A frosted-glass wall screens the bathroom from the living room area, which includes an expansive sofa from Donghia, and a glass-topped coffee table.
A vivid accent wall provides the perfect backdrop for a custom-designed credenza, vases from Kose and a series of paintings in mixed media by John Dickson.
Built in 1959, the high-rise apartment building once provided student housing for American University; though Santalla’s unit was updated in the early 2000s, the floor plan remained the same. Santalla describes the building’s architecture as “International style,” a modernist aesthetic that developed in the 1920s characterized by simplified lines, a lack of ornamentation and the use of glass and steel. Santalla chose to embrace the architectural roots of the building by adhering to these characteristics even while radically altering the look of the space.
There was one design conundrum. The only entrance to the bedroom is through the bath, a setup that Santalla found unappealing. “I placed drapes across the shower and toilet so that it feels like you’re entering a foyer,” he explains, adding that he often uses drapes for concealment. The designer also removed the door between the bedroom and bath—but left the doorway—to add a sense of flow between the spaces.
Santalla carried the taupe color scheme and walnut millwork into the bedroom, where he painted two opposing walls and the ceiling to provide a unifying element to the room. Taupe draperies cover the bedroom closet doors and the windows opposite. Below the windows, walnut millwork conceals air conditioning ducts.
In the main living area, Santalla played with the idea of solid and voided space by enclosing the kitchen completely in walnut yet leaving the adjacent dining area open. He removed the upper cabinetry in the kitchen to make it feel more airy despite its enclosure, and painted it dark taupe. In the dining area, he dropped the ceiling and painted it the color of the kitchen, delineating the space yet leaving it open to the living room.
Santalla’s decorative vision also encompassed furnishings of his own design, including a dining table, credenza and desk on which high-gloss, white-lacquered surfaces rise over a rich African hardwood called Mozambique. “The idea behind the furniture is that it appears to float,” Santalla says of his pieces. In the living room area, comfortable chairs and a sofa by Donghia are grouped around a glass-topped coffee table with a chrome-plated steel base. A plush white wool carpet offers a strong contrast to the nearly black-stained floors. Original fluorescent lights have been replaced throughout with recessed and accent lighting. Against a backdrop of chromatic wall surfaces, an eclectic collection of modern art shows to great effect. Works by Andrés Tremols, sculptor Margaret Boozer, painter Kevin Tillman and others add the finishing touches to Ernesto Santalla’s own expertly rendered palette.