A vacation house was out of the question for a Virginia family in a constant state of travel—two of the three children are away at college, while dad commutes internationally every week for work. Home itself, then, is a vacation when everyone is together at one time. That’s what spurred the decision to move from an in-town, walk-everywhere neighborhood in Vienna to the more pastoral setting of Great Falls. “We wanted our primary residence to feel like a vacation home, where we could really recharge and unwind,” the wife says.
The family found their ideal site in a stone cottage discreetly set into 3 acres with plenty of woods and wildlife—but the dark, country French interiors weren’t their style. To make a change, the owners hired designer David Mitchell, whose sense of casual elegance the wife had long admired. For his part, Mitchell had found the ideal clients. “The house is always full of travel and music and love,” he says. “It was such a great atmosphere to work in.”
With so many busy schedules, the interiors needed to be warm, welcoming and easy to live in—beautiful but not too precious. “It’s a real family house,” says Mitchell. “They live in their house and all throughout it.” That means the living room wouldn’t be an untouched relic, but a frequent gathering spot for family cocktail hours. “It brings the family together,” the wife says. “We just settle in at the end of a long day with drinks and appetizers.”
The living room is where Mitchell centered the home’s main-floor color scheme, incorporating golden hues that would “dance” through every other space: In the dining room chair backs, visible across the foyer, and more subtly in the floral print of the draperies in the library down the hall, which also leads to the master suite. The bedroom’s pale blue palette also features touches of yellow in its window treatments. “You have to take into consideration what you can see from where,” Mitchell says. “And then, you try to build relationships with things.”
Contrast was also important, so each space would be distinctive even as it flows into another one. Mitchell had the library painted a deep green gloss as a warm transition from the luminous living room. “You come from this room that has all this light in it, and it’s nice to have something that’s dark and warm to envelop you.” The darker space also sets the stage for a large collection of African masks—Mitchell tried to place the family’s travel artifacts throughout the house, he says, “without seeming like a museum or an afterthought.”
More artifacts adorn a prominent wall of shelving on the lower level, where the family entertains most often. “We are the unofficial party holders for all the sports teams,” the wife says with a laugh. Therefore, Mitchell added drama at every turn, including bold patterns and colors, oversize light fixtures, and a gallery wall of framed antique sheet music.
Mitchell’s blending of the dramatic with the practical, punctuated with art and accessories that are meaningful to his clients, was “dead-on” for what they envisioned, the wife says. “There’s not a day I wake up when I’m not so happy to be in such a warm and beautiful place.”