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washington d.c. design guide {UPDATE}

by Grace Bonney

illustration by julia rothman

our dc city guide update comes from red barn mercantile owner amy rutherford.  along with owning her alexandria, virginia furniture shop, amy also runs the Shop Local: Old Town Alexandria blog in order to engage and encourage people to shop local.  today amy shares some of her keen dc knowledge and offers a guided tour through the many eclectic and historical neighborhoods in and around the dc area.  thanks amy for this thorough guide and inspiring us to support local businesses! —stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

Washington, DC gets a bad rap sometimes. It is more than Democrats and Republicans; more than red power ties; more than the cigar-smoke-filled backrooms of the power brokers; more than a company town where the company is the Federal Government. Washington is an ever-changing landscape of design, art, music, food and fashion.

I moved here 12 years ago. I still get lost. There are corners of this city and its suburbs that I have yet to fully explore. What we have here is a short shopping tour through the many neighborhoods of the Washington, DC metro area. I put in the stores, restaurants and venues that inspire me. You will see a pattern for sure. For me food is not about being fancy, fashion is simple, design is mixed – new with old, and music is the icing on the cake.

I hope you find this guide helpful. Surely your favorite place will be missed, so please feel free to add it to the list!

Capitol Hill

Not only does the Capitol and Congress reside here, but so do a wide variety of exciting businesses. My favorite by far is Eastern Market. To me it’s the epitome of life on the Hill. Before kids, my friend, Amy, and I used to meet regularly on Sunday for brunch and a stroll through the Market. Sunday is the best day for antiques! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Eastern Market:Eastern Market is one of DC’s treasures. During the week it’s an amazing market with fresh food, produce and flowers. On the weekends, it transforms into a world market. Antiques, artists and craftspeople who hail from all over the globe set up tables and tents to sell their wares. Add a mix of yummy neighborhood restaurants and you have the makings for an extraordinary Sunday morning.

Dawn Price Baby:If you’re expecting a bundle of joy, Dawn Price Baby has a well edited selection of everything you need for the nursery. Also a great e-commerce site for those of you not in DC!

Hill’s Kitchen:Opened in 2008, Hill’s Kitchen has everything for the cook and the kitchen in a lively setting. Right on Capitol Hill adjacent to the Eastern Market Metro.

Homebody:Cool and modern Homebody has something for everybody. Contemporary furnishings from Gus Modern and whimsical accessories from Kikkerland make this store a breath of fresh air among the rowhouses on Capitol Hill.

Stitch DC:Knitters, Crocheters, Sewers and Quilters, this is the place for you. Right on Barracks Row in Capitol Hill is this gem of a store. They offer classes and free design patterns and a huge selection of everything you need.

Market Lunch:Found inside Eastern Market this is where you will find some of the best crabcakes in DC.

Las Placitas:Mexican and Salvadoran food in one restaurant. Authentic and delicious!


Georgetown is exactly what you would think it is: gorgeous townhomes, a beautiful campus and shopping galore. National chain stores mostly reside in Georgetown these days, but you are still sure to find some really special independent stores here. Antiques and cupcakes reign supreme!

A Mano:Beautiful fine furnishings for the table and home are sourced all over the world. Simon Pearce, William Yeoward and Christopher Spitzmiller round out the luxurious mix of goods.

Darrell Dean Antiques:i love this shop’s lighting collection- they carry some truly gorgeous, one-of-a-kind antique lamps. expensive? yes. fun to windowshop? definitely.

Georgetown Flea Market:Every weekend more than a hundred vendors set up in an elementary school parking lot in the heart of Georgetown. Dealers carry everything from antique home furnishings to vintage clothes. You cannot leave here without a treasure!

Sixteen Fifty Nine:Sixteen Fifty Nine offers classic mid-century modern furniture, lighting and accessories all at an afforable price. They also offer design services!

Random Harvest:This store is a cornerstone in the DC Design world. It has everything from Asian antiques to contemporary furniture and lighting. The way they pull together a room is inspiring. They just started offering design services too!

