Interiorssneak peeks

An Artist’s Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA

by Lauren Chorpening Day

Sue and John Henry don’t just live in a beautiful townhouse — they built it. The couple moved from a rental to a townhouse they purchased on a large corner lot in Alexandria, VA. The lot felt oversized for good reason. After some investigating, Sue and John found that the lot was buildable. They immediately started drafting ideas of their future, custom home. They never expected they’d be able to build a dream home while living next door and getting to stay in a neighborhood they loved so much. And they never expected the amount of creative and personal growth that would result from the experience of building a home.

Sue is an artist and textile designer and John is a lawyer with a designer’s eye. Their collective creativity pushed them to design a home that suited their unique tastes. An architect friend helped them put their ideas down on paper and they felt ready to build. “We built our house from scratch and thought, foolishly, that it would be a quick process,” Sue expresses. “The process was much trickier than we expected and ultimately required major perseverance. Looking back, it was a blessing to be somewhat hung up in permitting because the time allowed us to do extra planning and material selection.” The project took four years, but in 2009, they moved into their one-of-a-kind townhouse in their ideal neighborhood with their two young children.

“I would say that the bones of the house are rustic modern. Our focus was on natural, reclaimed materials and eclectic art and furniture made by friends or handed down by family. There is a lot of big wood and metal in our house… I’ve been working to soften it up with my fabrics, varied colors, textures, and plants and flowers, probably bending to the electric at this point,” Sue shares. “We strive to make our home welcoming and comfortable to all and love to have people over to enjoy it with us.” The creative energy this home holds is inspiring. This is not a home inspired by Pinterest or design blogs. It is a home inspired by trips to an architectural salvage yard in New Jersey. It’s a home with the heart and soul of the owners designed into every room.

The decision-making and teamwork between Sue and John to design their home didn’t just benefit the look of the home. Sue describes the process of creating a home from scratch as growing, “Not to get too philosophical, but I uncovered a lot of strength within myself while we were building this house. I discovered that I had a voice and an opinion that was stronger than I thought it was. I also found out that being the nice girl wasn’t going make the builders pour concrete or the electric company turn on the power. I was able to get really clear and direct, and it’s a lesson that I’ve taken with me.” Between a gorgeous home and a clearer sense of self, the wait for their dream home was obviously worth every minute. –Lauren

Photography by Casey Gammon

Image above: The dining room in the Henry family’s home is filled with an eclectic mix of modern, salvaged and repurposed pieces.


An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
Sue in front of the pantry doors she and her family salvaged for their home.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
"We love the magical chandeiler in the dining room. It was made at a local Turkish shop that had a bunch of different metal and glass lanterns to choose from. Starting with an old red glass ball that I had picked up many years ago, each member of the family picked their favorites, and the shop assembled them together - it is always a crowd pleaser," Sue shares.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
"I love the color of the walls, a rich lavender with a lilac ceiling that carries into the kitchen," Sue says. "When the light hits it, it's luminous."
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
"We decided to put in a glass garage door for the studio space. This was a great decision because [the] glass is alluring, ties the barn wood and steel together, and gives me a ton of light to work in. It also makes for a great place to hang freshly printed textiles for drying. On nice days I open it up and turn it into a garden studio," Sue shares.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
The entryway sets the tone of the rest of the home with salvaged furniture and unique finds.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
"The stairs are made from 3.5-inch-thick recycled teak. I used to run a store that had furniture made out of reclaimed wood in Indonesia, so I had them made there. Since the build took so long, there were stacks of them in our old house. My husband said it was like shipping an anvil across the sea, but the results and feel of those stairs are one of my favorite parts of the house," Sue says.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
"I'm thankful that I live in a space that is filled with light and that it's a place that our friends and family love to come and gather for meals and parties. I'm thankful that our boys get to grow up in a wonderful neighborhood close to Washington, D.C. and all it has to offer," Sue shares.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
Sue's textiles can be seen throughout the house, softening the feel of the hard lines and bright colors.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
John is the cook in the family. He designed the kitchen to be functional as well as beautiful.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
"No overhead cabinets mean tons of natural light and a sight line to the field that the kids are always playing at. When we have parties you can of course count on everyone being in [John's] space tasting, cooking, drinking, and talking. A sink for veggies and cooking and another for dishes really helps with sizeable gatherings, as does the roof deck located behind the bar that the kids do homework and eat breakfast at," Sue explains.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
The master bedroom feels like a tree house to Sue and John. The green walls and nature-inspired decor add to the feeling even more.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
The reclaimed feel carries into the boys' bathroom with salvaged fixtures.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
Cash, the elder son, picked the color of his room when he was three. The color has adapted with different furnishings and decorations as he has gotten older.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
The youngest son, Sawyer, is an artist like the rest of his family. He frequently rearranges, builds and creates in his room.
An Artist's Haven Built By Hand in Alexandria, VA | Design*Sponge
The floor plan of the Henry Family's three-story home.


