Farrow & Ball’s Richest Crimson Color Is Meant to Ignite Bold Actions at D.C.’s New HQ for Women
Vital Voices’s space is up and running (and full of paint ideas).
Updated Mar 17, 2023 11:55 AM
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The streets of Washington, D.C., are famously dotted with embassies, memorials, and government agencies, but when you really look around, you’ll notice something is missing. “There aren’t a lot of buildings or monuments that are about what women are doing in the world to make it a better place,” says Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization that’s been investing in women leaders—or, as Nelson puts it, venture catalysts—for 25 years. That’s about to change. A new hub just joined the stretch of diplomatic structures, and this one is dedicated entirely to women.
The Vital Voices Global Headquarters for Women’s Leadership is located in the heart of the capital on 16th Street, just blocks from the White House and Black Lives Matter Plaza. Backed by such notable philanthropists as Diane von Furstenberg (chair of the Vital Voices Capital Campaign), Hillary Clinton, and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, to name a few, it is the first-of-its-kind physical space where women changemakers can come together to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges, from the climate crisis and violence against women to racial injustice and economic inequity.
Fittingly, an all-women design team led the renovation of the seven-story building (originally constructed in 1910), spanning from architects and designers Ashley Maddox, Andrea Lenardin, Marnique Heath, and Katie Schenk to project managers Colleen Scott and Shari Roberts. The lighting is by Sandrine Junod Yust.
The interior shines a spotlight on artists and craftspeople within the Vital Voices network, such as social entrepreneur Ariela Suster, who founded Sequence Collection to break the cycle of violence in El Salvador (Suster employs young men to create accessories). Maddox and Lenardin took pieces of fabric from her line and worked with a furniture company to weave them into chairs, sofas, and other furniture.
Even the paint palette carries meaning. Five Farrow & Ball colors stand at the core of the 35,000-square-foot space, each one promoting a different feeling. Navy blue in the library, for instance, is meant to spark focus and encourage concentration. “It represents a woman’s driving force,” explains Nelson. In other rooms, the brand’s “richest crimson,” dubbed Incarnadine, is meant to ignite “bold ideas and bold action,” she adds. “The idea that just because something has never been done before doesn’t mean it won’t be the very thing needed to tackle our greatest challenges.”
Want to steal the shades for your own space? The standout swatches they selected and their implied meanings are: Hague Blue (Driving Force or Sense of Mission), Calke Green (Strong Roots in the Community), Incarnadine (Bold Ideas and Bold Action), Borrowed Light (Ability to Connect Across Lines That Divide), and Brinjal (Paying It Forward).
Similarly, materials like the Kelly tile from Popham Design, which is used on a sink surround, was selected for its abstract shapes that look like “elegant yet powerful female forms,” notes Nelson. The tile color was perfectly custom-matched to the Calke Green ceiling.
In other areas, the design isn’t so literal but just all-around soothing, as in the winter garden. It is framed by giant windows, bringing in a ton of natural light, and a trove of plants fill the space with high-quality air. (It’s nothing, though, compared to the enormous skylight in the lounge on the top floor.)
Not unlike the interior, the exterior of the building is a place for inspiration and empowerment. During the renovation, a 40-by-40-foot portrait of the first U.S. youth poet laureate and Vital Voices board member Amanda Gorman, designed by Gayle Kabaker, could be seen by the 20,000-something cars that drive by each day. That’s how you gain curb appeal.