Metro Interiors:Located in Georgetown and on 1stdibs.com this is one of DC’s premier purveyors of Mid-century Design. Stop by in person or online.

Georgetown Cupcake:Two sisters started a frenzy in Georgetown. These cupcakes are flat out yummy!

Baked and Wired:Wifi and baked goods. Done. And happy.

Hook:Sustainable seafood with an amazing wine list and fab décor. Visit Tackle Box, their sister restaurant next door for an equally delicious meal.

Citronelle:A multiple award winning restaurant, this is one of the best restaurants in DC. Volumes have been written on the amazingness of Citronelle.

U St

Other than Alexandria, this is my favorite neighborhood for good design. It is beyond cool! As a store owner, I get a lot of inspiration from other stores (that’s why this was so much fun to write) and I get most of my inspiration from this area. It is chock full of brilliant independent stores. The types of stores that you can use to really put your own stamp on your home. Goodwood, Homerule, Rkcndy, oh my!

Goodwood:Only open four days a week – be sure to check the hours before heading out – Goodwood has an ever-changing inventory of 19th and 20th century antiques. Visit every week and you will find something new each time.

Homerule:This is the little store that could. It has the coolest and most eclectic mix of kitchen and bath gadgets!

Miss Pixie’s:Recently relocated to U St, Miss Pixie’s fits in perfectly in its new neighborhood. The vintage finds here are phenomenal. This is one of the best stores in DC for creating a signature style.

Muleh: Crisp, clean, modern lines are the speciality of this home furnishings and fashion mecca in the District’s U Street Corridor.

Pulp: Irreverant and whimsical this staple of the U Street Corridor has just the card or gift for your best friend from college who still hums show tunes while skipping down the street.

Rckndy: Gus Modern, Blu Dot, Mid-century modern vintage are just a few of the fine furnishings you’ll find at the most recent U Street neighbor.

Ruff and Ready: Floor to ceiling, this cornerstone of U Street is packed with true treasures. Whether buried deep or floating on top this store has just that weird and wonderful accessory or piece of furniture that will make your house your own. Be patient and be careful it is full – and fabulous!

Timothy Paul Bedding: This store has one of the best bedding collections in town. John Robshaw, Matauk, Sferra, Mateo are just a few of the modern and fresh lines they carry. Add to it a collection of accessories and you have a fantastic bedding outpost.

Timothy Paul Carpets & Textiles: The sister store to the eponymous bedding store, this one oozes of the same cool vibe. Mix beautiful Italian silks with wool Nepalese rugs or a contemporary lamp with a vintage Morocan rug and you have just put your signature on your home.

Vastu: This is a modern mecca of the 21st century. If you want sleek and sophisticated for the urban dweller, then this is the place for you. Customization and interior design services are a bonus!

Hunted House:Located on the second floor of an early 1900’s townhouse in DC’s uber cool U St neighborhood, Hunted House offers vintage furnishings from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. It can be hit or miss just like any vintage store, but it’s always worth a look.

Cork:It’s a wine bar and it’s a wine market and tasting room. It’s sensational. The selection of wines, cheese and charcuterie is so well edited you always leave with a winner. Their wine fundamentals classes are great for the novice and expert wine lover.

Ben’s Chili Bowl:No list of U St is complete without this Washington landmark! It’s an amazingly simple concept and the food is simply amazing. My favorite is the good ole chili dog. Yum!

Café St. Ex:I love this restaurant’s feel, oh and the food. The laid back neighborhood vibe is so comfortable. Café St. Ex’s commitment to the community and local farmers is just part of what makes them so great.

9:30 Club:One of the best and most intimate venues for seeing live music in town. For thirty years a- nd counting – the 9:30 Club has brought the best local, indie and international bands to DC. Whether you go once or every night, each concert is unforgettable.

Black Cat:Practically around the corner from the 9:30 Club this equally amazing music experience offers DC the best of local, national and international indie and alternative music.

