Cut through the fray of busy politicians and throngs of monument visitors, and you’ll find a Washington D.C. that’s full of vibrancy, complete with an artistic bent, that sets it apart as a big city with all the familiarity and charms of a small town. Such is the D.C. that renowned designer and native Washingtonian Darryl Carter has always known. Even as he’s traversed the globe for design projects and treasure hunts for his boutique—the sources of inspiration for his gorgeous tomes, The New Traditional and The Collected Home—D.C. has remained the city that always beckons.
“I’ve seen the city change tremendously, and I still gravitate toward the places that were here when I was very young. They tend to be more intimate, more established, and probably less prone to people who aren’t native Washingtonians,” he tells us. “They’re smaller, more precious. For me they’re comfortable because they’re so familiar to me.”
And while the nation’s capital doesn’t immediately come to mind as a destination for design and the arts, the creative spirit has never been more pervasive. From artist studios reinvigorating once sullen neighborhoods to makers promoting the organic and the handmade to restaurants helmed by imaginative chefs, the tucked-away corners of D.C. are burgeoning with constant new discoveries—right alongside the sprawling spread of historic buildings, scenic trails, and world-class galleries.
Here, Darryl shows us around his D.C. and his favorite spots for shopping, dining, and escaping the crowds.
The Brass Knob
“It’s a gem of historic architectural finds with beautiful door knockers, door handles, and accessories,” says Darryl, who frequents this antiques trove for its one-of-a-kind 19th- and 20th-century treasures; think Art Nouveau ironwork, Art Deco tiles, vintage chandeliers, stained-glass panels, fireplace mantels. “I am a kid in a candy store.”
Politics and Prose
“I’m more prone to a hardcover than an iPad or Kindle,” Darryl says. “It’s one of those rare remaining venues where you can actually buy the small, more-artisanal-batch-book store—it’s reminiscent of bookstores I grew up with.” Keep an eye out for the coffeehouse/bookshop’s rich roster of author events, which has included the likes of Patti Smith and Bill Clinton.
Tucked away in Georgetown’s Cady’s Alley, owner Nancy Pearlstein curates tailored fashions and sophisticated jewelry, including pieces by Thom Browne and Yohji, that make for “extraordinarily bespoke gifts for women,” says Darryl. Among his chicest discoveries? “A beautiful wrap for my mother.”
Just across from Relish, this contemporary-furniture hub has been a constant source of inspiration for Darryl. “Deborah Kalkstein has an extraordinary eye,” he says of the designs, spanning Foscarini to Missoni Home. “They pair beautifully with antiques.”
Farm Women’s Market
“If I’m having people over for dinner, I come here for the incredible baked goods, artisanal cheeses, and fresh vegetables,” says Darryl of this downtown Bethesda indoor-outdoor emporium, which brings together an eclectic group of artisans each weekend.
The absence of skyscrapers results in extraordinary vistas and light. While D.C. has evolved over the years, it still feels like a small city, whereas other cities can seem less approachable.
EAT AND DRINK
“I am close family friends with one of the co-founders, Michael Haft. He and his business partner, Harrison Suarez, fought side by side in Afghanistan, and on return, in September 2014, they opened their first outpost of Compass,” Darryl says. “The coffee is peak roasted here in D.C., and they work with the top coffee growers in the world to source quality beans, and they roast them fresh every day. My personal favorite is the Iced Mint Nitro Cold Brew—unbelievably refreshing. And I am one of those folks who drink iced coffee year-round.”
“The restaurant has a very intimate interior dining room and, foremost, a small outdoor garden for dining.” Darryl suggests taking in the ivy-entwined garden terrace during the warmer months while enjoying the flavorful fare, such as deviled eggs with tobiko (flying-fish roe), house-made ricotta-cheese gnocchi, and grilled wild North Carolina trout.
Old Angler’s Inn
“While it’s a small hike from D.C., it’s an oasis unto itself with a great outdoor patio,” says Darryl, who often steals away for lunch (seasonal salads, scrumptious crab cakes, moules frites, steak tartare) at the inn’s charming garden overlooking the Potomac River. “The main building is tiny, almost like a farmhouse, and feels quite European. It’s a rare gem that you would never suspect from the street. I love that sense of authenticity and a lack of pretense.”
“We share a very finite aesthetic, that being simplicity and welcome,” Darryl says. He designed the restaurant in collaboration with Kinship’s husband-and-wife duo, Eric Ziebold and Celia Laurent. “The food is utterly sublime,” Darryl notes of the meticulous menu, which includes duck confit ravioli and roast chicken stuffed with lemon-garlic panade under the skin.
Now open: Métier, a companion 36-seat restaurant on the lower level of Kinship, designed by Darryl with owners Eric Ziebold and Celia Laurent, just opened its doors and boasts a finely crafted seven-course tasting menu.
