Designer Uses Holistic Approach to 'Build Dreams'

Designer Uses Holistic Approach to 'Build Dreams'

by Daina Darzin

In American families today, the kitchen is the most important room, Drysdale believes. More than just a room, it's "a series of spaces that interact. [It's] the heart of the house. We cook with our [kids] and our spouse, with our friends. I love bringing music and sometimes, musical instruments, into the kitchen, and always a home office. It's a place where you can organize while being with your family," she says.

A strong base
Drysdale decries the lack of knowledge of architectural history among the design community. "Most of today's architects have no idea what happened in America in a real way," she complains. "They have no idea about European architectural history, so what do they have to build on?"

Once she returned to the U.S., things happened quickly. "I started doing very small things and, lo and behold, these tiny little projects were ending up on the covers of magazines," she recalls. "I couldn't have been more surprised. I found that, not only could I do the design reasonably well, but I felt passionate about it. 

"I lead a well-designed life," she continues. "I want to be surrounded by things I find appealing. I'd rather have nothing in a room than have something that's a [style] compromise."

Holistic concepts
Drysdale emphasizes a holistic approach to all of her work. "When I look at a design in my own office, if I have someone come in and say, 'how do you like this?' I give them one of my smiles and say, 'This? What project are you talking about?

Against what wall?' There should be a single vision that directs the process." Everything, she emphasizes, exists in context.
To help adhere to this concept, Drysdale purposely keeps her firm small (except for her two Great Danes, who accompany her to the office). "We principally do projects where [we're doing] major renovations or [working] from the ground up. We design the interiors. We also design a lot of the furniture, [and] have an art curator on staff," she notes. "We all work together."

Drysdale subcontracts nearly all of her installations, including the custom cabinetry she often designs for her clients. However, she is always aware of the full picture. 

"I design fully integrated spaces," she explains. "I don't want to have another basket rack on top of the kitchen cabinets. I don't want to have a bulkhead that's a different color." 

Awkward details, awkward design moments are anathema to her, she explains, and 
custom-designed cabinets serve to eliminate all that often, at a lower cost than high-end custom from a major manufacturer. 

The standard sizes of cabinetry also make Drysdale tend toward custom. "[The] sizes don't always conform, and we like our [cabinets] to fit perfectly," Drysdale elaborates, "no filler joints that people commonly use. We just feel it's a higher level of [design], a higher quality product. You don't have the complexity of dealing with numerous subcontractors, trying to fill in the little patches of space that should have been attended to in the first place."

Additionally, "We make our own islands, pot racks, aprons and potholders," she notes. "At the end of the job, we have a stately, fully elegant and coherent, rational space that people aren't afraid to entertain in. Some of my clients 
are happy to have a black tie event and have people walk into their kitchen."

Dream designs
In business for over 20 years, Drysdale's current projects include a show house benefiting breast cancer research. Designed for "client" Bette Midler, the project is an opportunity to display Drysdale's fervently held design beliefs and ideas. 

A dramatic arrangement of columns frame the entrance to the kitchen. A SieMatic island with a birch top and a custom-designed pot rack provide focal points, along with golden-yellow painted cabinets; a dining room with very expensive Swedish painted chairs leads one to the butler's pantry for the effect of multiple frameworks. A Steinway piano, handmade tiles and bowls, a fireplace and lounging chair complete the complex, multi-dimensional space. "All of the countertops are wooden I'm out of my granite phase," Drysdale quips. "I also put rugs in all of my kitchens. Often, I [use] worn Persians."

"We all have incredibly hectic lives," she states. "We work very hard. We deserve satisfaction out of our lives, and that's something I can do for people. I consider myself a 'dream maker.' There's almost a spiritual essence, a peace, that homes have to [provide]. I think you should be able to come home from one of those really bad days, open your door and say, 'thank God I live here.' That is what it's all about."

Drysdale Inc.

LOCATION: Washington, DC
PRINCIPAL: Mary Douglas Drysdale
SHOWROOMS: One, 6,500 sq. ft. 
HOURS OF OPERATION: By appointment only 
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: SieMatic, Gaggennau, Sub-Zero, Viking, Thermador
SPECIALTY: Designs her own custom cabinets.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "My goal is to create a dream-like yet practical kitchen space that is artfully integrated and coordinated with the overall architecture of the house."