COLOR THEM CONTEMPORARY Four kids and an art collection? Copious space and modern design make coexistence comfortable

Open the front door of this traditional brick house in Ruxton, and the interior will come as a total surprise. When the owners moved from Pennsylvania they bought the house for the location and the space (it has six bedrooms), but they knew they wanted to redo it from top to bottom.

"It's as interesting for what's been removed as for what's here," says the interior designer, Robert Berman of Johnson-Berman. Mr. Berman worked with the architects, Schamu, Machowski, Doo and Associates, almost from the beginning, as they took down walls, replaced the curving staircase and balcony railing in the foyer and removed moldings, chair rails, window mullions, chandeliers and fireplace surrounds.


The new owners wanted a contemporary home inside, in complete contrast to the traditional exterior. But with four children aged 7 to 12, the woman of the house insisted: "No white-on-white rooms."

Both clients, Mr. Berman found, were receptive to color. The results are vibrant and appealing -- spaces filled with vivid purples, emerald greens, cobalt blues and crimson. There are few white walls except in the foyer, a backdrop for much of the couple's stunning contemporary art collection; the playroom; and the halls, which are lined with the children's artwork. (Along with the other renovations, the couple built an art studio in the basement for the kids, with a painting area, potter's wheel and kiln.)


One of the great advantages of the house is the amount of space it offers. There are six bedrooms with lots of walk-in closets, nine full bathrooms and a powder room. The husband's comfortable office is away from the main traffic areas. The children have a large playroom on the second floor, and there are family rooms with all the amenities on the first floor and in the basement (with a second kitchen).

Because the children have so much space for themselves, they tend to stay out of the main adult rooms. But even the large living room, originally two rooms, isn't off-limits. The long rectangular space is divided into two conversational groupings. One is quite formal, with a symmetrical arrangement of two sofas covered in purple mohair plush, two contemporary chairs in a related tone and a curved glass coffee table. The other is informal, more conducive to casual get-togethers. Its focal point is the Italian "torso chair," a functional piece of art furniture that encourages lounging by its very design. Its bold red and green colors are picked up in the informal print of the other pieces in the grouping.

When Mr. Berman told the wife he'd like to cover the dining room walls with black fabric, she was doubtful at first. But the fabric turned out to be a dramatic setting for the huge granite table, custom-made by Greg Sheres, that dominates the room. The colorful motifs and shapes on its hand-painted surface are intriguingly picked up by the artwork on the walls.

The dining table seats 14 -- the couple love to entertain. That also meant their new kitchen had to have two dishwashers, three ovens and six burners.

"My husband likes to cook, and my children like to help," says the wife.

The kitchen's original pickled wood cabinets and country tiles were taken out and replaced with a gray and white state-of-the-art kitchen, including a large central work area where many of the family's activities take place. The floor is Japanese vinyl that looks like granite.

When Mr. Berman was ready to design the children's rooms, he brought them samples of fabrics, wall coverings and color schemes.

"They even called me to make their preferences known," he says, laughing.


The results are very personal rooms, even though Mr. Berman didn't know the children well at the time. One daughter, for instance, is romantic and artistic -- her room is the only one in the house done in pastels, flowery prints and sheer bed hangings. The other daughter likes a contemporary look and brighter colors. Together they share the third floor of the house, with a large connecting room that will eventually become a place where they can entertain guests.

The children have had a further influence on the interior design of the house. Their parents value their artwork and have made room for it in places other than the hallways. The master bedroom, for instance, is decorated monochromatically in tones of periwinkle; the eye is immediately drawn to a framed painting above the fireplace, done by the second daughter.

Throughout the house the couple's extensive art collection is gracefully incorporated into the interior design. It was one of the reasons the owners bought the house. With its high ceilings and the light from its large windows, says Mr. Berman, "This is a house that lends itself to artwork."