Designer Rachel Dougan | Home Front

Rachel Dougan
May 05, 2016

Rachel Dougan is founder and principal of ViVi Interiors, based in D.C. Dougan grew up in Southeast Asia, Switzerland and Paris before attending college in the U.S., giving her an innate eye for international architecture and design. Dougan has been in the design field for more than 25 years, much of that time developing brands for large corporations. Now at ViVi, she is applying her global and work experiences and passion for “living” design to a more personal setting, the home.

This week Jura Koncius wrote about a Southwest Washington co-op Dougan gutted and decorated to represent the owner's personality, click here to read the story.

Every week, Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Rachel Dougan is founder and principal of ViVi Interiors, based in Adams Morgan D.C. Dougan grew up in Southeast Asia, Switzerland and Paris before attending college in the U.S., giving her an innate eye for international architecture and design. Dougan has been in the design field for more than 25 years. At ViVi, she is applying her global and work experiences to a more personal setting, the home. An example of this is today's feature about Rachel's client Nina Dunham and her Southwest Washington co-op. The project shows Rachel's creativity and style. And she also knows a lot about cat friendly decorating. Let's chat.

Hello fellow fans of lovely spaces. I'm happy to be with all of you and  Jura on this chat today.

I love the idea of giving a gift to myself by way of design, as the article suggested. Can you share a couple small but impactful ways to make a home feel special?

Art is very personal gift and will reward your well-being when you are able to look upon it everyday. Art doesn't have to just be a painting that hangs on the wall. Mobiles, pillows, lamps, etc...if chosen with an eye for its sculptural forms, can be artful.


Hi Rachel, We are closing on a house next week and excited to upgrade my decor. Currently we have a mish mash of styles (MCM, leather sectional, ikea and a Victorian secretary) but I would like to better define a theme to make it seem like it goes together a little better. Do you have any references on how to form a cohesive style while keeping some of my funky flea market elements? Thanks! Megan

Congrats on your new home! And great question.

The trick is to assess the scale, weight and color of all the pieces in concert with the architecture of your space. If you've got a lot of large wood pieces in one spot, it may look like someone raided the attic. If too many upholstered pieces are clumped together, it can feel heavy. Pay lot of attention to heights of the shapes from the ceiling and from the floor.

Paint can help. For instance, a giant black wardrobe can be made to be elegant if you paint the wall behind in a dark color that absorbs it, making it almost disappear.

I think the Brits have the art of mixing old and new down pat. Their versions of Home and Garden, Elle Décor or World of Interiors are excellent go-to’s. 

Hope that helps and have fun with your adventure!


The bathroom seems to dispel the myth that dark colors make a space seem smaller. How did you come up with that color scheme? What was the starting point?

Absolutely. Dark colors can be more enveloping and alluring than light colors in certain instances--particularly if your space has no natural light to begin with, as in the case of Nina's bath. The black was a natural choice to provide a glamorous backdrop for the elegant marble tile, shower curtain and cabinetry to shine.

The shift in the room was really genius... BUT!!! There is no power source for the lamps on the console table. And this comes up time and again. The designer puts reading lights, task lights, even electronic equipment in the middle of the room. Do they assume one can install electric sockets in the floor? Do they provide those weird rubber protector-things for extension cords? Do you just run it under a rug and hope? Or is there an extension cord that is made to lie in a traffic pattern?

I'd say...just say no! :) Lighting needs a convenient power source. No use trying to contort all the furniture into an arrangement that's purely for the aesthetics.

I'm trying to decide on a color for a beach house couch between sunbrella navy or charcoal. It is in an open floor plan home, on the opposite side of a kitchen with grey IKEA cabinets. I also have a great Brass tray coffee table like this Oval Mid-Century Modern Brass Moroccan-Style Table.

Beach house, how wonderful! 

If you're looking for a modern mix, go with the charcoal. If you're leaning towards a more transitional feel, then the navy will help you get there. 


...but are there really two TVs side by side in the living room?!

Nina, the owner of the apartment, is a fan of watching the Caps on the big screen, but not so much of a fan as to have two big screens ! :)

There is only one 55" television. The other space is an ethanol fireplace which Nina can cuddle up to when the Caps aren't doing well. ;)

Where is the fireplace in that "library" wall with the TV set?

I purposefully "hid" the black TV and fireplace in plain sight within the black library wall--probably a little too well ;)

You can get a better view of these elements from the pictures on my site  (just go to the "gallery" to view the Southwest apartment). There's a photo there that clearly shows the library wall and all that's in it. Hope you find it :)

It always makes me cringe when people talk about doing things in your house for resale value. Why don't you have your house the way you want it, and when you sell it, think about making changes for resale. When I was looking at houses, a realtor told me I could do something that would help the resale and I hadn't even bought the house yet. Life for you, not for the future owners! Meg at

Meg, I'm with you sistah! I love it when a client says "I want what I want." The name of my company ViVi Interiors means "living" interiors in Latin because I do believe you can enjoy your home now--by fully inhabiting it with your personality, passion, and individual lifestyle. My clients like to be completely comfortable in their homes, which are a true reflection of them, not of the future occupants.

