Step Inside a Washington, DC Apartment That Once Belonged to Jazz Legend Duke Ellington

duke ellington home tour - living room and bedroom with patterned wallpaper

Design: Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio, Photo: Keyanna Bowen, Prop Styling: Joy Williams & Keyanna Bowen

There's a lot to consider when apartment hunting: rent, location, square footage, and even shower pressure (yes, you should really check the shower pressure before you commit.) While those are all important pieces of the puzzle, some people also look for something less tangible, like a certain feeling they get inside the space or maybe even a place with some history.

This 900-square-foot apartment in the U Street Corridor in Washington, DC has it all. The home, which was once one of jazz composer and pianist Duke Ellington's residences, has the perfect mix of history and function. Though the home was likely built in the 1860's, DC government records were destroyed in a fire in 1886, so the updated records aren't accurate, designer Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio tells MyDomaine.

"The home is Victorian, one of the area’s great rows of brownstones," Williams says. "Most have similar English basements. The home was formerly a Duke Ellington residence in the 1920's. My goal in designing the space was to elevate the experience of the owner’s guests."

And she did just that by adding a second small bedroom to the previously one-bedroom apartment that fits a full-sized bed, desk, and closet. The unit, which only had sleeping space for two before the redesign, now sleeps five to six people comfortably between the two bedrooms and a spacious pull-out sofa.

"I wanted guests to have an experience when entering the space," Williams says. "The wallpaper invigorates the space and makes the living area feel larger than it is. The space is well suited to how I imagined Duke Ellington would have used it—perhaps as a speakeasy kind of getaway with music and lounging away from the main house."

The space is well suited to how I imagined Duke Ellington would have used it—perhaps as a speakeasy kind of getaway with music and lounging away from the main house.

Keep scrolling to see how Williams transformed a historic property into a modern guest retreat.

Duke Ellington home tour - living room and kitchen area

Design: Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio, Photo: Keyanna Bowen, Prop Styling: Joy Williams & Keyanna Bowen

The main focal point of the design was the living room, Williams explains. She used Mitchell Black's statement-making wallcovering in Fusion to define the space and add interest.

"Ironically, even with the big statement wallpaper, the room needed another artful touch to really make it standout," Williams explains. She chose a bright pop of color in this pull-out sofa from CB2, a gorgeous piece that doesn't overwhelm the space. After all, the best design advice she's ever received is to "go big in small spaces as it only makes them feel bigger and more interesting."

Mitchell Black Fusion Before
Mitchell Black Fusion Before Wallcovering $138
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"I love curated and artful spaces," Williams says. "When I’m designing for my clients, I love collaborating with them on spaces that speak to their style of living, which I guide and support with principles of great design."

Duke Ellington home tour - cozy reading corner with an oversized chair and brick wall

Design: Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio, Photo: Keyanna Bowen, Prop Styling: Joy Williams & Keyanna Bowen

In this reading nook in the living room, Williams chose a gorgeous swivel chair from Arhaus, a favorite piece for both her and her client, which adds a luxurious touch to the shared space.

"The unit was dated and tired after years of use as a monthly rental," she explains. "I wanted it to welcome visitors, and for it to be a comfortable, yet functional space for a family as well. Style, Form and function were the goals."

Ellison Swivel Glider Chair
Arhaus Ellison Swivel Glider Chair $1,899
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Though Williams transformed this apartment into a luxurious guest retreat, she had to stay within a budget, as the entire renovation, which included adding a bedroom, cost between $18,000 and $24,000.

"In the kitchen, we got big bang for our money by painting the existing cabinetry and adding hardware," Williams explains. "Changing the granite countertops was not in the budget, but we did add a marble backsplash in a ridged white and gray tile that added interest to the stove area. We wanted something timeless that would not compete with the wallpaper since we used it generously to cover bulkheads we couldn’t change."

Duke Ellington home tour - kitchen area with white cabinets and black appliances

Design: Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio, Photo: Keyanna Bowen, Prop Styling: Joy Williams & Keyanna Bowen

In the existing main bedroom, Williams and her client chose a deep navy, choosing to use color as the statement there. Deciding on a color scheme was the easy part.

"Gray and blue are always on trend with this client," Williams explains. "Because she loves those shades so much, we like to make them work for her in a way that breaks out of the norm."

Duke Ellington home tour - bedroom with navy blue walls and comfy white bedding

Design: Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio, Photo: Keyanna Bowen, Prop Styling: Joy Williams & Keyanna Bowen

The real challenge of this project was creating an extra bedroom.

"If we did not have the budget constraints, we could have lessened the footprint of the kitchen and created a larger living area and perhaps a second bath," Williams explains. "So the challenge was to make the new bedroom size worth the trouble of lessening the size of the living area. I think we accomplished that and more."

Because this second bedroom took some square footage from the living area, the new room was more difficult to furnish.

Duke Ellington home tour - cozy guest room with navy accents

Design: Joy Williams of Joyful Design Studio, Photo: Keyanna Bowen, Prop Styling: Joy Williams & Keyanna Bowen

"For the new smaller bedroom we were again very specific with sizing, which took more work because these spaces really called for custom furnishings," Williams says. "A good designer worth her salt though can find the right scale from her bag of trade and non-trade sources if pressed."

Through some help from Wayfair Professional, Williams sourced just the right daybed that fit in the room but also anchored it.

Though Williams loved the way the apartment turned out, it was her client's reaction that ended up being her favorite thing about the space.

"Of course, I, as a designer, love great design," Williams says. "However, I love how my clients love their spaces more. My aim is to give them great design and a space they love."

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