The reconfigured apartment features a new kitchen island of Santalla’s design.
The apartment perches above the building’s entry.
The kitchen island incorporates a custom, lacquered-wood tabletop and a quartz counter.
Fuchsia chairs from B&B Italia and an oil painting by Gian Garofalo add color to the living area.
Santalla replaced glass panels with a wall that screens off the bedroom.
A portrait of actor Ian McKellen by photographer Steve Pyke makes a bold statement in the entryway.
The custom bed is anchored by a panel of lacquered wood, with Weitzner wall covering.
Ernesto Santalla.

City View

Ernesto Santalla retools a DC condo, introducing functionality and sleek, modern style

When William Waybourn, a photographer and  owner of DC’s Long View Gallery, purchased a condo in DC, he realized that although it was brand new, the property would require a few tweaks. With windows rimming the space on three sides, displaying art proved a challenge. Since he planned to host work events in his home, concealing the bedroom—visible behind a glass wall—was also a priority. In the kitchen, a too-small-to-be-useful island did little more than block circulation. So Waybourn tapped architect Ernesto Santalla to remedy these flaws in his 700-square-foot abode.

After careful study, Santalla made dramatic improvements with a few bold strokes. He created a paneled wall that screens off the bedroom and houses a TV—which also freed up a spot for art on the original TV wall. He traded the ineffective island for a much larger one that marries a work surface with a table that can seat up to eight for dinner or serve as a buffet for a bigger crowd.

Struck by how the glassed-in apartment seemed to hover above the complex’s plaza below, Santalla decided to play up that impression. He outfitted the space with floating ceiling panels, suspended globe pendants, wall-mounted furniture and chairs with minimal legs—all subtle cues that reinforce a feeling of airiness.

“When you have a small home, it’s important to create a sense of expansiveness,” he reasons. “One of the things we focus on is living well in less space.”

Why does a small space demand big art?
If you put lots of small things in a small space, it starts to get busy. Large art creates a very strong focal point and ultimately gives you a sense of expansion. It’s a play on scale.

How did you downplay the open kitchen?
Previously, the kitchen was really prominent. I didn’t want people to arrive in the living area and have the sense that “here I am in a kitchen.” I wanted it to be a backdrop to everything else going on. In the new design, the island and colorful chairs became the prominent objects, which helped the kitchen take on the look of a white wall.

How does lighting come into play?
There is an impulse in construction, in general, to put up walls. In condo spaces, this means that many rooms end up being too dark, so both day-lighting and artificial lighting are always big priorities. In this project, the lighting didn’t work. Our client needed better lighting for artwork and more functional lighting as well.

How did you incorporate added storage?
We designed custom furniture in the bedroom to maximize the use of space. Below the bed are a bunch of drawers where the homeowner stores all of his photographic equipment.

What’s your theory on using color in tight quarters?
I use color selectively and always in the context of neutrals. In this space, for example, the bright colors are in the same range. The eye is drawn to the artwork and the chairs; you get a sense there’s a lot of color when in fact there isn’t all that much.

What’s your secret to designing small homes?
Everything has to be well-designed and serve more than one function; otherwise, you start to hurt for space. Select materials that are going to stand up to daily use and are also beautiful.

Explain how you “find” more room in a condo.
Often, circulation areas take up a lot of usable space. In many condo remodels, we find ways to take back space given to circulation. Sometimes what happens is amazing. All of a sudden, a bathroom gets three times larger because circulation has been handled properly.

How has technology changed the game?
The big thing is connectivity. So much can be done working at home. That has changed the way we relate to our living spaces; we’re not creating dedicated spaces for home offices. People are working on their laptops in the living room, the bedroom or the backyard.

What advice do you give clients when downsizing?
You need to exercise a lot of restraint with what you have. Sometimes a client will bring something that’s not going to work and we have to face that. For example, you’re not going to have four sets of dishes.

How do you justify renovating a new property?
You have to have a good reason and a really good concept behind why you’re remodeling something that’s brand new. If a renovation gives clients what they already have, but just a little bit better, I think they’ve wasted their money. We’re always looking to transform a space and create a lifestyle that we can foresee for the next 20 years—not something that will soon be obsolete.

How does art elevate a home?
Art completes a space as the owner’s self-expression; it can take a room from excellent to outstanding.

What’s your secret to selecting pillows?
Pillows need to be the right scale and shape, and strike a balance between decorative and functional.

Design pet peeve?
Matchy-matchy.

What new product are you dying to try?
I’m always on a quest for new lighting. Right now, Artemide has introduced LED products on the forefront of lighting design that I am excited to use.

Name a favorite “low-end” find?
IKEA makes very attractive wardrobes that are fully customizable. The trick is to design around
IKEA’s size modules.

How do you warm up a modern room?
I do it primarily through color and texture.

Interior & Architectural Design: Ernesto Santalla, AIA, LEED AP, Ernesto Santalla PLLC, Washington, DC.