I get that marble looks awesome. But isn't it a softer stone that can pick up knife marks and wine stains? For me practicality wins over looks, especially since I use my kitchen a lot. If I ever get the money together to redo my kitchen I'm going with manufactured quartz.

If you're worried about marks and stains, then a harder surface is definitely for you. In this case, my client, who is an avid cook, wanted a surface that would never go out of fashion. Used for everything from columns of stately buildings to grand staircases, marble is incredibly durable and timeless. The natural poks and patina that go with it keeps it honest and gives it charm.

I noticed the patterns in the ceilings. Are they structural or for looks or both?

There were a lot of challenges to installing lighting in the apartment's concrete ceilings, especially since the building did not allow any channeling of electric into the concrete. So, the design of the ceiling is practical in that we were able to run conduits for electrical everywhere for essential lighting, while adding dimension and interest to the spaces as well. Although, the contractor, who did a beautiful job of it, still has nightmares about the installation ;)

I hear that velvet is a good fabric to use if you have cats because they don't like sinking their claws into it. I see you used a velvet in Nina's home. Do you think it's generally a good choice for pets?

Generally speaking, yes. But every cat is different. I find that a bit of trickery goes a long way as well. Like adding an inexpensive but stylish cord wrapped end table to the sofa. Perhaps kitty will have more fun scratching on it instead?

It looks like the entry-way buffet is backed by a partial wall (great color, btw), and that the shelves of the bar in the dining session fill-in (or peek through?) the gap. It really lightens that entry space, but are the ends of the glass shelves open to the entry?

Very astute of you! We were lucky to find that niche in the demolition and decided to play it up!

This week's article came at just the right time, particularly as I am under contract on a 1-bedroom in River Park myself! I was curious how you were able to work the a/c units into the design, because you hardly notice them here. Usually they are such an eyesore when they stick out on their own.

How exciting for you! I agree, the circa-60's AC units are not a good feature. I wrapped them with built-ins that provide extra storage while covering them up. Best wishes for your closing!

Did the client already have that fabulous art and collectibles? Or did you help pick them out for the re-do?

My client does have a fabulous art collection! Much more that you don't even see here (she rotates them in and out of storage to hang on the track system that we installed throughout the living room). About 80% of the artwork that you see in these picture were found by me, or we shopped for them together.

I never thought of putting mirrors in a kitchen. It really works in this tight space. How did you come up with that design element?

Since the kitchen is also essentially the entryway into the apartment, we knew that we did not want the space to immediately say "drop the groceries here." 

The concept was to feel as if you were walking into a swanky lounge bar--hence the mirrors! But what really makes the mirrors work is that they are perfectly antiqued--not too blingy like a disco ball, and not too dingy, like it was dug out of a ship wreck.

Having recently purchased a 150 yo townhouse, I am at a crossroads. The master bath was updated in the 80s and needs some freshening - both in terms of form and function. However, I'm not interested in spending a lot of $$ as 1) I don't have it now; and 2) there's the possibility that in the future I may expand its footprint and glam it up then. Would you update the sink cabinet, electrical, and toilet now - aka "refurbish" - or wait? My biggest issue is that the toilet is short and I have no working storage - vanity drawers are too deep to be useful.

An 80's bath? For sure it will need a little updating ;)

I would wait on the parts that require construction of any kind--you don't want to kick up all that dust but once. You can add quick fixes like a new toilet, which can be used in the new design. Add new sconces that you like. For more practical storage, add a slim storage unit (floor standing or hung on the wall) which will coordinate with the bath. 

Hello! I loved the space you designed for Nina. While that style is not typically a style I go for, I couldn't help but admire how everything pulled together nicely-her interests, the colors, etc. My question is how do you decide what to pull together to make the space different without being too busy? I prefer a simpler, cleaner look but then when I go to put my all white pieces of furniture together, it looks so boring! How do you spruce up a place without making it "too much"?

All white doesn't necessarily mean "boring." It could be seen as serenely cloud-like. :)

If you want to add little touches of interest, consider your artwork. Also think about how to introduce lighting and accessories. These come in countless textures, colors, shapes which might give you interest that you're looking for.

There is a living room that I designed for my client which s deceivingly "colorful." But if you really look at it, there's one sofa and a couple of pillows in colorful tones, but everything else in the room is pretty much neutral. The art is what brings the interest.

Check out the Lincoln Heights space in the gallery of

Good luck with your cloud!

It was great to hear more about Nina's apartment and how you made it special and personal. Thanks a lot for being on the chat. Next week: we have the Richmond DIY blogging duo Sherry and John Petersik. Chat with you then.

Thank you for all your questions. I had fun chatting with you and wish you the best with your decorating journey. Enjoy! ~Rachel

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Rachel Dougan
Rachel Dougan is founder and principal of ViVi Interiors.
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