When challenged to decorate a lackluster home, interior designers often cultivate a narrative of their own. Like set designers who magically bring a play’s milieu to life on stage, they channel a client’s aesthetic and preferences to create environments that sing.
Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill, principals of Solis Betancourt & Sherrill, conjured such a vision when a retired couple tapped them to reimagine a 1970s-era townhouse they’d purchased in DC’s Kalorama neighborhood. The four-story property with a private courtyard attracted the empty-nesters with its proximity to restaurants and museums. But despite recent updates, stark, builder-grade interiors left the new owners cold. “The layout and finishes did not meet our needs,” rues the wife, who was leaving behind a large Maryland residence appointed in traditional style. Ready to turn over a new leaf in the city, she and her husband envisioned a home that was “uncluttered and modern, but inviting.”
Solis Betancourt and Sherrill’s plan proves that downsizing doesn’t have to mean downgrading. In their scheme to make the house more functional, the designers put a premium on comfort and luxury. “Our clients didn’t want to bring the Chippendale furniture, wainscot and traditional damask wall coverings that they were living with,” explains Sherrill. “The project was an opportunity to simplify, but not give away the richness.”
The first move: tailoring the house to the owners’ functional needs. The renovation transformed the original ground-floor kitchen into a catering kitchen and bar to foster indoor-outdoor soirées in the adjoining library, family room and courtyard. Replacing a living room on the second level, they created a new kitchen and dining area, media room and office. The third-floor was dedicated to an owners’ suite comprising a bedroom plus his-and-her baths and dressing rooms. Additionally, two new guest suites were installed on the fourth level to accommodate visitors—including the owners’ grown children and grandkids. The couple enlisted BOWA to complete the project.
“We took the opportunity to upgrade windows and doors and all the other systems,” says Sherrill, pointing out a new glass-rail staircase that replaced its spindly wooden predecessor. “They’re used to living in state-of-the-art homes, so a lot of technology was discreetly integrated into the program.” Even the existing elevator was retooled.
As the dust settled, the interiors took shape. Sherrill and Solis Betancourt layered a mix of comfortably contoured furniture, bespoke finds and richly textured soft goods in a calm, neutral palette. Bold modern art, shimmery brass accents and an unexpected modicum of 1970s glam are icing on the cake.
A few pieces from the owners’ former home made the trip to Kalorama. Namely, revered paintings, needlepoint-topped benches that stand watch in the foyer, the grand piano and antique books that occupy the facing library and gilded Federal-style sconces in the family room. “They had a huge library of rare, first-edition books,” says Solis Betancourt. “We edited everything and kept what is most important to them.”
Silk Romo wall covering the color of warm sand envelops the main-floor spaces. A mod graphic rug with gold thread running through it grounds the library; chunky bronze coffee tables made by Silas Seandel rest atop it like sculptures. Armchairs in the library and plush sofas and swivel chairs in the adjacent family room revolve around comfort and conversation. In the latter, a custom eucalyptus table by Keith Fritz and two shagreen drum tables from Made Goods—all with brass accents—lend drama. “We let the upholstery be rather neutral, keeping more interest in the art-made furniture,” explains Sherrill. Two abstract paintings from Merritt Gallery provide splashes of color.
During warmer months, the courtyard beckons through the family room’s sliding doors. Landscape architect Richard Arentz revived the oasis, paving it in wire-cut brick and covering the walls in ivy. A bronze sculpture by Bruno Romeda creates a focal point, which Arentz offset with vintage Japanese clay tiles framed in limestone.
Post-covid, dinner parties will resume on the second level. The owners entertain in the new open kitchen and dining area featuring custom cabinetry designed by Solis Betancourt & Sherrill and fabricated by Woods & Style. The kitchen features a large Wolf range and an island with bar seating; bronze panels support the Caesarstone countertop. The facing cabinet wall houses abundant storage and a fireplace on axis with the range; the marble surround mirrors the kitchen backsplash. A chandelier by Lindsey Adelman, with bronze armature and handblown globes, radiates mid-century style.
“When they have more formal guests, the space is spectacular,” says Solis Betancourt. “A curtain on the right divides the room from the stair hall area. Almost like a theater, they can turn the lights down and bring the focal point to the table.”
From its shag carpet to its velvet Klismos chair, the owners’ bedroom evokes the warmth of a cashmere sweater. A silver-gray palette, echoed in the nightstands, silk Phillip Jeffries wallpaper and Stout drapery fabric, instills a sense of calm.
The residents couldn’t be happier with their new city digs. “We love the feel of the décor and it was great working with Jose and Paul,” says the wife.
“It’s modern but there is richness and a timeless quality to it,” reflects Solis Betancourt on the finished project.
Sherrill agrees as he rejoins with a smile, “I could move in.”
Interior Design: Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill, Solis Betancourt & Sherrill, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: BOWA, McLean, Virginia. Landscape Architecture: Richard Arentz, ASLA, Arentz Landscape Architects LLC, Washington, DC. Home Automation: All Around Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Rug: therugcompany.com/us. Sofa: jrobertscott.com. Sofa Fabric & Sheer Fabric: pollackassociates.com. Toss Pillow Fabric: jimthompsonfabrics.com. Coffee Table: silasseandel.com. Side tables at Sofa: johnlyledesign.com through hollyhunt.com. Round Table & Lamps on Side Sofa Tables: donghia.com. Mirror & Stools: Clients’ collection. Club Chairs: profilesny.com. Club Chair Fabric: calvinfabrics.com. Lamp on Round Table: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Drapery Fabric: cowtan.com/brand/larsen. Wallcovering: romo.com. Paint: Tapestry Beige by benjaminmoore.com.
Rug: galleriacarpets.com. Center Table: keithfritz.com. Chairs: saladinostyle.com. Chair Fabric: gpjbaker.com/brands/mulberry-home. Sofas: jrobertscott.com. Sofa Fabric: pindler.com. Pillow Fabric: scalamandre.com. Ottoman/Table: ironies.com through hollyhunt.com. Ottoman Leather: edelmanleather.com. Coffee Tables: madegoods.com. Wallcovering: romo.com Drapery Fabric: pollackassociates.com. Art: merrittgallery.com. Four Side Tables: noirfurniturela.com. Four Brass Lamps: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Sconces: Clients’ collection.
Cabinet Design: solisbetancourt.com. Cabinet Fabrication: woodsandstyle.com. Portiere & Sheer Fabric: creationbaumann.com. Fireplace Mantel, Host Chairs & Counter Stools: dessinfournir.com. Side Chairs: hollyhunt.com. Chair Fabric: scalamandre.com. Counter Stool Fabric: fabricinnovations.com. Drinks Tables: arteriorshome.com. Chandelier: lindseyadelman.com. Table: keithfritz.com. Area Rug: starkcarpet.com. Hardware: rockymountainhardware.com. Hardware Source: doorhardwareusa.com. Countertop: caesarstoneus.com. Marble Source: opustone.com and rbratti.com. Sheer Fabric: Creation Baumann.
Bed: liaigre.com. Bed Fabric: romo.com. Nightstands: jrobertscott.com. Chair and Ottoman: hollyhunt.com. Chair and Ottoman Fabric: kirkbydesign.com. Chair and Ottoman Trim: samuelandsons.com. Floor Lamp: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Side Table: Clients’ collection. Wallcovering: phillipjeffries.com. Drapery Fabric: estout.com. Sheer Fabric: carletonhousefabrics.com. Rug: kanecarpet.com.