Master bedroom

Large Painting above bed: Tammy Staab
Painting right of bed: Cory Stafford
Bed: Indonesia
Snake and Feather Bolster Pillow: Tulusa.com
Curtains: Ikea

Master bath

Table: Reclaimed teak. Kosmos Designs
Terrazzo Tub: Indonesia

Cash’s red bedroom

Pillow Shams: Tulusa.com
Rug: First adult purchase ever bought from a hippie house in Berkeley

Sawyer’s green bedroom

Rug: John’s first, from the Mountains of Oaxaca, 20 years ago
Light: Ikea
Pillows: Tulusa.com

Boys’ bathroom

Sink: Art Sink
Faucet: Chicago Faucet
Cart: Ikea
Light Fixtures, ANP
Medicine Chest: Rejuvination

Living Room

Furniture: hand-me-downs from parents and grandparents
Landscape Painting: GC Meyers
Chagall inspired painting: Dugg
Large Painting on the stairs: Nancy Hankins
Drapes: Tulusa.com
Piano: Samick from Rick Jones
Lamp: Target
Side Table: HomeGoods
Bench: From an old train station
Small painting to left of power door: by Mose Tolliver
Pillows: Tulusa.com
Fireplace: made from cold rolled steel
Cash’s Rig: Gibson Les Paul for B-Day, Guitar Vista Albuquerque; Fender Tube Amp from early 1980s, For Christmas, Craigslist

Dining Room

Table: Reclaimed teak, Kosmos Designs
Art from left to right: Woodie Long, Kohl, John (husband) String Cheese Poster by Darrin Brunner
Bar: Old steel barrister/bookcases, scored dirt cheap at U.S. Govt GSA surplus
White Chairs: Eames
Black Chairs: Vintage Danish


Stove: Wolf
Refrigerator: KitchenAid with custom blackboard
Wooden Cabinets: Welsh Woodworking, trimmed in oak from a tree that was taken down during construction
Metal Drawers: Ikea
White Counter: Ikea
Metal Tables/Counters: Eagle
Handles: Vintage Sink porcelain bath knobs found at the Brass Knob Architectural Antiques
Chandelier: Bizim Collection (now closed)
Lights over counter: Poulson


Day Beds: Indonesia
Carpet: Loloi
Pillows: Tulusa.com
Drapes: Tulusa.com


Drafting Table: Estate Sale
Cabinets: Ikea

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  • I really like the way the colours work in this home. They are surprising yet not strident and they blend with what is around them. For example that lavender wall is just the right tone to beautifully complement the golden wood, stainless steel and the painted cabinet. The green in the bedroom also melds with the linen and objects around it.

  • I love the story of the chandelier. Your home perfectly reflects your creative and eclectic nature Sue, love seeing your home and all your gorgeous Tulusa textiles, go girl!!

  • Wow!!!!!! One of the most creative and original designed homes…I love that no two doors are alike in the entire house. The colors are so happy and that kitchen!!!! Love all the beautiful textiles that Sue designed. Great article!

  • Love your home Sue!! I agree this is not a home inspired by Pinterest , Instagram or trends but rather heart, values and personal design desires. I’m sucker for all things salvaged and I’m in love with the salvaged doors in your home!! Way to go girl!!

  • What a dream home.! The mix of clean lines, one of a kind architectural features, and unique artistic elements is breathtaking. It’s an admirable family endeavor with incredible results. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your little piece of heaven on earth.

  • You have a gorgeous home – from the beautiful wall colors that seem “just right” for the spaces, the vintage and salvaged pieces and your textile art, just stunning. Gives me many ideas for my own home. Thank you for sharing your beautiful place!

  • It’s uncommon to find a beautiful house that has such original personality and life. You and your family achieved something really special here Sue

  • Oh my gosh – this is heaven! Love simply everything about this home. And it’s true, no overhead cabinets let the light stream in and through the building – but ‘normal’ conditions woud never allow to be so generous with ‘space wasting’. So wonderful for and of you to have created this magic place, those adorable colours and solutions. I love every little thing and would love to see even more of it – you look like a very happy and content family.
    Love from France :)

    • Kiki!
      thank you so much for your kind words:) If you would like to see more of our home you are
      welcome to swing by @tulusa.goods and check us out on instagram. there is alot more that pops up
      there on the daily!

  • Very cool home, love the eccentricity/individuality of it. I have been wanting to do a similar utility sink in my bathroom for a while. I do have a question about your statement: “…probably bending to the electric at this point” ? Can’t think what that means….

    • Thank you Eileen, I was talking about how fabrics and the colors of the walls have an electric or electrified
      bend, giving the house a little liveliness, excitement or electricity.
      Hope that makes sense!

  • Oh my god! your house is so beautiful. I also want to make my home like this. My children and my husband will surely love this

  • I keep coming back to your beautful home full of inspiration, it’s such a ray of light to see a place with so much character, taste, personality and beauty. We are currently renovating our guest room and I am looking for inspiration. Thank you again for sharing your home with the Design Sponge community.