Sleek taupe and black living room tones begin the transformation from traditional to contemporary. The tapestry bordered fabrica rug and rich fabrics create a sophisticated yet warm mood.

Integrating Cultural Artifacts
INTERIOR DESIGN Jean Bouchoux Higgins
Inside Out Interiors, Inc., Vienna, VA
TEXT Jane Morley, Washington, DC
PHOTOGRAPHY Omar Salinas HiTech Photo, Tysons Corner, VA

When Jane Pelley moved to the Washington, DC, area in September 1997, she took the opportunity to change the rhythm of her life by making a transition from working woman to lady of the house. With the same single-minded drive with which she managed and grew her own advertising firm in Dallas, Texas, she poured herself into the job of creating a beautiful home for her husband, Scott Pelley, and her two children in McLean, Virginia. An Emmy Award-winning correspondent for CBS News, Scott is often away on assignment, and he came to Washington to cover events at the White House and the activities of the President here and throughout the world. Jane wanted “a beautiful, welcoming, and comfortable environment” for Scott to come home to after a long and hard trip where he could relax and where they could entertain friends and colleagues.

Jane was immediately drawn to the charm of the exterior of the traditional fieldstone and clap-board Cape Cod house situated on five wooded acres that included extensive gardens, a pool and a tennis court. Coming from a zero-lot-line property in Dallas, Jane “liked the idea that we could have a large space, and that the children could play in the woods.” But the interior of the house was another matter. Built in the 1970s, the house was in need of updating, was filled with traditional fabrics and style, and much to Jane’s dismay, the house had virtually no built-in overhead lighting. A major aesthetic and technological transformation would be needed before the Pelleys’ collection of contemporary furniture, art, and lighting fixtures – as well as cultural artifacts from their trips all over the world – would be at home in the house.

The Design

Pelley escapes from the deadlines in the rich luxury of his library. Emmy awards received for news coverage and photographs Pelley took on trips around the world remind him of deadlines to come. 

Pelley escapes from the deadlines in the rich luxury of his library. Emmy awards received for news coverage and photographs Pelley took on trips around the world remind him of deadlines to come.

Enter Jean Higgins, principal of Inside Out Interiors, who was exhilarated by the idea of doing a non-traditional, contemporary interior. “They had some very nice contemporary pieces – a sofa, a couple of overstuffed chairs, a black baby grand piano, a unique dining room table and eight chairs, and some wonderful glass lighting fixtures, including an opaque Venetian glass floral design in delicious primary colors. And Jane was terrific to work with: open to new ideas, enthusiastic, and committed,” Jean recollected. Like the Pelleys, Jean had traveled abroad extensively and had already tackled the problem of integrating interesting, and from a design standpoint, challenging “stuff” into her own home.

Jean Higgins began the project by consulting architect Steven Thomas and together came up with a concept: architectural details would be added to the house – rich wood built-ins, a coffered ceiling – that would add contemporary with a choice of color, woods, and slightly exaggerated scale, but that could easily be “re-visioned” later as appropriate details if the interior were ever transformed back into a traditional one. Jean also brought in master electrician Greg Lucas to design and install overhead lighting in each room as her plan for each room began to evolve through an ongoing dialogue with Jane.

A kitchen corner comes alive with views of the perennial gardens and pool while whimsical fabrics enhance the colors of an opaque, hand blown venitian chandelier the Pelleys bought in Italy. 

A kitchen corner comes alive with views of the perennial gardens and pool while whimsical fabrics enhance the colors of an opaque, hand blown venitian chandelier the Pelleys bought in Italy.

