Refined Eclecticism

Nestor Santa-Cruz's home is a masterful blend of worldly possessions, furnishings and art


Designer Nestor Santa-Cruz. Photo by Gordon Beall.

The prominent Washington, DC, interior designer Nestor Santa-Cruz has been working hard to create the perfect apartment for one of his most design-conscious clients himself. Located on the fourth floor of an unassuming 1960s brick high-rise in upper Georgetown, the residence epitomizes Santa Cruz’s design philosophy.“I like the idea of objects talking to each other, conversing, relating,” Nestor Santa-Cruz says of the way in which his collection is displayed.

“My brain thinks in dichotomies when it comes to interior design—on one side it’s very minimalistic and modern, on the other side it’s full of ornate collections and decorative arts,” says Santa-Cruz. In his own home, it seems Santa-Cruz has favored the latter part of his split design-personality.

Santa-Cruz, who was educated as an architect (and is currently a partner at SKB Architecture and Design), makes a point of using a more modern and architectural style for commercial projects, while developing a softer, more personal aesthetic for residential interiors. He considers his own style at home to be “a sort of European sensibility.” This seems like a perfect description of the 700-square-foot apartment, which is extremely cozy, yet contemporary.

The apartment is composed of two “layers.” Neutral-colored carpets and furnishings mixed with various wooden tables and chairs create a simple and elegant foundation. The second “layer” is comprised of a large collection of design objects and art, including African masks, ceramics, design and art books, intricate lamps and Santa-Cruz’s most prized possession, a set of sketches by 1930s French designer Jean-Michel Frank.

Everything is paired or juxtaposed in interesting, unconventional ways; Santa-Cruz creates relationships among the objects. “I like the idea of objects talking to each other, conversing, relating,” he says of the way in which his collection is displayed. Indeed, this is not some random assemblage, but a grouping of pieces that are all tied together by their unique and personal connection to Santa-Cruz.

This mixing and matching holds true for the designer’s furniture collection as well—the pairings are not over the top or disorienting, but sophisticated and original. A classic Mies van der Rohe coffee table takes on new meaning when placed next to an African stool picked up at a flea market. Fine-tuning the idea of refined eclecticism, Santa-Cruz has managed to make the apartment come across as effortless and quirky—it does not feel overly decorated or contrived.

As for the two layers in the apartment, Santa-Cruz adds that there is,

in fact, a third layer to the space as well: “There is a secret layer in my apartment—a layer which you can only see if you are knowledgeable about design history. I like that there is something deeper here; it’s not just visual.”

Santa-Cruz has feathered his nest with furnishings art
collected over a lifetime of travel.

For Santa-Cruz, his home will always be a work in progress, a space that is constantly evolving. “Things are always coming and going in my apartment,” he says. “Of course, some things never leave (the Jean-Michel Frank sketches, for one), but I might take something out and put it in a client’s space, or pick up something new on one of my travels. I hate moving, so I frequently switch things around and create new spaces with what I already have.”

And what he has is just about as good as it gets. Santa-Cruz puts it best: “This is my little nest—carefully crafted and unique, the place that I love to come home to.” 


In one corner of his living room, Santa-Cruz has combined a
late-18th-century modern marquetry desk with antique
architectural prints.

A 1940s French ceramic vase juxtaposed with a modern
Saladino lamp.

Santa-Cruz designed the silver-leaf chandelier in the dining
room, inspired by the original by Giacommetti.

An African pestle, a plaster figure of a Greek statue and
1940s ceramics grace the dining room table.

In the bedroom, a European sensibility prevails.