Designer Camille Saum wanted to simplify her life. She had been living in a Bethesda carriage house she’d renovated with style and aplomb (Home & Design, July 2002). But as she expresses it, “I wanted to move back to my old zip code, the one I grew up in,” referring to Cathedral Heights. Saum found the perfect perch in the Westchester, a 1930s-era grand dame of DC architecture. “It has good bones,” she says. The pièce-de-résistance in her two-bedroom condo is a corner balcony with a glorious view of the National Cathedral rising above the treetops.
After Saum bought the condo, she began to reconfigure and redefine it, making it her own. Cutting through a wall in the foyer, she captured footage from the adjacent second bedroom (now her office) to create a built-in china cabinet. In addition, she closed off a short hallway leading to the kitchen to give the foyer more impact.
The finished abode is pure Camille Saum: traditional sophistication meshed with energetic, whimsical funk, all wrapped in comfort. Orangery, a Farrow & Ball hue, and a floor painted in a checkerboard pattern set a lively tone. Work by faux-finisher Ali Nasseri is evident throughout. A damask-style pattern on the ceiling flows from the foyer through the living room, and extends into the den.
Saum’s great-grandmother’s sofa and chairs occupy the living room, freshly painted and upholstered in taupe linen. End tables are dressed in billowing, steel-hued taffeta and topped with antique mirrors. Draperies with ball-gown elegance frame the priceless view. “I really use my living room here,” the designer says. “In my carriage house I only used it when I had parties and Thanksgiving and things like that.”
An awkward corner of the living room with an oddly angled wall proved problematic. It was too far from the other furniture to be part of a grouping. Saum ingeniously solved the dilemma by designing a corner banquette there to fill the space. After closely examining restaurant banquettes, she ended up using her car’s seat for measurements. “It is the best example of how you want the lumbar to be. My car was the most comfortable,” she explains. French antique chairs, scattered about the room, can be easily pulled up to the table for dining.
The space that was once defined as the dining room became a den. “I wanted a room to sit and watch TV and be comfortable,” Saum says. Two oversized chairs and ottomans in this small room defy the expected by being comfortable yet not crowded. Yellow walls impart a burst of sunlight, while paprika hassocks add punch; they are a delight to Saum’s grandchildren.
In the second bedroom-cum-office, Saum decided to go “funky,” as she describes it. From a vibrant watercolor that hangs over the sofa (a treasured piece by her daughter), she drew the colors of the room. She designed a metal, chartreuse-laminate desk to run along the entire wall opposite the sofa. Fabrics, drawings and clippings tacked on the bulletin board above it reflect works in progress. Orange chairs add zip, and windows are dressed, Matisse-like, in multiple prints, a colorful botanical mélange. Whimsical Erector Set lamps by lighting designer Rick Singleton flank the sofa.
Like the living room suite, Saum’s four-poster bed is a family piece—but that didn’t mean that it couldn’t be livened up. She had the bed, highboy and demilune chest faux-finished with stripes. Cheerful plantain-colored walls lend pizzazz to the room.
Typical of apartments built in the 1930s, Saum’s condo has only one bathroom. The challenge was to make it work as a primary bath as well as a beautiful powder room for guests. Touched by nostalgia, the designer kept the room’s original medicine cabinet. She clad the entire room in marble, adding a narrow shelf for carefully chosen accessories that also allows a spot to rest make-up and brushes as she prepares for her day. The sink is installed in an antique cabinet Saum purchased many years ago and has repurposed more than once.
In simplifying her life, Camille Saum has created a space unique to her—rooms filled with treasures carefully cultivated from a rich lifetime. Here are her past and her future, alive with color and confidence.
Frequent contributor Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in McLean, Virginia.
INTERIOR DESIGN: CAMILLE SAUM, ASID, Camille Saum Interior Design, LLC, Bethesda, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: HANN & HANN, INC., Rockville, Maryland.