Q&A: Pum Lefebure: Designing a home when design is your life

Pum Lefebure
Oct 18, 2018

Pum Lefebure is the co-founder and chief creative officer of Design Army, a Washington graphic design and branding agency. Pum and her husband Jake, who is Design Army's chief executive, work as designers all day and retreat to their modern Brookland home at night.Working with interior designer Darryl Carter, Pum styled the four floors of her house in black and white to be a dramatic and relaxing retreat for herself, Jake and daughter Sophie. Design is a constant 24/7 in their lives. Pum's love of Paris art studios and flea markets and her innate sense of fashion gives their home a unique and intriguing look.

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Pum Lefebure is the co-founder and chief creative officer of Design Army, a Washington graphic design and branding agency. Pum and her husband Jake, who is Design Army's chief executive, work as designers all day and retreat to their modern Brookland home at night. Read about their home here in my story in today's Washington Post with great photos by John McDonnell. Working with interior designer Darryl Carter, Pum styled the four floors of her house in black and white to be a dramatic and relaxing retreat for herself, Jake and daughter Sophie. Design is a constant 24/7 in their lives. Pum's love of Paris art studios and flea markets and her innate sense of fashion gives their home a unique and intriguing look. Let's chat with her about her house, her style and her design mantra.

Hi everyone - this is Pum Lefebure of Design Army - and so I am so happy to be here (virtually) this AM to take some of your questions. While I am not a trained interior designer, I love to create, decorate and add a punch of style to every room in my house.

The black floors are beautiful but are they difficult to take care of? Do your dog's nails scratch them?

We went with Black floors knowing they would scratch and wear over time, but it's more cost effective to repaint vs refinish - and we also do not wear shoes in the house so they stay fairly clean - except for the dog hair; but everyone has that problem!

Do you design your home with your favorite color? How did you do it?

Lest just say I like colors, but I LOVE shades of white. I’m in a graphic design business and I work with color and patterns all day long. So, when I get home I need to cleanse my palette. Coming home to a calm space white space and waking up to a clean slate is very important. And we used Benjamin Moored DC-03 Bonifant White throughout the house - it has a good balance for direct sun or shade.

Do you have a mentor? If so, how did that relationship begin and what value does it bring to your career?

Yes, I do have design/advertising mentors.  I think it’s important to keep learning and not to be afraid to ask advice from someone you respect. A good mentor can point and connect you to the right person, direction, or solution. I know that by having a mentor definitely helped speed up my knowledge of the creative industry. Building an authentic relationship with a mentor is invaluable.

On the flipside I know that I also serve as a mentor to other creatives. I’ve realized long ago that mentorship is never a completely one-sided. When you mentor someone, you learn so much about their point of view. You can gain so much by giving.

My 1977 bathroom fixtures are a color I think Kohler called "Caribbean Blue", sort of Cerulean. Oy! Not in the budget right now to gut & re-do. Vanity top, sinks and wall trim are white. Looking for a good neutral, probably off-white, for walls. Can you suggest a good color, ideally a Benjamin Moore paint?

Fresh paint is great to fix a dated look.  I like Darryl  Carter’s Benjamin Moore. We used DC-03 in our house, but you can check out different whites here: https://bit.ly/2CtqKnF - also a good idea to do a test. Paint a paper sheet or scrap drywall to see if the color or shade is going to hold up w/ your lighting situation.

Do you design your home with design or art? How do you place them?

I collect art; a lot of art and all types.  I have a collection of 19th century portrait paintings and still-life that I get from Paris Flea market every year. They usually are set with gold frame but I take them out of the frame as I prefer to see the sides of the raw canvas (it’s more natural and of the moment)

For the formal areas of the house we do frame them by simply place the painting in the middle of the matte board. The frame always white and modern to offset the old.

In my loft office I curate the paintings on my bulletin board wall and will move them around every so often depending on what I’m working on at the time.

How do you keep your white sofas clean with a dog?

