Inside Homes: Black & White Shine, Warm & Dramatic Play

by Dara Klatt

The minimalist, modern Georgetown residence of Margie Sullivan
Portrait by Tony Powell | Interior Photos by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

As D.C. “types” go, Margaret Sullivan does seem to fit that certain Washingtonian political power-player mold. Her resume spans serving as chief operating officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), chief of staff to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo, special assistant to Secretary of Defense William Perry and chief of staff to U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.

But her background, much like her aesthetic, isn’t what you might call “expected.” She ended up in the private sector, lived in San Francisco and remained a global traveler, especially to third-world countries, which explains why she sought a first-world retreat. When Sullivan purchased her first home in Georgetown four years ago, after renting in trendy parts of the city, the dichotomy flourished in the design.

On the outside, the townhouse seems both traditional and historic in a bustling section of Georgetown. Inside, it’s modern and minimalist. And while the design palette is a statement in black and white, the result isn’t harsh and extreme. It’s elegant and warm, or as Sullivan, a Newport Beach, Calif. native, puts it, “a combination of Southern California and Washington D.C.”

Living Room: One trick to the house, says designer Christopher Boutlier, was making the interior modern “without seeming totally out of place” in its traditional Georgetown setting. To do this, he added traditional elements like the handmade David Iatesta console table along with modern elements such as the black “column 84” sculpture by Corbin Bronze next to the fireplace.

What was truly unexpected in the process however, was the evolution from the original vision to the end result. “When I bought the house, I didn’t think I would do that much to it,” Sullivan says, “but the more I got into it, the more ambitious I got … We ended up doing every single room.”

Corroborating this, her designer Christopher Boutlier emphasizes that the initial plan was only to refinish the floors and paint. “After a few weeks, that plan quickly collapsed and we embarked on a more holistic design concept for the home.”

The newer, more sweeping concept was centered on making the two-bedroom house aesthetically pleasing and comfortable—simple enough for single living yet also well-suited for entertaining. In this way, everything was considered to fit the intent, from fabric selections to the spacing of the living room sofas. The duo worked together to fulfill it.“I would routinely message her in the middle of the night with some random idea,” Boutlier says, adding that his client was “always totally open to talking through the concept. There was never a hard no, it always felt like a team effort.”

Den: Bookshelves incorporate volumes from Sullivan’s collection that had either white, black or gold binding, along with textual art.

As with anything in a creative process, it wasn’t all saccharine. The near chasm was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase that was built in the den and then densely packed with nearly every book Sullivan owned.“You felt like the wall might fall in on you,” Sullivan recalls, so … “we worked on it … and we worked.” A color theme of black, white and gold was implemented and the books were culled through. A few were chosen, while the rest ended up in storage. Then textured objects and artistic pieces were interspersed, like white coral, iron tree branches, smooth stones, a cement bud vase and abstract sculptures. “I just never get tired of looking at that wall,” Sullivan says.

She will tell you how in the diplomatic corps, people often focus on the “entertainment and the sparkle,” which can underplay the hard work that goes into advancing U.S. interests in stressful environments. In her home however, it’s okay to gaze at the minimalistic dazzle as a whole. There’s gold in that black and white.

Dining Room: One existing feature of the house was its green wall. Before construction started, the plantings were “more wild” with many ferns and “overgrown bushy plants.” Sullivan and Boutlier wanted to keep it, but sought more of a “somber and uniform” look; in other words, “more like a Japanese garden than an English one,” Boutlier says, adding that “it’s one of the items that makes the house unique.” Sullivan adds, “That feeling of nature, however you get it, is just something that wears well.”

Bedroom: A pendant light next to the Minotti bed is by Allison Berger. “Chris [Boutlier] did a great job in persuading me that light fixtures are art,” Sullivan says.

Hallway: “The white, neutral colors and modern lines reflect California; the architecture and stone work – East Coast,” owner Margie Sullivan says. “Less is more with color and lines.” The bench is by Minotti and painting by Lee Bae.

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