Back in the 1950s when 14th Street was known as “Auto Row,” venerable prewar buildings housed ground-floor car dealerships with warehouses above them. The area has experienced a welcome renaissance since then: Buildings remain intact on the outside, while trendy retail shops and galleries at ground level are paired with condo conversions above.
This is the scenario that Ernesto Santalla encountered when he was hired to renovate a newly purchased fourth-floor, one-bedroom condo. “It was a standard, builder-grade loft space,” Santalla recalls. “The clients wanted to make it special. We explored its full potential and decided to reconnect it with its warehouse origins.”
Santalla and his team gutted the space and started over. They exposed the ceilings, redirecting the mechanical systems wherever possible to convey a sense of openness. “We accepted the drains and ducts and opted to wrap them and be done,” he says. “The goal was to make it look like we’d done nothing.”
In its current iteration, the apartment is basically one large room, encompassing living, home office and kitchen areas. Floor-to-ceiling industrial-style windows flank one long wall, offering expansive views of the urban skyline and admitting generous natural light. The clients—a childless couple—didn’t want a lot of private space, so Santalla removed the wall that had separated the bedroom and replaced it with a floating partition that doesn’t reach the ceiling. He also replaced a wall that had separated the front entry from the kitchen with a floating hall closet. “When we think of a room, we think we have to put up walls,” Santalla observes. “But you can create rooms or areas without walls and maximize space.”
His clients preferred a spare, streamlined look, so Santalla eliminated baseboards throughout and concealed wires and switches wherever possible. Custom, built-in cabinets float on the walls at both ends of the apartment (the office and bedroom); all built-ins—including the bedstead and the cabinet in the living area that holds media equipment—are made of sand-blasted oak and drywall. They are painted white to blend with the walls.
One of Santalla’s goals was to showcase the owners’ extensive abstract art collection. Dominating the main room, a custom platform attached to the glass-topped desk provides the base for a life-sized figurative sculpture by Amsterdam artist Nelson Carrilho. In the kitchen, a steel sculpture by Yubi Kirindongo of Curaçao stands sentry on a corner of the cabinet, while a resin wall sculpture by British artist Keith Milow occupies one wall and a large-scale canvas by Milow creates a focal point behind the desk. A sliding panel on the floating wall facing the living area displays a painting by French-born artist Philippe Zanolino; when open, it reveals the TV and when closed it showcases a complementary piece beside it by the same artist. Magnets lock the wall into place.
The custom kitchen houses stainless-steel Miele appliances on one wall. A nook below the Kirindongo sculpture accommodates a dining table from the clients’ previous home that’s been trimmed to fit the space. It can be pulled out for company.
Santalla describes the bedroom as “an intimate space where you can still feel the amplitude of the apartment.” Keith Milow paintings on aluminum sheets hang above the floating cabinet while an abstract by Zanolino hangs over the bed. An adjacent den has been replaced by a large master bath and walk-in closet with a floor-to-ceiling, semi-custom elfa shelf system. The bath is tiled in porcelain and boasts a long vanity where Kohler sinks and fittings are illuminated by Viabizzuno lighting.
Sleek, modern furnishings include a B & B Italia sofa, a glass-topped Fontana Arte coffee table on industrial wheels and Barcelona stools—all grouped on a pieced cowhide rug made in Argentina and purchased through Contemporaria. Eames management chairs in black leather can be rolled up to the desk or the nearby dining table as needed.
Detailing throughout reflects an edgy, industrial aesthetic. Extra-heavy doors with Soss hinges hang flush with the walls to create a sense of visual seamlessness. Extensive track lighting maximizes the effect of the art, and old-growth hickory floors with eight-inch planks have a satin finish that reveals the wood’s imperfections, adding an element of texture and contrast. “Throughout the space,” Santalla says, “we looked for the simplest expression possible.”
Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: ERNESTO SANTALLA, AIA, LEED AP; JAMES C. SOLOMON, AIA, LEED AP; SPENCER MCNEIL, designer, Studio Santalla, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: Madden Corporation, Rockville, Maryland.