Dupont Circle

Built around a traffic circle of all things, Dupont Circle is an active and vibrant community. Home to Embassy row and the famed Phillips Collection art museum, this neighborhood is one of the most architecturally significant neighborhoods in DC. When you walk along the streets of Dupont Circle you will be awestruck at the diversity in its architecture, in its people and in its businesses. Dupont is home to one of my favorite places, the Tabard Inn. If you want a great place to stay and eat in DC, then I absolutely recommend this lovely inn.

Kramers Books:A Washington institution. Don’t miss this unique bookstore and the delicious Afterwords café that resides here.

Tabletop:Modern accessories for the home and indivual from some of the coolest designers. Tabletop carries gorgeous ceramics from the likes of Klein Reid and Perch!, Sukie pillows and Johnathan Adler accessories. These folks have great taste and a great eye!

Hello Cupcake:Yummy cakes in an even yummier locale. Stop by for the décor and stay for the desserts!

The Brickskellar:Every beer ever made. Or at least that’s what it seems like. A washington landmark for a cold beer on any night.

Tabard Inn:I have had many meaningful dinners at this cozy inn in Dupont Circle. It’s one of the best brunches in DC!

Restaurant Nora:Organic before organic was cool. This place is still fresh and all that implies.

Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan has long been an immigrant community. With that comes a wide spectrum of ethnic authenticity. This neighborhood is hugely popular for its nightlife and restaurants, but it has some really great shopping too. Plus, the rowhouses are as inspiring as those found in Dupont Circle. So be sure to take a walk through the residential streets while you’re here.

DC Arts Center:A nonprofit art gallery that often shows some pretty spectacular local talent. Always worth a peek when you’re in Adams Morgan.

The Brass Knob:The best place in DC for architectural salvage. If you’re looking to remodel your house and want to bring a touch of charm or bring your abode back to its original grandeur this is the place to go. Real wood doors, ceramic door knobs and porcelain sinks all at your fingertips.

And Beige: This is one of the best edited stores in Washington. It is polished and has its pulse on everything contemporary yet classic.

Proper Topper:Not only is this a great clothing store for the fashionista in all of us, but it’s a great gift store as well. Proper Topper has something for everyone: nukuku frames for the home, whiskey stones for him, handmade puppets for the little ones and fabulous fashions for her.

Little Fountain Café:Love this tiny little restaurant. It’s intimate and a perfect place for any occasion.

Tryst:Coffee bar by day where you can hang out with your laptop. Bar bar by night where you can hang out with your friends. Cool and cozy doesn’t get better than this.


This is my neighborhood. My store is here, my home is here. Alexandria has two widely known business communities – historic Old Town Alexandria and Del Ray. Old Town is the tourism hub with a long main drag laden with boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. Just a stone’s through away is the quiet main street of Del Ray. This is a wonderful bungalow-filled community, home to young hip families and some of my favorite restaurants in Alexandria.

Old Town Alexandria Chinoisserie: This store is a gem in Old Town. The asthetic is amazing and the quality of goods unparalleled. They carry everything from Lotta Jansdotter handbags to Iittala dinnerware.

Daniel Donnelly Antiques:Don’t let the warehouse in a random part of Old Town Alexandria fool you. This store has the be all end all collection of mid-century modern furniture. Do not miss it!

Decorium:Glitz and glam galore! Chandeliers cover the ceilings so duck when you walk in, but be prepared to find something fun for this store has a ton of great gifts. Design services are also available.

GRAPE+BEAN:Like peanut butter goes with chocolate so does wine and coffee. This wine shop/coffee shop/restaurant has an outstanding wine selection and serves fair trade coffee from Counter Culture Coffee. They also have all the wine and coffee accoutrements you need as well as a killer charcuterie experience.

fibre space:If you knit or crochet or would like to start, fibre space has the class, tool and yarn you will need. The selection is unmatched.

Old Town Alexandria Imperfections: Gorgeous antiques. Enough said!