The 1928 Italian Renaissance-style hotel has long hosted presidents and celebrities in its impeccably elegant suites. “I enjoy a Sunday rooftop brunch overlooking the White House from here. There is a fireplace in the dining room that I must reserve because that is the only place my mother will sit,” Darryl laughs. “There are two days out of the year [Mother’s Day and her birthday] I must make very early reservations.”
Housed in a circa-1930 Beaux Arts building, this 95-room boutique hotel with skylighted lobby and period antiques and artifacts is a must “for an Old World and intimate stay,” says Darryl. “It’s one of my favorite hotels in Washington, and Quill is a very intimate bar.” His tipple of choice? “Chilled tequila—only the clear tequila—and I take it with an iced tea.”
The St. Regis Washington, D.C.
Formerly known as the Carlton, the luxury hotel, with its classic suites, refined dining rooms, and formal afternoon-tea room, has accommodated royalty and other dignitaries. “I’m enamored by the architecture,” says Darryl, citing the historic facade, which mingles Beaux Arts and neo-Renaissance styles.
Coming soon: Darryl is designing a micro boutique hotel with Frank Saul, owner of the Hay-Adams, in a historic building on Dupont Circle.
There is something very remarkable about descending back into Washington and seeing the extraordinary landscape of monuments and green space.
The Mount Vernon Trail
“I enjoy the bike trail from Washington to Mount Vernon. There is a stop just at Reagan National airport where you can lie down and watch planes land,” Darryl says. “As the planes descend, they go from minuscule to daunting and seem almost touchable from this vantage point.” This 18-mile stretch along the Potomac River is a cyclists’ favorite for its stunning surroundings, which include George Washington’s home and the Arlington National Cemetery.
Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market
“Surprisingly, it’s not just the fresh flowers, local vegetables, hand-hewn cutting boards, or artisan prosciutto that intrigue me here. I find the people-watching rather intriguing, and often there is some good music ensemble playing.” This beloved Sunday venue also has a program enabling visitors to interact with local chefs to learn more about cooking with seasonal ingredients at home.
The Echo Chamber at the Canadian Embassy
The domed rotunda, with its 12 classical pillars, in the embassy courtyard’s southeast corner is constructed in a way that noise bounces back to the center. “Go around nine o’clock at night. There is generally nobody there,” says Darryl, who adds with a laugh, “I go there when I want to be heard, and I’ve only been there after a cocktail.”
Walk the Watergate steps at the complex, just adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center. “It is a landing spot for me and a very dear friend midwalk around the Potomac,” says Darryl. “There is a very satisfying vista, and it is great for a workout if you are up for it.”
“Sidra is inexplicable. She is all things tasteful and we share a very similar sardonic whit,” says Darryl of his longtime local friend, the florist, chef, and gardener Sidra Forman. “I love everything she produces out of her garden and kitchen; anything she chops and arranges in a vase becomes art and everything she does is wondrously and effortlessly beautiful and engaging.” Look to Sidra’s studio for floral arrangements for events big and small, or arrange for one of her intimate dinners centered around seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients.
The National Historic Landmark houses the impressive Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of contemporary art and decorative arts, and it recently reopened following a major two-year renovation. “There are no words to adequately describe any of these instillations,” says Darryl. “They must be experienced.”
“Sidra is inexplicable. She is all things tasteful, and we share a very similar sardonic wit,” says Darryl of florist, chef, and gardener Sidra Forman, a longtime friend. “I love everything she produces out of her garden and kitchen; anything she chops and arranges in a vase becomes art, and everything she does is wondrously and effortlessly beautiful and engaging.” Look to Sidra’s studio for floral arrangements for events big and small, or arrange for one of her intimate dinners centered around seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients plucked straight from her gardens.
This National Historic Landmark houses the impressive Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of contemporary and decorative arts; it recently reopened following a major two-year renovation. “There are no words to adequately describe any of these installations,” says Darryl. “They must be experienced.”
Red Dirt Studios
“Margaret Boozer of Red Dirt Studios is one of my favorite artists on the planet. She works in local earthen materials and metal and all things organic,” Darryl says. Stop by the sculptor’s studio in a red-brick firehouse, where she showcases the works of artists and other creative professionals, and look for some of her own impossibly beautiful sculpted designs in Darryl’s boutique.
The Sculpture Garden at Hirshhorn
“I’m a fan of the permanent installation from Henry Moore,” says Darryl. “I’ve always gravitated to those pieces.” Take in the revolving roster of majestic sculptures with a stroll through the 1.3-acre garden, which is open daily from 7:30 a.m. until dusk.
I am a rare native Washingtonian. While I spent some time on the West Coast and, of course, love all things Italian, French, and English, my heart belongs to D.C.