Washington Post Article

FOR PURCELLVILLE DESIGNER, AN EXTREME MAKEOVER: PBS Show Enlists Expert From Loudoun For Swift D.C. Project
By Julia Feldmeier
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006; Page LZ01

Kate Dieterich does not look at all scruffy, as she has warned. The 39-year-old interior designer works and lives in Purcellville, but today she is in McLean, preparing a client's stately home for a Southern Living magazine photo shoot.

Dieterich had said she would be in jeans and boots, gear suitable for directing carpenters and upholsterers. Knockabout clothes.

This is a half-truth. She is wearing jeans, of a slim, designer cut. But she is also wearing a dazzle of turquoise: a turquoise turtleneck sweater, a turquoise suede jacket, turquoise jewelry—all of which, fittingly, accentuates her blue eyes. Her jeans are fastened with an enormous silver Western belt buckle.

And she is barefoot, her toenails painted crisp pink.

Right away, we've learned two things about Dieterich: She has high standards of style, and she is a feet-planted-firmly kind of gal.

Both qualities, it turns out, served her well when "This Old House" came calling.

The PBS television show rolled into the District early last month to renovate a 130-year-old rowhouse in the Shaw neighborhood, and the crew needed an interior designer to see through the finishing touches. The show found Dieterich through the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.

Dieterich is "very down to earth, and it made her so easy to work with," Deborah Hood, producer of "This Old House," said by phone from Boston.

"Even with all the chaos, nothing could stop her. She was just rock solid," Hood said. "She just got her work done and did an amazing job in a short period of time."

Indeed, Dieterich had just 10 days to furnish and decorate the house—from scratch. (The three episodes featuring Dieterich began airing last weekend.)

Typically, "This Old House" projects involve renovating homes that are owned by individuals. In this case, the rowhouse was owned by Mi Casa Inc., a D.C. nonprofit group that buys buildings at below-market rates and sells them to middle- and low-income families.

The arrangement presented Dieterich with an unusual challenge: no homeowner to work with, no furniture to fill the house, no fabric to dictate color schemes.

"I walked into the construction site on that beautiful day, and there were a hundred people running around and not a window in place and I'm freezing. I had these two boxes of paint chips, and they said, 'Okay, start picking colors for the whole house.' Usually that would be backwards, because there's nothing to go on," Dieterich said.

"But there was this beautiful brick wall in the foyer that they saved, so I took my cue from the brick wall. What I was able to do was to teach, on air, that you take that brick from one side of the house and use the color to go to the other side of the house. So your eye doesn't stop at the brick, it carries through the entire house."

That night, it was time to start filming.

"I'm like, oh, my God, I can't even get my pink lipstick on," Dieterich joked, but she added that she was undaunted by the cameras.

"I love to teach," she said. "I'm a ham. Everybody knows it. I got to talk about traffic and space and flow and scale and all that."

It helped, too, that the renovation project jibed perfectly with Dieterich's design mantra: "Why make up something when we already have so many beautiful things out there?"

Once she had a plan, Dieterich pulled out her cellphone and began calling on a roster of Loudoun County businesses for help.

First up: Vicki Buswell, owner of From Swatch to Swag in Hamilton. Buswell's window treatments, Dietrich said, are "the earrings on the dress." Buswell was at a trade show in Las Vegas when Dieterich called. She flew home early to start pulling together fabrics.

Dieterich turned to Gale Waldron, owner of Gallery 222 in Leesburg, to find artwork. And for furniture, she called Debbie Mattens, owner of The Guest Room in Leesburg, who quickly scoured her showroom for furniture to lend, then trucked it into Washington.

"It was fast, but it was a lot of fun," Mattens said. "You were under pressure, you had to find just the right item. Of course, working with Kate is always fun."

"I'm just sort of high all the time on what I do," Dieterich said. "I love what I do."

Even when that meant driving through a snowstorm to get to the site, running down the street to a neighboring church to find a working bathroom and being stranded on the second floor after carpenters removed the stairs to refinish them.

This, after all, is a designer who mixes style with service and fun with functionality. She even has a pink hard hat to prove it.

"Pink is my favorite color," Dieterich said.

Really? We'd have guessed turquoise.

"This Old House" airs locally Saturdays at 9A.M. on WETA and Tuesdays at noon on WHUT

Reprinted with permission from the Washington Post