Photos by Wing Ho
When Annie Waters was ready to refresh the interior of her townhouse, she drew inspiration not from Instagram or Pinterest, but from her own life and memories. And because Waters is the sole owner and occupant of her three-story unit near Lake of the Isles, she had the sublime experience of only needing to please herself.
“The wonderful thing about designing for one is that you’re able to go deeper into understanding who that person is and what they need from the space,” says Prospect Refuge Studio’s Victoria Sass, the designer who worked on the project. For Waters, that meant layers of comforts—rooms seeded with cherished objects and cozy furnishings that reflect different phases of her life and make her feel surrounded by loved ones and happy memories.
The townhouse had a good layout, but some of the finishes were dated and the main level was dark. “Everything was fine, but I’ve lived here for 13 years and hardly ever use the living room—it just wasn’t very inviting,” Waters recalls. A nonprofit executive who works long hours, she viewed the upgrade as both a good investment and a reward—a reflection of where she’s at in her life.
When Sass did her first walk-through, she noticed that Waters, a college English major, had a lot of books and fair number of mementos and antiques. “Our minds went to sets from Nora Ephron movies like ‘You’ve Got Mail’—female-centric, eclectic, and a little shabby-chic,” Sass says, adding that the team also channeled classic Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley with florals, buttery colors, and soft shapes.
Construction was confined to rebuilding a dated staircase and refacing the home’s two fireplaces with more elegant materials—gray marble in the living room and wood paneling in the primary bedroom. Waters loved how they turned out and decided to have new gas liners installed, so now they’re also flick-of-a-switch easy to use.
A chair and ottoman that belonged to Waters’ grandmother now hold pride of place in one corner of the living room. She had stored the pieces for years and hoped this might be the opportunity to bring them into her home. Sass had the modestly scaled chair restuffed and upholstered in a leafy, floral fabric but left the scuffs and wear marks on the arms and legs—tactile traces of its history. Tucked behind the chair is a new custom bookcase by Rovan Handcrafted with glass doors and brass details. It holds many of Waters’ books and favorite objects, including a tiny red leather mouse—a reminder of her childhood lovey. A Fraktur folk art print handed down from her grandfather hangs over the fireplace.
Matching green drapes mask the size and shape difference of a sliding glass door and window that share a wall in the main living area—a clever trick that makes both appear larger. A vintage wool rug with splashes of pink, blue, and green sits atop a larger, budget-friendly sisal version, and the combination gives the area depth and warmth.
Waters’ true happy place is her bedroom, and here, she says, Sass hit it out of the park—starting with the charming wallpaper. Designed with rambling vines, flowers, dragonflies, and birds set against an ivory background, it heralds a decidedly feminine space.
An irresistible king bed piled with fluffy bedding and pillows is Waters’ favorite spot to read, watch a movie, or have morning coffee. “It’s a total retreat,” she says. The bed takes up most of one wall, but Sass found room for two airy side tables and a pair of compact wall sconces to increase the function of the cozy sanctuary.
Opposite the bed is another newly refurbished fireplace and a comfortable chair for relaxing, reading, or working—a re-creation of the vignette from downstairs. Sass reused Waters’ own cherry dresser but was careful to incorporate other wood tones (“too much cherry would be too much 1990s,” she says). A nubby white wool carpet was a splurge-worthy finishing touch to the luxurious room.
The project was completed during the pandemic, and now that Waters’ job is permanently remote, she feels grateful she did it. “It’s so wonderful to have a space I can enjoy now that I’m not regularly going to an office,” she says. Sass adds, “This project brought me joy. It’s a place for Annie, full of special things she loves.”