La Cuisine:For over 35 years La Cuisine has been a well edited exceptional resource for the amateur and professional cook. They also have knife skills classes and cooking classes for kids.

Lauren B Gallery:A wonderful resource for fine art and even finer antiques. Plus they have a lovely selection of gifts for everyone.

Old Town Alexandria Notting Hill Gardens: The best source for all things gardening in Old Town Alexandria. This tiny little store is chock full of beautiful finds from Campo de’ Fiori and Guy Wolff. Plus they offer landscape design services.

Pink and Brown:Organic baby and children supplies galore! They offer just about everything you need to make room for baby. Bottles to bassinets, layette to linens they have it. And it’s all good for you and Mother Earth.

Red Barn Mercantile:This is my store. I, of course, think it’s the best one in all of DC. But I’ll let you be the judge. We mix antique farm tables and accessories with new upholstered furniture from Cisco Brothers and bedding from John Robshaw and Matteo. Red Barn Mercantile is a one-stop shop for your one-of-a-kind style.

The Hour:All things cocktail all the time! This is a relatively new store in Old Town that caters to the art of the cocktail hour. They have the most amazing one-of-a-kind selection of vintage and antique barware and glasses plus modern selections to round out your wetbar.

The Sugar Cube:A confectioner’s delight! The Sugar Cube is committed to stocking the best product from the best independent sweets makers around.

Verdigris Antiques & Interiors:Wow! This store is the jackpot in all of DC. The selection of antiques is so wide and varied that, no matter what your design style, you are certain to find something. The lighting alone is worth the trip.

Fibre Space:This is more than a knitting store. It’s a community. You can find a plethora of yarn and notions at this fun, mid-century modern inspired store, but you can also find people happily meeting to knit and crochet while spending quality time with friends.

Torpedo Factory:Eighty-two artist’s studios, six galleries, two workshops and the Alexandria Archeology Museum are all housed here. Join the artists in their studios, watch them work and take home a beautiful original work of art.

Old Town Boutique District:The Old Town Boutique District is a cooperative of dozens of stores in Old Town Alexandria. We are made of stores who specialize in fashion, children, families, food and home goods. This is the most comprehensive list of stores in Old Town!

Eamonn’s:Billed as a Dublin Chipper, Eamonn’s serves fish and chips. That’s it. It’s a simple concept in a wonderful space with great food. Thanks be to cod, indeed!

Butcher’s Block:Butcher’s Block is a market that sells cheese, wine, charcuterie and everthing else you need for a perfect picnic or lunch. Designed by Vincente Wolf, this market is worth a visit for the visual treat alone.

Majestic Café:Billed as Rustic American, this is a simple and simply delicious dining experience. Nana’s Sunday Dinner is definitely a treat.

Restaurant Eve:No list is complete without Restaurant Eve on it. Given four stars and many awards by DC’s foodie community, this is one of the best restaurants in the metro area.

Nickels & Scheffler:I am a personal fan of this little café. It’s simple and no frills, but the food is fresh. The Asian Ginger dressing on the house salad is my personal addiction.

Buzz Bakery:Located well off the main drag in Old Town, this is another incredible wifi, coffe and baked goods combo. The sweets are fresh daily and the late hours make this a great place to get a cupcake fix after the movies or dinner.


Although Maryland is just on the other side of the District, it seems like a world away from those in Virginia – and vice versa. I don’t often get to Bethesda, but when I do, I always think I should do it more often. There are some pretty amazing shops and restaurants that make the trip worth it every time!

The Blue House:The Blue House is a fun and whimsical store that services the inner beach and cottage lover in us all. With Maine Cottage furniture and eyepopping color this is a great resource for your beach vacation home.

Tone on Tone:Tone on Tone are purveyors of supremely sublime 18th and 19th century Swedish antiques. Crafted in simple lines and painted in neutral colors, it is easy to understand why these classic furnishings fit so well in today’s homes. Tone on Tone has an amazing selection and its owner has incredibly sophisticated taste.

