DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
Interior Design Firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill and BarnesVanze Architects masterfully renovate a beautiful 1930 Beaux Art mansion in DC’s Embassy Row area.
Interior Design: Solis Betancourt & Sherrill
Architecture: BarnesVanze Architects
Tucked away on a tree-lined street in Washington DC’s prestigious Embassy Row neighborhood, this 1930 Georgian-style property had great bones and an illustrious past but needed an update for the new owners and their young family. They wanted all the comforts of modern family life and the ability to entertain formally.
Interior designers Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill of Solis Betancourt & Sherrill and Architect Ankie Barnes of BarnesVanze Architects, both Washington DC based firms, worked closely with the clients to give the property a much-needed refresh. The goal was to honor the grandeur and elegance of the neo-classical envelope and also bring the estate into the 21st century. Designer Paul Sherrill notes that “The clients wanted something comfortable with a slightly contemporary aesthetic. Everyone on the design team was interested in balancing traditional and modern design.”
For the entry vestibule designers Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill worked with John Procario through Todd Merrill Studio to design whimsical light sculptures to fit within the existing niches. This contemporary element contrasts with the traditional paneling and serves as a prelude for the interiors to follow. In the entry hall a decorative plaster finish imitating rusticated limestone creates a subtle texture and visual interest. For the divan the designers specified a fluted base that alludes to the Art Deco style.
All infrastructure was updated, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, electronics and security systems. Architect Ankie Barnes reconfigured the original service stairway connecting the basement floors into a compact spiral staircase that reached all five floors. This not only made the house more navigable for staff and family but also freed up space, permitting a seven-foot expansion of the family room along with a huge new triple window. In another effort to create more natural light and a deeper connection to the garden views, Barnes had bay windows installed in the sitting area and master bedroom and the doors and windows on the master stairway landing were expanded to create a grander link to the garden terrace.
Jose Solis Betancourt says that the inspiration for the interior design was “to capture the essence of the Art Deco style in a contemporary interpretation.” The designers chose furniture with clean, tailored lines and opted for a silvery palette with a rich interplay of textiles and finishes. They carefully edited and curated the clients’ extensive collection of traditional furnishings, antiquities, and art and embellished it with contemporary pieces to create a balance that was more appropriate for their current lifestyle. Whites that veer towards gray were the color of choice and most walls had a dry-brush strié glaze applied to add a subtle sophistication to the paint finish.
On the ground floor, visitors to the entrance hall are surrounded by a colonnade of four original Corinthian columns. Four Baguès crystal beaded sconces in the deco style illuminate the space. For visual interest and to create a subtle texture, Sherrill and Solis Betancourt called on a decorative painting studio to create a rusticated limestone block wall treatment by troweling and scoring Marmorino plaster. The designers chose white marble flooring to keep the space light, with a grey marble inset border to delineate the different spaces and give a modern feel. The original fireplace surround with Wedgewood-style reliefs was carefully restored. A glass fire screen by John Lyle introduces a contemporary simplicity.
In the family room the interior design team created classical entablature casings to ornament the windows to avoid needing a window treatment. This kept the views open to the garden. Ample seating for family gatherings was key.
In the dining room the celadon-colored drapery and silk wallcovering add a hint of color. A custom table top by Keith Fritz is ready for elegant entertaining.
Upstairs on the graciously proportioned piano nobile, the dining room and living room are elegant and grand, ready for large scale entertaining. Gilded antique chairs and classical statuary balance nicely with contemporary upholstered furniture and abstract art. The sleek serpentine Vladimir Kagan sofa anchors one of several comfortable sitting areas. The living room’s glimmering rug was custom woven to fit the 34’ long space. At the end of the room is a more intimate seating area with two loveseats and an artist-made coffee table consisting of stacks of concentric circles of marble. This area overlooking the garden is a favorite spot for hosting small luncheons and afternoon teas.
In the dining room, the original paneling was preserved though the design team opted to remove the chair rail and lighten the palette. The celadon-colored drapery and silk wallcovering add a hint of color. The clients’ neo-classical style dining room chairs were reupholstered in a shimmering textured fabric. Paul Sherrill points out that this room illustrates how “much of the project was about editing and paring down the decorative elements to maintain a fresh and contemporary aesthetic.” On the opposite side of the house, the family room, kitchen, and breakfast room were all configured so they could be separate but flow as one since the family enjoys cooking together.
In the living room the sleek serpentine Vladimir Kagan sofa draws visitors in and redirects the eye to the classical carved mantle. This balance of styles happens throughout, offering contemporary comfort along with traditional elegance.
In the breakfast room the designers chose performance upholstery for the classic forms of the elegant Fendi chairs and an acrylic rug to keep maintenance family friendly.
The palette of the master bedroom is a creamy ivory.
The sofa’s sinuous curves temper the paneling. Rock
crystal side table lamps, a Murano pendant, and
chenille and velvet bedding create a rich interplay of
materials. For the powder room soft blues and gold
accents create a jewel-box setting.
The third-floor bedrooms and library are serene, defined by plush fabrics and carpets. The palette in the master bedroom is a creamy ivory. Rock crystal side-table lamps, a Murano pendant, and chenille and velvet bedding create a rich interplay of materials. A library, situated between the master bedroom and children’s rooms, is the perfect spot for the family to come together in the evening.
Jose Solis Betancourt says this restoration project marked a very special collaboration. “It takes a village to renovate a historic home in a respectful way that is also attuned to the clients’ modern lifestyle. From the architect to the builder, decorative painter, drapery workshop and the clients themselves, this project has been a true coming together of like-minds wanting to bring a classic gem back to its full glory. Old and new are in perfect balance.”