Elegant But Whimsical

The first room they tackled was the dining room. Jean wanted to use a neutral color palette because of the colorful contemporary American and traditional Sengalese art the couple wanted to hang in the room. The walls were painted a very light beige and then a taupe diamond-shaped pattern was applied; sconces were added and also painted taupe. The resulting faux painted walls have an elegant, almost neo-traditional look, but the exaggerated size of the diamonds lends a contemporary, whimsical flair to the room. Jean chose a Baker sideboard and highboy designed by Barbara Barry to complement the table and chairs owned by the Pelleys. One can sense the Biedermeier and northern European influences that shaped these pieces, but in their contemporary setting they look thoroughly modern. The chairs needed reupholstering and Jean wanted to do something colorful, yet remain part of the neutral palette she was using. For the eight chairs she chose a dupioni silk fabric that was available in eight different colors, deep tones that resonate perfectly with the colorful artwork in the room but that don’t blare. Framing projectors and track lighting spotlight the artwork and a unique light fixture the Pelleys brought from their Dallas home completes the room.

The kitchen and breakfast room were in good shape, but Jean wanted a stronger visual connection with the dining room and wanted to integrate the unique Venetian glass chandelier that Scott and Jane had bought in Italy. She chose an informal taupe wallpaper that blends with the faux-painted walls of the dining room and contains a graphic design that is at once abstract and geometrical. A pleated valance for the windows uses a fabric that picks up the colors of the chandelier as well as the palette used in the dining room. The same fabric was laminated with plastic and then used to cover the seats of the chairs in the breakfast room – a wise decision given the Pelleys’ two young children.

With its brick floor, the family room at the back of the house seems to have been a patio at some period in the history of the house. Small windows did not really allow the Pelleys to enjoy the view of their pool, gardens, and woods, and the room lacked interesting details. Architect Steven Thomas suggested enlarging the windows, and adding a coffered ceiling, built-ins, and fireplace and mantel details. Master carpenter Bo Meenehan was brought in to fabricate the granite-countered wet bar, bookshelves, cabinetry and a media center. The Pelleys chose a bird’s eye maple with a light-to-medium stain for the built-ins and Meenehan made two trips to New York to buy the wood. “We had seen bird’s eye maple build-ins in the home of one of Scott’s colleagues at CBS and thought they were gorgeous,” Jane recalled. “When ours were completed I told the couple that their cabinetry had been our inspiration. They laughed and said they would be sure to tell their faux painter”! Accessories in the room include many family photographs, as well as photographs taken by Scott on a trip with Jane to Africa and a framed Masai tribal spear. Jean and Jane decided against treatments for the enlarged windows to maximize the view, but Jean did have the windows coated with a low-E film to protect the wood, upholstery, and the Tibetan rug from too much sunlight.

Jane and Scott already had a beige and black living room sofa they loved and Jean found a Jack Lenor Larson fabric that reminded her of it. She suggested that a black wool rug be custom made with a design that incorporated the fabric as a border, and then used leftover fabric to recover an overstuffed chair the Pelleys brought with them. Recessed lighting, a baby grand piano, and black wood carvings done by Jane’s father, a surgeon in Oklahoma, all add visual drama to the room.

Thinking Over The Top

For his study down the hall, Scott’s only mandate was “think over the top.” Taking him at his word, Jean and Jane again enlisted the taste and craftsmanship of Bo Meenahan to create a room paneled in solid cherry with built-in bookshelves and a media center. When queried about the wood, Scott wanted “thick” and the slightly overscaled wood treatments give an almost postmodern feel to the small room. Multi-tiered mouldings meet the ceiling and pilaster details enrich the design, extended to include cherry-framed and mullioned windows looking onto the lawn and woods beyond. The two most prominent accessories in the room were brought back by Scott from trips to Moscow and Xian, China – a large red Soviet flag and a small-scale reproduction of a life-sized chariot and horses excavated from the same archeological site that revealed the army of terra cotta warriors. The room is an inviting gentleman’s respite from the activities in the rest of the house.

A remarkable aspect of Jean Higgins’ design concept is its flexibility. When the Pelleys make their next move (in fact, Pelley is now with “60 Minutes II” in New York), it will be easy to transform the interior into an entirely traditional one. The rich wood built-ins and the faux-painted geometrics of the dining room walls will have only happy memories of their walk on the wild side as soon as new owners with more traditional tastes move in.