If you have a dog - nothing is ever clean!  Luna does not get on the white couch very often, she's mainly in the basement with Jake. But to cut back on a fur overload I suggest you get some nice throws that are THE SAME COLOR to cover your couch; this way you keep the design intent but also keep your couch clean.

Where do you like to shop for your home in DC Pum?

I travel quite a bit for work so I usually collect my pieces while on the go. I don’t like online shopping because I’m very tactile person and I have to see and feel the material. In DC, I stop at Darryl’s Boutique on 9th street. I will go to Crate and Barrel for essentials. I also like Shopkeeper on H street for unexpected magazines/books. For clothes, I love Relish in Cady’s alley, Georgetown.

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How did you get the nice black gloss on your floors?

The key to a deep black is to stain them first, install, and stain again and seal with gloss. It holds up really well and when you do get a scratch the deep stained wood does not show "scratch" lines.

What's your favorite place to eat in Brookland?

We normally only go out to eat when we travel - so Jake's Kitchen is the best place to eat in Brookland.

What was your experience when you and Jake gutted your home and custom built from the ground up? How long was the process and were you living elsewhere or on the property during that time?

The process was very long - like almost 10 years long! - but there were many factors that were the cause. You have to be careful to keep your foundation in-tact so you are not classified as NEW construction and then you have new building codes, set-back. etc...

I also advise not to live in the house as you are building it - we had a second house that we lived in so during the long build. And it goes with out saying get a great architect and builder on board who can work together; we got lucky with that.

I do want to let you all know about a new Washington Post series "What's Next". My design contribution is a story on luxury garages that includes a great video of a guy outside of San Diego who built a subterranean suite for his classic cars and who loves taking them for a drive along the beach. Read the story and see video here.

How you and Darryl work together? Would you send him photos of things from Paris you wanted to buy for the house?

I usually buy what I like and figure out where to put later. For example the wall art by Sam Baron was the first thing I bought. The long minimal dinning table was designed with this artwork in mind. The art was being shipped from Paris so the design process and decorating process was happening at the same time.

I have a very small home. I know design is a constant process, but if I bring in something new, I need to get rid of something already there. But what if I still like it? Do you keep stuff in storage and rotate things in and out of view or do you just replace things---things go out permanently when new things come in?

We rarely toss out items. At one point we had 3 storage units and then Jake found a large space to rent  we keep all our extra items in his workshop. Lots of the items we do not use will get used in our photoshoots - like table/chairs/mirrors/lighting/etc... - but sometimes we will purge and items usually get donated.

Did you find it hard to stick to black and white? I notice you do have a lot of color in your artworks. Do you find it limiting?

I love a limited color palette.. It’s more constrained but also more powerful. I like my entire house to read as one large space. The house feels much bigger because it is not being divided up to different color/themed rooms. As you move from floor to floor there is continuity with each room you enter. White is also a nice foundation to let all my art shine (museum approach). By sticking black and white, it gives me an opportunity to play with the tone, shade, texture and then add a pop of color to stand out – and draw you in.

Where is your laundry room? Looks like a lot of stairs.

Jake made sure we had a laundry shoot - it's a very 70's idea but super functional in a house with many levels. We can easily gather and toss items down to the basement laundry room and then collect it with our individual baskets.

All of my adult life, I've followed my mother's example and lined my kitchen cabinets and drawers with shelf liner. It's a chore, and I can no longer find the tacky (not sticky) liner - thus the liner does not stay in place. I'll move in a few weeks, and am wondering - is this really necessary? Can I wash the insides of the cabinets and drawers and skip the liner - of so, how to do so? My mother would turn in her grave, but I want clean cabinets and drawers that don't need to be lined. Appreciate your advice. Thank you.

Not sure shelf liner is a must have item these days - but I know that Jake likes the rubber-based liners as they can be washed easily and also keep your glassware from scuffing the insides of the drawers.

