Passing through the front door of designer Zach Sherif’s Victorian row house in DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood virtually transports visitors to a decidedly different time zone. An eclectic blend of European antiques, Oriental rugs, Chinese furniture and Middle Eastern art creates a delectable departure from typical Washington fare. A lifetime of travel and a love of beauty and craftsmanship have inspired Sherif to collect all forms of decorative objects, from textiles to Buddhas to silver trays. His talent lies in the ability to display these finds with such aplomb—along with fantastic chandeliers of his own creation—throughout his renovated 1901 home.
“I think eclectic is probably one of the most challenging styles,” says Sherif, who shares the home with his husband, Paul Cerruti. “But if you follow your gut and pick things that move you, they will magically blend together.”
The Egyptian-born designer split his childhood between Cairo and New York, where his father was a director at the United Nations. He earned a degree in social sciences and art at Parsons, studying “how art, color and light affect the psyche.” Later, he worked as a men’s fashion editor and opened a restaurant in New York, then moved to Cairo where he became a top creative director for TV and music videos. When he needed three chandeliers for a set and couldn’t find the right look, Sherif crafted them himself out of hand-blown glass and later hung them in his apartment.
Soon, friends and acquaintances were requesting chandeliers of their own, and Sherif inadvertently launched his next career. He moved back to New York and opened a boutique selling his chandeliers—which now grace the homes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Whoopi Goldberg, Madonna and Alex Rodriguez.
Over the years, Sherif made frequent trips to DC to visit his mother, who lived in the Watergate. “A few years ago when she got ill, I came to take care of her,” Sherif recalls. “In the process, I discovered that Washington was an amazing town.” Shortly before she passed away in 2011, Sherif and Cerruti relocated to DC. “I consider it a gift from her,” Sherif says. “She re-directed my life.” Sherif now designs residential and commercial interiors and continues to create light fixtures. He plans to launch a new collection and open a DC showroom this fall.
Searching for their new home, Sherif and Cerruti fell in love with Bloomingdale—a burgeoning neighborhood north of Capitol Hill—for its architectural integrity. “Bloomingdale is young, vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, with one block after another of beautiful townhouses,” says Sherif. They bought the second home they saw despite its “rough” condition. “At one point, it was turned into a boarding house and divided into 10 apartments with lots of strange walls,” he notes, “but I could see the potential. You could see that the bones were good.”
Sherif, Cerruti and their contractors “delved into an eight-month marathon renovation, pretty much 24/7,” Sherif recalls. They gutted the home’s ceilings and half the walls and replaced electrical, plumbing, lighting and HVAC systems. However, Sherif insisted on preserving the home’s 1901 character. “I didn’t want a whitewashed renovation,” he says. “We kept all of the original doors, floors, trim and fireplaces. Why would you buy a 1901 house and make it look like a New York loft? My attitude is not to rip out all of the walls, but give a home an update by the way you furnish it.”
That is exactly what Sherif did, as guests discover in the foyer where a contemporary Egyptian painting plays off the home’s preserved staircase and original wood floors. Bright green walls pop in the living room amid a mix of antiques. “I wanted something unpredictable and at the same time wanted it to be a happy color,” Sherif explains.
The home’s 10-foot ceilings, grand staircase and original pocket doors play up its legacy, but the owners break with tradition in what was once a formal dining room. Sherif and Cerruti instead use it as a flexible space between the kitchen and living room, perfect for reading or sipping aperitifs under Sherif’s intoxicatingly beautiful “A Thousand and One Nights” chandelier, with its pierced metal cups casting reflections all over the room.
The renovated kitchen, with its Chinese slate floors and Carrara marble-topped island, makes the perfect backdrop for any meal. Sherif loves the “reflectiveness” of the kitchen. “It’s very Old World and reminds me of a French bakery,” he says. The kitchen opens to a rear courtyard the owners affectionately call “The South of France.” It’s an apt name for the garden alive with plants, a Moroccan mosaic-topped table and a pergola fragrant with wisteria.
The upper level houses three bedrooms and two baths. One of the bedrooms has become the “Arabic room,” a TV lounge where casual seating is covered in textiles from Morocco, Turkey and Egypt. A traditional Middle Eastern stripe is painted on the walls, topped by a Moorish-style motif of Sherif’s own design. He made the chandelier from an antique tray that he pierced and hung with teardrops of multi-colored glass.
Sherif clearly considers his home a laboratory that shifts and evolves. “A home should never become stagnant,” he declares. “I don’t think you can furnish a house overnight; it’s a process. In six months, it will look completely different.”
Stacy Zarin Goldberg is a photographer in Olney, Maryland.
LIGHTING & INTERIOR DESIGN: Zach Sherif, Enlightened Design, Washington, DC.