Creating An Urban Sanctuary in DC

Photos by Joel Barhamand

Lyric’s interior design concept for its new DC property pays homage to the past

Design, according to Elena Koroleva, Lyric’s associate director of Interior Design, should somehow reflect the unique identities of the communities and cities in which the brand operates. For Lyric at Liz in Washington D.C., Koroleva took her inspiration from the evolution of the 14th Street corridor - from race riots and organized crime to the emergence of a vibrant arts scene and positive social activism. Koroleva, whose past work at firms like STUDIOS Architecture has been featured in Interior Design Magazine, sat down with us to talk about her background, and the design concept and inspiration for one of Lyric’s newest properties.

Were you always interested in architecture and design?
I had extensive exposure to Russian art and culture growing up there. From music and art to dance - it all poetically materialized in the decision to pursue architecture. Recently, I was told by my mom that when I was 7 years old she overheard me decisively telling an older friend that when I grew up I’d  become a designer. She probably laughed, but was definitely surprised by my decisiveness. 

You certainly followed through on your childhood promise. What did your early career look like?
After receiving my Masters in Architecture from Parsons, I joined a team of talented designers and visionaries at Rafael Vinoly Architects, gaining exposure to large civic and institutional projects. From competitions and modeling complex building systems to extensive training in 3D visual representation for projects abroad, I was eager to dive into projects more local to New York.  It is at that point that I joined STUDIOS Architecture, a firm with a rich history of producing high end commercial interior renovations and base building repositioning.

How did you come up with the idea of an "urban sanctuary" as your design inspiration for Lyric at Liz? 
The idea behind “urban sanctuary” stems from two points. First it pays respect to our building’s historic site, and second it pays respect to past and present communities of the 14th street corridor.

Like with all of our projects we hone in on the unique identity of the neighborhood and the city at large. Many cultures have passed through the city and many communities have come and gone through the neighborhood we’re in. The old site of the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center is an anchor and a beacon to celebrating the bold individuals who have provided support and care for the ones who could not find it anywhere else. We saw that as a powerful moment in this city's history and instilled into our creative suites as an extension of that care and kindness. We hope that by staying in this beautifully designed building and inside our furnished suites, our guests will find inspiration from our interpretation of the city and comfort of the interior set up.

The 14th Street corridor has really evolved over the past 50 years. How have these changes inspired your design?
We learned a lot from our location research and saw patterns of unrest, and patterns of communities overcoming that unrest. Race riots of late 1960s left the area devasted by fires, segregation, crime and prostitution. But cheap rents ushered in a wave of activists for Black Power and artists seeking to reinvigorate the neighborhood and take back the urban space, with bright colors and mission driven agendas to harness political, economic and cultural influence. Bookstores, night schools, community gatherings, art studios and galleries began to grace the streets and ushered in a “pan-racial” phenomenon.

The most interesting stories came from those who I see as community heroes: men, women, and groups. Collaborative solutions amongst groups are inspiring and extremely important to look at when designing with people in mind. Spaces support creativity and innovation, and we want to be at the heart of that.

What’s one of those interesting stories you heard?
I learned how art gallery-goers tied belts of bells around their waists while out on the town during exhibition openings. It was a sign letting others know that one of their own was approaching around the corner, or down the alley. There was a lot of crime, so this was a unique community-driven safety measure. 

How did you take these inspirations and distill them into a premium and contemporary interior concept?
I wanted to translate the energy of that time into color and instill that boldness into our creative suites. Color spoke to me in voices, and we all have something to share which is why the suites pop with so much of it, without compromising the serenity of the space. Hard materials and their finishes represented the strength and resilience of those individuals that fought for the rights they deserved. Our custom designed bedroom wall covering is a translation of the dawn of change and historic overlay of cultures coming together represented by patchwork.

What are some of your favorite design elements?
Our mission is to be intentional with choosing the pieces that outfit our suites, that’s why no one city is alike. Therefore each object pays an homage to the concept in one way or the other. To me, it's the balance of objects when they all come together and create a new vernacular that really speaks to the story. 

Tell us about some specific products and vendors you worked with for this project?
I chose the bedroom light fixtures - the Orbit Sconce - from Workstead. Their ethos for working with communities of craftsmen and designers to produce bespoke artifacts really resonated with me. I also loved the design of the Menu Nono coffee table for the living room, and the Hew Lounge Chair from Industry West. Our custom, in-house designed kitchen islands are an evolution of how we strive to provide a productive and creative atmosphere within each suite. Steven Marks’s photography is such a strong addition and introduces a very human element into each suite. His story adds an extra layer to the idea of resilience in the overall concept.

What's the best part about your job?
The best part about my job is that it’s an extension of my personal mission, and I get to work through challenges on a daily basis with a talented group of designers and strategists who believe in the vision of the product. 

If you could design any space - your dream project - what would it be?
Figuring out a new way of looking at the space between the city and the suburb. Blurring the line to provide fresh, young, playful spaces that inspire creativity and a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Check it out
Lyric at Liz
1357 R St. NW, Washington, DC 20009