New York designer Mario Buatta, one of the country's top decorators and tastemakers who had his own firm for more than 50 years, died Monday at the age of 82. Read about him and his career from English country style to Blair House here in my obituary.

Hi Pum! My rental in Brooklyn NY has very dark and outdated cabinetry and tiling in the kitchen. I prefer a lighter more modern feel in the kitchen. Any easy and affordable tips on how to fix this? Send help! From, Outdated Rental

Maybe try hanging a bright/light abstract painting on the wall if you can’t do much with the actual cabinets - or maybe you can remove the doors and make it feel more open-shelf in style? Go with  all white plates if you do! For the floors try a rug to cover up the tile and bring in a lighter color to the space. Just try to unify the palette in the space. Keep it to one color but play with texture, shape, and form of the plate (see the pics of our open kitchen).

How do you and Jake choose your art? Do you have the same style?

I’m in charge of buying art. There can only be one curator in the house. Luckily, we do have a similar taste and style so he usually likes what I buy. The life of a design-duo.

I love old houses and ideally want to buy one that has been totally renovated already or pay to have the work done myself. Can you recommend any firms in northern Virginia that handle that type of work: design/build/decorate from one shop? I don't want to have to deal with umpteen different vendors.

We looked for a long time to find our house, and we then tore it down. It's going to be difficult to find a home you LOVE when you have a creative mind - so like us - you may just have to build it.

As for a one-stop-shop to design/build/decorate I am not sure you will find one that can do everything to the specs you will want. Get a good architect and let them take the role of finding all the right trades for each portion of the project. Jake is all about DYI - but with building codes and permits it's best to get a professional.  You can probably contact the local AIA and scan thru their directory or call them to get some information.

Good morning, Pum. I'm having my dining room painted. My house is Second Empire and is about 150 years old. The DR is at the center of the house and accesses the hallway, the stairs, the LR, and the patio. So, I'm painting the stairwell and the upstairs hallway, too. I've decided to refinish the floors while I'm having all this done, to bring them back to their original color rather than the dark stain they have now. And I'm considering wallpapering the walls in the DR, too. As you can see, the scope of my small project in 1 room has crept. The floor refinisher suggests that I do all the floors while I'm doing them. I like that idea but am concerned that as my mission expands the budget expands and that doesn't allow for any "issues" they find while they're all working. Already, I'm having some door openings enlarged and the bookshelf updated in the DR. I will have to move all my furniture out of these rooms to have this work done but can do that incrementally. What do you recommend? Thank you.

My advice to anyone is not to rush to the process. We lived in empty house for 3+ years. It takes time to curate the pieces that you will love. We did our house room by room, floor by floor - or as budget allowed. You could also set a timeline for each room to be complete - this way you do not over buy or spend and keep focused on the room at hand - but we all know that can never really be finished so have fun shopping. 

Thanks Pum - and Jake. We loved working with you. Next week: holiday decorating will be our topic. Our guest will be Terrain Creative Director Greg Lehmkuhl.  Terrain is a garden, home and outdoor lifestyle brand which is celebrating its tenth anniversary and releasing its first book. Also today, they are opening a Terrain capsule store in a new Anthropologie location in Bethesda. I'm planning to go and check it out. Until next week...

Do you keep to black and white in your table settings?

Most of the time, we do use white plates and let the color of the food shine. For placemats, we use cream. I love white and cream combination. And of course we have black utensils. We like to have a strict color diet.

However, the dinner table is also where we play with color and texture - and it depends on our mood. For Thanksgiving or summer party, I have always use very colorful porcelain from Florence. They all are different colors and feels more festive during the holiday.

Thanks everyone for your great questions - and sorry we could not get to all of them. Remember that good design is all around us - at work and at home - so if you keep an open eye and mind you can create anything you imagine.

Be sure to keep up on my travels and adventures on Instagram @PumLefebure and @DesignArmy  - you never know where I will be or what I will be buying.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius or follow her on Instagram @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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