Paul Sherrill thinks of his apartment as a lab where he often shifts art, moves rugs or subtly tweaks the palette to add rich color here or neutral tones there. “I test things out and try new things,” explains the designer, a principal of the Washington-based firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill.
What does not change is Sherrill’s underlying design philosophy. “There’s a unifying thread, whether a home is extremely contemporary or traditional,” he explains. “It’s the basic and classic elements of organization: scale and placement.”
For 26 years, Solis Betancourt & Sherrill has designed residential interiors for clients from Boston to San Juan. While the firm’s style defies categorization, its goal is “timeless rather than trendy,” says Sherrill. “We merge classical elements harmoniously with modern to create spaces that are peaceful and elegant.”
Sherrill’s 1,000-square-foot Washington apartment is no exception. It’s located in the Altamont, a Kalorama building with a classical pedigree. When it was built in 1916, the Altamont promised city life on a grand scale with four-bedroom units, 10-foot ceilings and servants’ quarters. It boasted a café, loggia, roof garden, billiard room, beauty parlor and barber shop. In the 1920s, the apartments were subdivided into smaller ones and in 1949 the building converted to co-op. Today, the Altamont still retains its stately reception rooms, dignified front desk, and ornate, manually operated elevator.
In Sherrill’s home, three grand rooms—living room, dining room and bedroom—flow one into the other, unified but separate. Along with the 10-foot ceilings, other architectural details give the home interesting bones, from the round dining room with soaring windows to the wood-burning fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, that punctuate the apartment like parentheses.
Sherrill’s living room is an experiment in scale, style, and provenance. It’s divided into two distinct seating areas, one to the left of the fireplace and the other at a diagonal to the wall of windows to “break up the symmetry,” he says. Anchoring the space is a custom sisal carpet, its informality a contrast to the dramatic floor-to-ceiling draperies.
Modern and traditional elements blend in a surprising alliance. “I love 1970s modern mixed with Renaissance,” admits Sherrill. A large, abstract painting hangs over a Donghia sofa; in front of the sofa rests a 1960s chrome Milo Baughman coffee table. Matching Lucite consoles from Desiron flank the fireplace, which is topped by an ebonized, 19th-century Dutch baroque mirror. A Chesterfield sofa is paired with a 200-year-old red wingback chair from Ireland that belonged to a dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. Hung directly on a window, an 18th-century Italian landscape by an unknown artist, says Sherrill, “creates a nice view where one does not exist.”
In the round dining room, another seating area is tucked beneath the window bay. He commissioned Designer Workroom in Bethesda to fabricate the curved banquette and draperies using fabrics by S. Harris. When not set for a dinner party, the round gateleg table in the center of the room is layered with textiles and art objects. A nearby Anglo-Indian linen press stores dishware under a collection of Tiffany plates hung on the wall. A candle chandelier provides the only overhead lighting in the space.
Sherrill credits his North Carolina childhood as an early aesthetic influence. “I always loved going to the Vanderbilt mansion [in Asheville],” he recalls. “Perhaps my bedroom is an allusion to that.” Visible from the dining room and separated by a set of French doors, the bedroom features a marble fireplace mantel flanked by enormous Mexican wardrobes made in San Miguel de Allende. Near the windows is an English refectory table, an ad hoc workspace for a laptop.
Inspiration from the Biltmore Estate is evident in Sherrill’s dramatic bed. The headboard is a Venetian overdoor of hand-carved giltwood depicting the North Wind. Above it is a ceiling-height, flame-stitched canopy and at its foot, an ornately detailed trunk. As in other rooms, art is hung salon-style.
After a decade in his home, Sherrill is still trying new ideas. “The biggest thing that I learned was that I’m never here during the day; I only experience it at night,” he says of the evolving design. “So I started bringing in richer, vibrant color. Most of the lighting is low or just candlelight.”
He loves to entertain but admits that he doesn’t cook, joking that his closet-sized kitchen is just big enough “to open a bottle of Champagne.”
During parties, he points out, “guests can enjoy views of the fireplaces from the living and dining rooms. It’s an alley of spaces; you experience one space, then another. It’s both a procession and a decompression, as the spaces reveal themselves.”
Alice Leccese Powers is a Washington, DC, writer. Photographer Gordon Beall is based in Bethesda.
INTERIOR DESIGN: PAUL SHERRILL, Solis Betancourt & Sherrill, Washington, DC.
Living Room Carpet: meridastudio.com. Wall Covering: weitznerlimited.com. Painting in Window, Flemish Tapestry: Owner’s collection. Chairs, Table Lamp & Chest: darrelldeanantiques.com. Mirror: susquehannaantiques.com. Lucite Console: desiron.com. Lamp on Console: goredeanhome.com. Georgian Side Chair: johnrosselli.com. Large Sofa: donghia.com. Sconces: delapuenteantiques.com. Wingback Chair: osullivanantiques.com.
Dining Room Wallcovering: innovationsusa.com. Drapery & Window Seat Fabrication: designerworkroom.com. Drapery & Window Seat Fabric: sharris.com. Trim: samuelandsons.com. Pillow Fabrics: cowtan.com; clarencehouse.com. Bolster Fabric: pollackassociates.com. Ceramic Stools: Moss & Co. Antiques; 202-338-7410. Art, Drapery Holdback, Venetian parcel gilt: tone-on-tone.com. Lamps: marstonluce.com. Inlaid Italian Credenza, Ceramic Tiffany Plates: Owner’s collection. Alabaster Bust of Dante: L’Enfant Gallery; 202-625-2873. Georgian Side Chair: susquehannaantiques.com. Table Ware: meissen.com.