Home & Design

A prized painting by Danish artist Niels Corfitzen greets visitors from a wall facing the front door.

The existing concrete-and-stainless-steel fireplace grounds a monotype by Sam Gilliam.

On one side of the L-shaped space, a rug from Doris Leslie Blau anchors seating from Roche Bobois.

A fired-ceramic sculpture by Megan Mitchell was purchased for its corner spot atop a pedestal.

The existing kitchen combines dark-wood cabinetry, marble countertops and stools from Contemporaria.

A slender, figurative sculpture by Oriano Galloni occupies a corner of the dining room by a Malerba table.

The music room features a Knoll Barcelona chair, a hair-on-hide rug and gelatin silver prints by Sory Sanlé.

Art by Judy Pfaff in ink, encaustic and paper hangs above the bed, while a bold canvas by Richard Schur was purchased for the space.

Designer and architect Charles Almonte.

The living room boasts a gracefully curved Della Robbia sectional from Theodores atop a C.G. & Coe rug.

Collector's Vision

Charles Almonte transforms a Northwest DC condo into a chic canvas for bold, modern art

Abundant light and a vibrant, urban locale attracted psychiatrist Jeffrey Akman and Steven Scott Mazzola, a grants officer at AmeriCorps, to the one-bedroom condo they purchased off bustling 14th Street. “The unit has wonderful flow and openness that we knew would be great for entertaining and for displaying our artwork,” observes Akman.

In fact, their extensive collection of modern art played into the couple’s decision to hire designer Charles Almonte for help with the interiors. “It’s not a typical condo layout,” Almonte notes. “They wanted to know how to handle the space so as to showcase their art.”

Works by modernist icons such as Keith Haring, Robert Motherwell and Gene Davis are offset by contemporary furnishings selected by Almonte to enhance the flow between spaces and complement the bold, vibrant canvases. The L-shaped living area, bordered by a wall of windows, provides natural light and expansive walls for displaying art, while a separate dining room, a hallway and two small pass-through rooms—dubbed music and TV rooms—create more intimate galleries.

The owners also purchased art to fit their new abode; among favorite acquisitions is a large painting by Danish artist Niels Corfitzen, which faces the front door. “Its blues, grays, browns and tans act as the palette throughout the apartment,” says Akman. “The painting is meant to welcome you to this urban space.”

What was your role as designer on this project?
CA: Steven and Jeff called me to help them lay out the space, which is oddly shaped. They have a great collection of art, so it was a matter of placing it and picking out furniture that would work with it.

What was the vision for the project?
I talked to them about their lifestyle. They like to entertain, so I said, “Why don’t we make this feel like a hotel lounge, with two sets of seating, two different spots to relax?” The area near the kitchen is more casual, with the TV mounted on the wall.

What inspired your design choices?
I am an architect as well as a designer, so I often find inspiration through interior architecture. This was definitely true here, with city views through industrial-style windows and exposed-concrete ceilings. The fireplace is curved and the curves match the ceiling in the living room. It was all very urban and contemporary, so that’s what we went with.

The seating area by the fireplace is dominated by an S-shaped sectional. Can you talk about that piece?
This is a long space and that large, elongated piece, found at Theodores, echoes the curves of the fireplace and ceiling. We didn’t want the typical sofa and two chairs because then the people sitting in that area are facing away from the other area, and we wanted the two areas to communicate. The sectional has no back at one end; you can sit on it facing either direction. It was a little bold for them at first, but it works.

How did you furnish the other end of the L near the kitchen?
I knew we needed another large piece for balance, so we picked a very long sectional from Roche Bobois that faces the kitchen area and the TV. A Dolphin Armchair, also from Roche Bobois, is sculptural and looks good from both the front and back.

Talk about your color and fabric choices.
We wanted the art to pop, so we went with white walls. I chose crushed velvets because they’re solids—they don’t fight with the art, but their texture creates definition and interest. If they were just flat solids, they would look like big blocks. We also hung crushed-velvet drapes in the bedroom. And we replaced the living-room drapes with motorized shades. I felt that the urban scape is what makes the space. Why would you want to cover it up?

How much of the furniture is new?
The owners came from separate living situations. They got rid of all their old furniture and started fresh.

How did you select the rugs?
We picked contemporary-style rugs with dominant colors that work with the gray-blue color scheme and undertones of other colors. This gives them movement without being busy. We custom-sized them to work with the scale of the furniture.

How did you treat the floors?
The existing floors were a combination of wood and concrete. We kept both but refinished them. The wood floors, located in the main living areas, are a pale blond hue to keep the spaces light.

What rules of thumb do you have for hanging art?
Start with eye level. Also, I try to group them by frame style or by theme. I look for a common language that ties art pieces together.

What kind of lighting do you recommend for displaying art?
Track lighting is the best, because you can direct each light to the perfect angle. And you can swap out individual bulbs for LEDs.

Any advice for decorating an open space?
I look for elements that talk to each other and create harmony—whether it’s pattern, color or feel. The two sectionals here have different fabrics with the same feel. This creates harmony and conversation between the parts of the room.

Describe your personal style.
I’m not drawn to a specific style. I enjoy mixing and matching—it gives spaces some personality.

Design pet peeve?
I’m bothered by pieces that look out of scale or place. A lack of balance in a room throws me off. Things don’t necessarily have to be symmetrical, but there has to be balance. Maybe this comes from my architecture background.

Describe a trend you like.

Wallpaper is a big one and I love it. You can infuse it in small amounts, like in a powder room or on an accent wall. Even in a big space, if you pick the right pattern you can make it work. I’ve also been seeing a bit of a ’70s vibe coming back—corduroy fabrics and shades of tan.

What trends have you had enough of?
I’m a little “grayed out.” I wish clients would work with color a bit more often!

Interior Design: Charles C. Almonte, AIA, ASID, Charles Almonte Architecture | Interior Design, Silver Spring, Maryland. Styling: Charlotte Safavi. 

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