animals, and my kids adored it,” she says. “When I painted over that (with chalkboard paint), I thought they were going to kill me. But I wrote a quote on it that gave me the impetus for this change. It reads, ‘Enjoy, breathe deep, drink to the future but savor the past, sing an old song and celebrate.’”