After working at several museums, Annie Elliott realized that a hands-on approach to designing spaces was her true passion, and so began her second career as an interior designer. The DC-area designer’s inclination toward color and layering makes her work undeniably her own—a style well-represented in a recent home renovation in Potomac, Maryland.
You have a rather unconventional background for an interior designer. Tell us about it:
I acted as a child, played the flute very seriously all through college, and, eventually, developed a passion for art history. I worked at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia right after completing my undergraduate degree in English and art history at the University of Pennsylvania.
I ended up pursuing a graduate degree in art history, believing that would be my path to becoming a museum director. After I got my master’s degree, I worked at the Smithsonian in administration, but I found myself being pulled further away from the art and people’s experiences with it. My interest in art is aesthetic. I love beautiful things, but I’m also very interested in how people relate to art. So I started taking interior design graduate classes at what was then called the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. Then I got pregnant with twins, and my path sort of shifted.
It seems that your career began very organically. How did you first start acquiring clients?
It wasn’t as though I said, “I’m going to start a business. What licenses do I need? How do I register with the city?” I did none of that. I thought I would tell my friends I was thinking about doing this and see what happens. So I did. Anytime someone moved, they would ask me to help with paint colors and other design choices.
Then, one night, we had some friends over for dinner. I had just renovated our kitchen. It was really small, but I maximized every inch. Our friends loved it and asked if I could be a point person for the renovation they were doing on their home. That was my hands-on education—working on that project—and that’s when I realized what I was capable of. I started attracting clients little by little.
Where did the name Bossy Color (the name of your blog and previous name of your business) come from?
My brother actually came up with the name, and I thought it was too funny not to use. It was also helpful for me in getting press early on. I think people saw the name of the company and knew they would get something different from me. I love to write, and the blog was helpful for me to clarify my positions on things and to show people my design perspective. I only decided to change the name of my company last year to Annie Elliott Design because I think it’s a better representation of where my business is now.
How did the process for your recent Potomac project begin?
The clients were referred to me by a friend, and what made this project different and challenging was that they had a lot of Arts and Crafts furniture. It’s a lot of heavy woodwork, and they weren’t interested in painting the pieces. So the challenge was: how do I keep this furniture and also lighten up the house, make it current, make it friendly, and make it fun? Arts and Crafts, to me, is not fun. Luckily, the clients love color.
What was your inspiration for the family room in this project? Was there a focal point you built the design around?
The family room was used constantly, but not happily. The clients had already been renovating the kitchen next door, and they wanted a space that opened into the family room. We wanted the room to be more cohesive and warm. There is a beautiful stone fireplace that inspired me to work with really natural materials. The first step was adding grass cloth to the walls in a neutral color so it wouldn’t be scary. But I thought if we left the ceiling white, it would have been boring—it’s really easy for the ceiling to get overlooked. The ceiling wallpaper we went with is a warm, light brown but with a little bit of sparkle from the silver star pattern, which keeps it fun.
One of the kickers for this room was the drapes. There are hills I’ll die on and hills I won’t die on—but these drapes were my hill. The drapes just struck the right tone: they are the perfect color, and they aren’t overly formal. I’m really happy they ended up going with them.
Wallpaper is incorporated a lot in this project. How do you go about selecting patterns that make a statement without looking overly busy with other elements in the room?
I usually start a project with whatever is going to make the biggest statement. The dining room has blue grass cloth, floral drapes, and a patterned rug, but I think we prevented it from going over the top by limiting the multicolored pattern to one element—the drapes. And if you vary the scale by balancing the size of the patterned elements in a room, it lets the eyes rest.
Is there a room or an element in this project you were especially excited about?
While the mudroom was just a small piece of the project, it was a fun one because the clients totally thought it was a throwaway space. I came across a multicolored dog wallpaper and thought, “I wonder,” because the clients have a dog they adore, and I also love dogs. I put this wallpaper against a red tile floor, which made it an unexpectedly fun space.
I’m also really proud of the family room. We custom-built a very large media cabinet, and it’s beautiful and practical. We really decorated that room. Every surface has something on it, and it all works together. It was a room I knew we could do from start to finish.
Is this increased use of patterns and layers something you’ve seen a shift toward recently?
I’m not one for trends, but I am one for being current and modern. It seems that people are embracing a maximalist direction, and by that I mean pattern on pattern or color on color—maybe a little less breathing room than we’ve seen in the past. The trend is toward more rather than paring down.
Do you find that clients in the DC area have a specific style they like to stick to? Is the style exclusive to this part of the country?
I think DC is unique in that its residents are from all over the world. Most of my clients have lived
in other countries and picked up things on their travels. That informs my clients’ style, perhaps more than geography.
What is your primary emotion when you finish a project?
It’s unusual for us to have a project day where we say, “Yes, we’re done.” It’s a gradual phasing-out process. On installation day, which is really the first step toward being finished, I feel so proud of the work my team and I have done. And I’m usually very confident in thinking that no other designer in DC would have produced the same design. But, most of all, it’s amazing when the client loves it. Someone once asked me why I design, and I said, “I just want to help people love their houses, be happy every day, and be excited to show their friends.” I truly believe that when you love your home and it projects who you are to the world, you’re invincible.
For more info, visit annieelliottdesign.com