Urban Country:The selection at this store is unparalleled. The breadth and depth of lines allows you to find exactly what you need.

Matuba:My first introduction to sushi was at this ridiculously good restaurant. The sushi is big and on Monday nights it’s only $1 per piece!

Red Tomato Café:This is a great little Italian café. The brick oven pizzas are yummy!


Arlington has turned into one of the hippest cities in the metro area. Young urbanites and families flock to neighborhoods like Clarendon, Ballston and Shirlington. Sadly, independent stores are in the minority here. National chains like Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and Ethan Allen define the design direction of Arlington, but there is an outpost of Random Harvest here and a few cozy little shops scattered about.

Denim Bar:The best place to get premium denim in all of DC. These folks really know their denim!

Le Village Marche: This is the biggest little gift store in Arlington! If you need a gift for someone for just about any occasion they have it. The formula here is spot on: great gifts at great prices.

Verbena Paper & Gifts: This is the sister store to Le Village Marche. Buy a gift there and have it wrapped here! Plus get the card and a little something extra to go with it.

Best Buns Bread Co.:The lunch box is a great value. A ridiculously good sandwich, bottle of water, a side of chips or pasta salad and a cookie. You can’t go wrong!

Whitlow’s on Wilson:A DC landmark that moved to Clarendon in 1995. This is a great neighborhood restaurant with a fantastic weekend brunch. Get there early to get a seat! Add live music and open mic nights and you have an Arlington institution.

Iota Club and Café

Del Ray

Artfully Chocolate, Kingsbury Confections:There are wine bars and then there are Cocoa bars. Chocolate in any way, shape or form can be found here. Plus they have a lovely café menu, wine and ice cream!

Bungalow:Organic is chic! This little store in Del Ray brings great big style with eco-chic sensibility.

Potomac West Antiques:A small little antique mall right in the heart of Del Ray. If you’re looking for a great deal on a one-of-a-kind find, then this is store should be added to your must-see list.

Cheestique:The best selection of cheese in the DC area. You name it, they have it. They also have a wonderful wine to pair with it as well as cured meats from all over. I have five friends who own or have owned retail stores, we like to meet here regularly to discuss business over charcuterie and wine. So much fun!

Taqueria Poblano:This place is tiny and there is often a line to get in. Wait. It’s worth it.

Evening Star Café:One of my favorites! We can be found here regularly indulging in the best steaks in town.

The Dairy Godmother:The best frozen custard EVER! Even the Obamas agree.

Los Tios:Tex Mex and Salvadorean food in a fun and family friendly space. Go early, because it gets crowded fast!

The Birchmere:Shhhhh. No talking. This is one of the best venues for the total music experience for when the musicians are playing there is no talking. It’s all about the music and I love that!


Modernicus:Not only does this store stock a huge selection of mid-century modern furniture and Danish design, they also refinish, restore and reupholster your vintage finds. Just down the road from Old Town, this is full service at its best!

Politics and Prose:At twenty-five years old this is the grand dame of independent book stores in DC. There selection is unmatched and the caliber of author readings beats any national chain.

Washington Design Center:Every major city has a Design Center and this is ours. It’s to the trade only, but if you have a friend or designer who can get you then go. If you don’t, go anyway and see the designer showcase. Also, they have an annual sale that is open to the public.

Valerianne:I love this bedding store. It’s upstairs in the small community of Vienna, Virginia. You have to look for it, but it’s worth looking for. Luxury linens in a lovely retail space. I found if soothing and inspirational.

Eco-Green Living:Green building supplies for homeowners, designers and contractors. Located in Takoma Park, Eco-Green Living supplies its customers with sustainable, green, fair trade and organic products for any home remodeling project. Love it!

Old Lucketts Store:One of my all time favorite antiquing haunts. This is where you find your best DIY project or the perfect chipped paint piece you’ve been looking for. It’s a hike but a fun day trip out to Leesburg and Lucketts, Virginia.

