Local interior designer Christine Philp on how to make a small space feel big

The interior designer decorates large-scale residences by day, but it’s her own diminutive space she loves the most.

living room with blue couch
Photo by Jenn Verrier Photography

Christine Philp’s historic Fairlington one-bedroom condo in South Arlington suits her. She bought it about two years ago after living in a tiny 440-square-foot Del Ray rental for 10 years. She loved that neighborhood and had hoped to stay there. But when she widened her search by a 2-mile radius, she also fell in love with Fairlington. And once she saw her unit, she was sold. At 1,008 square feet, she nearly doubled her living space, scoring a charming loft work space, reached by spiral staircase, and lots of storage.

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more home content, subscribe to our weekly Home e-newsletter. 

bedroom with pink and white floral sheets
Christine Philp made the most of her historic Fairlington condo with a mix of high and low finds in calming colors. (Photo by Jenn Verrier Photography)

Philp, who cut her teeth working for Thomas Pheasant in Georgetown, manages large-scale residential interior design projects, so scaling back for her one-bedroom condo was refreshing. In her mix of colors and neutrals, she discovered she likes pink. And that her tastes might even run a little preppy: Her choice of subtle plaids and light blues evoke the flexibility of a favorite oxford shirt—formal when paired with a pencil skirt, or casual when untucked over a favorite pair of jeans.

yellow chair with desk and mirror behind it
Photo by Jenn Verrier Photography

The light-filled living room has gleaming hardwoods, cream walls and a soaring 15-foot ceiling. It is a curated mashup of custom pieces and vintage finds. A slip-covered Ikea chaise that sits between the room’s two windows is a favorite household spot for Philp to settle into with a book, and for her aging cat, Birdie, to hang. Tailor-made throw pillows in bold prints take up residence on Philp’s light blue windowpane custom sofa and coordinating bespoke banquette in the kitchen, where a dramatic round wood table sits off-center, providing the perfect pass-through.

Philp added modern touches, but the space is steeped in history. The colonial-style red bricks served military families in the 1940s. Renovated in the 1970s, she’s left a number of the original touches. She updated her all-white postage-stamp kitchen with a retro-style fridge, and kept the ’70s-era cabinets, though the previous owner had painted them white. She added new hardware and installed a white subway tile backsplash. The adorable exhaust fan screams vintage.

“For me personally, I love smaller spaces,” says Philp. Her own home is a perfect example of why.

christine philp
Christine Philp (Photo by Joanna Tillman)

Design Philosophy
“I think living in my place in Del Ray just changed the way I lived and how I acquire things, and what I make decisions on,” says Philp. Her approach is evident in her careful selection of high-end and inexpensive pieces. She does a lot of entertaining, so she knows the value of being able to pull up a comfortable chair or make up a bed for a guest.

Renovation Frustration
No walls came down, but she redid the bathroom and painted the entire place, including the vaulted ceiling, which measures 15 feet at its highest point. The custom sofa was an easy decision, choosing the fabric was not. The sofa took three months to make—deciding on the fabric took 15 months.

Favorite Feature of the Room
“I really like the windows,” says Philp, as well as the room’s overall sense of calm and serenity. She loves the custom sheers, which she hung high for even more impact. Philp loves how “they filter the light. And I think they’re dramatic and I think they look cool.”

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