Carpet:  Fabrica Chez Cut Pile
Cut velvet tapestry:  Jack Lenor Larsen from Cowtan & Tout, Washington, DC
Fabrication:  J.Brooks Designer Carpets, Fairfax, VA
Pillows:  Designer Elements, Inc., McLean, VA
Covered lotus vase:  Designer Elements, Inc., McLean, VA
Mirror:  Baker, Knapp & Tubbs, Washington, DC
Raku Pottery:  Pugrant Associates, Washington, DC
Wrought iron vase holder:  Pugrant Associates
Carved ebony bird and head:  Reece Boone, M.D. (Jane’s Father)
Calligraphy silk screen:  Designer Elements, Inc., McLean, VA
Flower arrangement:  Hedgerows, McLean, VA
Lighting:  Greg Lucas
Gazelle sculpture:  Designer Elements, Inc., McLean, VA
Photograph:  Owners’ Original
Artwork:  Dan Rizzie
Window design:  Domain Designs, Seattle, WA
Window fabric:  Kirk Brummel-Jagtar Silk
Window hardware:  J.L. Anthony, Dallas, TX
Tieback hardware:  Houles
Vase with lillies:  Owners’

Tall chest:  Barbara Barry Collection at Baker, Knapp & Tubbs
Glass table & chairs:  Owners’ Collection
Chair fabric:  Lee Behrens Silk at Decorators Walk, Washington, DC
Chair upholstery:  Jose Goncalves, Arlington, VA
Candlesticks & opaque bowl:  Squire Chase, McLean, VA
Chandeliers:  Owners’ Original-Luna Lighting Pendant
Faux diamond walls:  Carolee Morrison, Interior Beaux-Arts
Lighting contractor:  Greg Lucas
Rug:  Shayan Oriental Rugs, Chantilly, VA
Window treatment: Same as living room
Artwork over butler’s tray:  Brenda Kingerly
Butler’s tray table:  Baker, Knapps & Tubbs, Washington, DC
Crystal decanters:  Owners’ Original
Circular metal sculpture:  Design Elements, Inc.
Plant stand:  Pugrant Associates, Washington, DC
Artwork in betwwn windows: Artist unknown from Goree Island, West Africa (purchased on trip to West Africa with President Clinton)

Paint:  Ralph Lauren Suede
Cherry woodwork and carpentry:  Bo Meenehan, Lovettsville, VA
Leather chair:  Grange Furniture, Washington, DC
Rug:  Sav Corp., Washington, DC
Accessories:  Owners’ Collection
Emmys:  Scott Pelley Awards
Lamp:  Home Specialty Store, Reston, VA

Architectural Design:  Steven Thomas, architect
Fabrication, painting & wood selection:  Bo Meenehan, Lovettsville, VA
Tibetan rug:  Galleria Carpets & Rugs, Washington, DC
Chairs:  Baker, Knapp & Tubbs, Washington, DC
Chair fabric:  Decorators Walk, Washington, DC
Sofa:  Decorators Walk, Washington, DC
Sofa fabric:  Decorators Walk, Washington, DC
Sofa table:  McGuire at Baker, Knapp & Tubbs, Washington, DC
Coffee table:  La Barge
End table:  By owners
Gazelle Sculpture:  Designer Elements, Inc., McLean, VA
Photograpghs & Artwork:  Owners’ Collection
Circular Venetian glass platter & stand: Squire Chase, McLean, VA
Stick Basket in fireplace:  Designer Elements, Inc., McLean, VA
Russian boxes:  Owners’ Collection
Crystal Paperweight:  Owners’ Collection

Window and chair fabric:  Telar/Folk Album at Duncan.Higgins.Perez, Washington, DC
4 Each Venetian glass dishes:  Squire Chase, McLean, VA
Furniture, dishes, glassware & linen:  By Owner
Exterior gazing ball: W.Kent Smolinski Landscape Architechts
Window treatment design:  Domain Designs, Seattle, WA
Venetian chandelier:  Owners’ Collection by Marco Polo Glass Studio purchased in Italy
Accessories:  Owners’ Collection
Wallpaper:  Am-thol’o-gy, Impressions Handprinters, Inc., Capital Carousel