Suggested For You


  • I can’t find a decent review of any upholstery place in this area. They’re all schemers and provide inconsistent quality, it seems. Can anybody in this area provide solid resources?

  • I second the notions of adding Gingko Gardens (Capitol Hill — terrific garden items, http://www.ginkgogardens.com/) and the National Building Museum’s gift shop to this list (http://www.nbm.org/). I’m a volunteer at the Building Museum, and it gets consistently rated as the best museum gift shop in DC, with tons of cool decor items, books, and kids’ stuff. Plus, it’s a fabulous building that can’t be beat for its amazing architecture. The new H St. (NE) area is up-and-coming; let’s hope its progress continues so we can someday see it addd to this list.

    Sadly, I see the debate over DC vs. suburbs has permeated this neutral design blog as well. As a resident of the area for 9 years, I have lived in all 3 (MD, DC, VA), and find the issue so polarizing and unnecessary. All the areas mentioned have so much to offer, and represent the best spots to hunt out design-related stuff in the area. All are Metro accessible (with the exception of Georgetown), and are in such close proximity, I am so appreciative that we have such a diverse, unique, historical, abundant (how many adjectives can I use?) area.

  • very neat list. I noticed that Fibre Space (very cool) is listed twice and Stitch DC has closed its Eastern Market location; it is now in Tenleytown.

  • Here’s the deal! People who live here are really passionate about what neighborhood in which they live. Thats great! But there are tons of great places in tons of great hoods and for someone who lives in the district to say they won’t cross the river to va or md is just as bad as that same person being upset that Amy listed so many fab places to shop in those same locales…I live in del ray, work in retail and travel to all 3 areas each week, and find new places to shop all the time. I would never say that I wouldnt drive 2 miles over the bridge to dc to a great shop, so I am not sure why those across the river feel so passionately the other way….and I happened to have grown up here. It is usually the people who move here from somewhere else that seem to feel so passionately about this but it is funny to me that someone wouldn’t drive or metro 2 or 4 miles for a great meal, or shopping experience just because a state line is there. By the way, old town used to be a part of dc…and Amy’s shop is awesome

  • Your post jogs my memory of once I was a child growing up in city. My granddad wont to say “When life offer you lemons, create lemonade”. however he was a hopeless alcoholic WHO ne’er created abundant sense thus I ne’er paid abundant attention to him. Have a good day!

  • Grace, the DC guide could use some updating. Have you considered working with a local designer to up the this list? DC is growing and there are so many new shops that should be on this list.

  • One of the partners in my law firm tapped the talent of local designer Brenton Bacari (Bacari Design, Inc.) and I must say their house is gorgeous! He is obviously very talented, well-trained and well-versed. His interiors ooze refinement, class, comfort and timelessness. I plan to hire him after I close on my new house next month.

  • Hi there! I simply would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great information
    you might have right here on this post. I can be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  • You can’t forget Old Print Gallery in Georgetown- don’t let their name fool you- they have both antique prints and maps, as well as early 20th century and contemporary works by local and regional artists. All original and very well organized by category- I could spend hours in their map section! And if you like prints, also check out Washington Printmakers Gallery- they are in Silver Spring ( a bit of a hike- I know) but they also have an eclectic and affordable selection of hand-pulled prints- plus you’d be supporting local artists.

  • Is this just a shopping guide? What about places to stay– any cool hotel suggestions? Are any of these neighborhoods walkable or since most are in the suburbs are you required to get a car or is the public transportation sufficient? Some other city guides included a google maps link this would be incredibly helpful here too!

  • Great site! DC needs a little updating. Several U Street Shops have moved (Ruff-and Ready)and at least one is out-of-business (RCKNDY). Sixteen Fifty-nine in Georgetown is now on 14th Street, NW and part of Lori Graham Design. Take care!

  • Like the commenter above, I’d like to suggest an update to this page! My city has changed so, so much since 2007 and we have a lot of wonderful new places to showcase.

  • Are there any major changes to this in 2016? I’m moving to DC in July and I am super excited to go to all of these places (and more)!

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