YOU SEE A LOT of Colonial-style homes in the Washington area. You certainly see them as you wend your way through Montgomery Village, the planned suburban community just outside Gaithersburg.
What you probably won’t see is a 1973 Colonial like this one, re-imagined by interior designer Don Bostick.
Outside, everything is all-American–not modern but a modern interpretation of “olde.” Inside the front door, though, we find other lands, other centuries–a present-day evocation of a young 18th-century Englishman’s Grand Tour of the Continent. Peek into the powder room off the large, handsome foyer, and be embraced by a rich, exotic, oversize floral wallpaper on a black ground. Trim is painted a rich brown. A “subcontinental” message is reinforced by a blown-up silkscreen of a miniature from India’s Mughal period and a wall mirror framed with ivory inlay.
Eighteenth-century Europe makes its initial appearance in the living room, which runs from the front of the house to the back. Upstairs it’s half-timber Tudor that shows up, dark beams set into walls and across ceilings, creating instant charm (and architectural “bones”).
It’s not tricks that make the interior stand out, though; it’s a consistent aesthetic that somehow blends furniture from different periods and places into a whole. In the living room, painted and distressed rococo-style side chairs face a long sofa of more recent origin. At the end of the living room is a daybed, newly reupholstered in a gutsy toile. If the house looks European and “fancy” to some people, with its wall sconces and candelabra, Bostick demurs, calling it “dressy casual.” “I mean,” he says with a laugh, “there’s a cowhide rug on the floor!”
True that. Another thing that makes the house so livable–and wonderful for entertaining–is that the principal main-floor rooms circle around a central core, meaning traffic can easily flow from the foyer in front, to the living room on the left or the family room on the right; those rooms connect with the kitchen and dining room in the rear. Guests can circulate around the main level without hitting dead ends that cause bottlenecks.
Lest the guests move through the rooms too quickly, Bostick has provided things that will cause them to stop in their tracks. Such as, over the living-room sofa, a large collage that features small repetitions of the Leonardo portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, that very pale 15th-century Florentine aristocrat who now resides in the National Gallery of Art. As her image marches down the canvas, the face eventually fades, rather like Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat, into a smoky-blue ground. It’s a piece Bostick executed some 25 years ago, but it still looks like a fresh idea.
Bostick and his husband, therapist Danny Cain–they’ve been together a decade and married for about three years–were attracted to the house eight years ago in part because of its great proportions and in part because of the previous owners. The husband, Bostick explains, was a good craftsman and built two living-room niches with bookshelves and added appropriately gutsy molding around the room. Those traditional, and well-balanced, features set the room up to embrace furnishings rather than simply provide a plain box for them. An odd touch–the fireplace is at the far end of the room rather than being centered–allows for two cozy seating areas, one anchored by the bookcases, and allows the fireplace to be shared by the dining room.
Upstairs we find more of the quirks that make an interior truly personal. Bostick confesses a fondess beyond all reason for a discontinued 1991 screen-printed fabric from the English company Timney Fowler. Called “Grand Portraits of Europe,” it features the black-and-white faces of ruff-collared Elizabethans set inside garlanded medallions. “I buy it whenever I see it,” Bostick says. Yes, the bed in the master bedroom is covered with the fabric; pillows are adorned with appliqués of the faces. And, sure enough, the living room plays host to two Timney Fowler notables who face off against each other from either end of the newly recovered daybed.
The most striking feature of the upper level, which has four bedrooms, is the timber accents, reminiscent of mediaeval houses in old European towns and here rendered in reclaimed barn board. Rather than sit behind a narrow door, the master bedroom can be closed off by two wide doors, now folded back, making the upstairs landing seem even wider than it is. “We thought we would change [the doorway],” Bostick says, “but we’ve come to like it this way.”
The bedroom seems to synthesize Bostick’s aesthetic. Two comfortable French bergeres sit beneath the portrait of a possibly English gentleman in a lace collar. The wide bed, covered with the “Portrait” fabric, has an Italian-looking giltwood headboard, all set against plain walls interrupted by rustic timbers.
Bostick, who has been doing design since third grade, been a designer since 1989 and out on his own since age 30, comes by his international bent naturally. He spent first grade in Libya, where his father was with a company drilling for oil. Then the family went to England and from there to . . . Texas, the Austin area. He attended the Art Institute of Dallas, worked for a Dallas design firm and then, following the oil crash of the 1980s, headed for Virginia.
If anything, Bostick is a little reluctant to “show what I do,” in case potential clients get the idea that this is all he does. But he also says clients are exposed to a lot of design these days. The difficult part is getting them to express what they like. “I’ve had to figure out how to read people,” he says. They usually have vague ideas, but now with websites like Houzz.com, Bostick points out, they can just pull up pictures and say, Here’s what they like.
As for Bostick, he likes cleaned-up traditional these days, “nothing fussy, nothing that tires you out after a while.” Upholstery, as in sofas, should be simple: “It’s a kind of background to the cool chairs and other stuff. It doesn’t have to be overly designed.”
And that still leaves plenty of opportunity for display: That’s where Bostick gets to show off his Cuzco paintings and where, as he puts it, “spooky Buddhas mix with archangels.”