Home & Design

In the family room sofas by Donghia flank the fireplace, which was updated with square, blond English sycamore panels and a limestone surround. Vivid, abstract silk- screens by Donald Sulter and a colorful ottoman punctuate the soft tones of the room.

Going Contemporary

Going Contemporary

It’s a conundrum designers often face: How to reconcile the style of a home with a client’s vision of what it should be. In the case of a Washington, DC, couple and their Tudor-style house, the issue was how to introduce contemporary elements into a traditional space—while at the same time creating something both striking and seamless.

After nine years in their classic Northwest residence, these homeowners were ready to renovate. Built in 1989, their house was spacious and elegant, but traditional. Over time, their tastes had evolved; they now wanted to weave a more modern sensibility into their home. They turned to DC-based architectural firm Barnes Vanze to design the renovation, and Ernesto Santalla of Studio Santalla, also in Washington, to integrate the space. An architect who also specializes in interior design, Santalla refers to the process as “mediating between the traditional and the contemporary.”

The renovation encompassed a dramatic makeover of the kitchen and the addition of a breakfast room, as well as a large deck off the back of the house. It also included an update of the adjacent family and dining rooms to allow a transition from the new, contemporary area to the older, still-traditional ones. “We tackled most of the first floor,” says architect and principal Anthony Barnes. “It was all redone with a cleaner, more contemporary aesthetic.”

The project started with the kitchen, which evolved into a streamlined, minimalist space in the new design. The homeowners chose German cabinetry manufacturer Bulthaup to create the sleek, aluminum-fronted cabinets. The countertops are a dark, honed Caesarstone; by contrast, the island boasts dark-stained oak cabinets and a stainless steel surface. The adjoining breakfast area, which added another 10 by 15 feet to the room, boasts a vaulted ceiling that, as Barnes describes it, makes the space both cozy and quietly elegant.

Santalla designed the breakfast room table himself using curly maple in contrasting colors. The homeowners chose to keep their original chairs, which were reupholstered to match the room’s new décor. A new butler’s pantry offers access to the formal dining room, creating an easy flow between the spaces.

While the kitchen underwent a major transformation, the rest of the renovation took place on a smaller scale. “You don’t always have to make radical changes to affect a big change in how a space is experienced,” Santalla says. “I call it ‘soft modern,’ where I contemporize the space through paint, textures and furnishings, de-emphasizing the traditional design elements that have to stay.” For instance, he incorporated soft cream on walls, moldings and trim—a monochromatic effect that is more in keeping with modern design. It also provides a backdrop for the homeowners’ colorful artwork and accessories. “I work with a reduced color palette,” Santalla explains. “I prefer splashes, or moments, of color. The idea is to create a serene environment.”

The family room exemplifies Santalla’s ‘soft modern’ sensibility. With the kitchen addition, the adjoining family room gained five extra feet, but that’s the only structural difference; otherwise, it’s been transformed through smaller, subtler means. The oak floors found throughout the rest of the house have been replaced by Jerusalem Gold limestone, which lends an air of elegance to the space. The same limestone is used in the fireplace surround, while the original mantel has been switched out in favor of blond English sycamore panels. On the wall directly opposite, Barnes and San- talla installed an identical section of panels, creating a bookend effect.
Santalla designed a custom carpet in neutrals with a darker stripe connecting the two walls; he also redid the ceiling, adding a panel that mirrors the stripe on the carpet. “Very often there’s a missed opportunity with ceilings, where they tend to be flat,” he explains. “This is a bas-relief design, to add interest to the room and to incorporate the lighting so it doesn’t look like random dots.”

In the dining room, it’s the furnishings and accessories that achieve a more contemporary look. The space is a smooth blend of modern and traditional sensibilities; furnishings the owners chose to hold on to—such as a Biedermeier breakfront, a massive Cuban mahogany dining table and heavy silk draperies—work beautifully alongside the more modern abstract artwork and a contemporary sideboard designed by Santalla out of mahogany and gold leaf. Barnes and Santalla installed the same lacquered paneling from the family room over one wall, which conceals a door to the butler’s pantry. “We got rid of the boring swinging door,” Barnes says, “and added a contemporary element to the room.”

The home’s spacious foyer, which opens onto the dining room, has also been updated: Striped wallpaper was replaced with cream colors; a traditional overhead light fixture was removed in favor of recessed lighting. Santalla also placed a delicate, cast-glass sculpture by local artist Andrés Tremols beneath the staircase, in direct line of sight from the front entry. Symmetrically curved corridors branch out to either side. “We were looking for a sense of understated elegance and a level of restraint,” Santalla says. Though the look is contemporary, “we wanted it to stand the test of time.”

Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.—



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