For most people, relocating from a 19th-century London mews house on a cobblestone cul-de-sac to a high-rise apartment in Washington, D.C., would require a leap of faith—not to mention a discerning interior designer to ease the transition.
When David Baumunk, an American business consultant who had lived abroad for almost three decades, looked around the loftlike condominium he bought in 2009 in the capital's historic-turned-hip U Street Corridor, he felt overwhelmed. The long, expansive spaces, 10-foot-high ceilings, exposed ductwork, and floor-to-ceiling windows were nothing like the small, cozy rooms in the two-story house near Hyde Park where he had lived for the previous 12 years. "I had this huge space that didn't lend itself to the way everything was arranged in my little mews house," Baumunk says. "I just didn't know where to put anything."
The living area of David Baumunk's Washington, D.C., apartment, which was designed by ; the sofa is custom-made, and the bergère and stool are in the style of Jean-Michel Frank. The reproduction Khotan rug is layered on a custom-made sisal by.
To help configure the 1,600-square-foot apartment, which included a 900-square-foot terrace, he called on Nestor Santa-Cruz, a Cuba-born, Washington-based designer known for creating serene, uncluttered interiors that draw inspiration from Jean-Michel Frank, the influential Parisian designer of the 1930s. "David had a good layout with an eastern exposure that flooded the apartment with light," Santa-Cruz says. "I knew we could work together to make the space compelling without major renovations."
Which was fine with Baumunk, who was eager to unpack boxes filled with personal treasures amassed from Portobello Road antiques shops, Paris flea markets, and Moroccan souks, and then sink into one of his oversize vintage English leather chairs and enjoy his new surroundings. He envisioned a place that combined the comfort of his London nest with a sophistication and panache befitting a more contemporary, open environment.
The antique typographer’s table and a 1940s painting of a jockey are French, and the armchair
is by .
"I wanted something elegant, but where people feel at ease," says Baumunk, whose entertaining style encompasses both casual get-togethers for six and catered parties for 60. "I didn't want some exquisite space where someone has to ask, 'May I sit there?'" Right off, client and designer agreed to retain the exposed ductwork because "it gives a rhythm and movement that flows through the rooms," Santa-Cruz says. The cherry floors, which were too dark for Baumunk's taste, were concealed beneath sisal rugs topped with Moroccan- and Chinese-style rugs, and the textured layers give a sense of warmth. By changing the finish on the kitchen cabinets from maple to black lacquer, Santa-Cruz gave that space a sleek, modern edge.
A 1970s Maison Jansen cocktail table and an antique Chinese lacquered cabinet in the living area; the Regency-style spoon-back chairs are by , and the pair of paintings are by Haitian artist Elizabeth Martineau.
To maximize the natural light, the designer painted the living area off-white, providing a clean canvas for mixing modern and classic pieces, punctuated by a few of Baumunk's exotic finds, including a Chinese black lacquer armoire, Haitian paintings, and a Moroccan leather pouf. He transformed his client's overstuffed English sofa into a crisply tailored form that blends easily with elegant Frank reproduction stools and Regency-style spoon-back chairs. A late-19th-century French cast-iron typographer's table, found in a Georgetown antiques shop, is used for dining when guests drop by. "Nothing shouts at you," Santa-Cruz says. "The subtle play of patterns and light and dark colors is very calming."
In the master bedroom, the silk coverlet is by , the side tables are from , and the lamp is by ; the club chair is circa 1930s English, and the wallpaper is by .
The neutral palette changes dramatically when you enter the master bedroom, which the designer saturated in a deep chocolate brown, despite Baumunk's initial resistance. "I was so used to the dreary weather in London, where everyone had rooms painted Magnolia White, that I felt this was way too dark," he acknowledges. "But it works. Everything comes together beautifully."
Despite the bedroom's cavernous size, Santa-Cruz created a cocoon-like retreat so enticing that it has become the homeowner's favorite space. The brown backdrop is enlivened by flashes of color—an aubergine cashmere throw, chartreuse velvet curtains—and a mélange of intriguing textures, like a black crocodile chest of drawers, a parchment-wrapped mirror, and textured vinyl wallpaper mimicking pony-skin that covers the wall behind the bed. Yet serenity doesn't preclude a little whimsy: Santa-Cruz dressed the silk-covered bed with Baumunk's Union Jack pillow.
A desk by , a vintage Art Deco chair covered in a velvet, and a lamp in the master bedroom; the portrait of Baumunk was painted by Manon Pana-Kairis, and the sea-grass rug is custom made.
In a corner, the designer carved out a work space where Baumunk could put his desk, an Art Deco chair (a Paris flea market find reupholstered in velvet), and some paintings, including a striking portrait of him by Greek artist Manon Pana-Kairis.
Santa-Cruz opted for a more lighthearted mood in the guest room, where Mondrian-like squares and rectangles painted in shades of earth and gold float across the walls. Baumunk's contribution to the relaxed decor is a starburst mirror hanging above the bed, which he discovered while wandering through Crate & Barrel.
The master bedroom’s chest of drawers is covered in crocodile-embossed leather, the Beni Ourain rug is vintage, and the walls are painted in Wainscot.
When the apartment was finished, Baumunk threw a party for 50 friends, including a few from across the pond, who marveled at how seamlessly his London possessions blended into his modern Washington lair. "I walk from room to room sometimes, and I think, 'This really is perfect,'" he says. "I feel so at home in my space that I'm happy to stay in and not go out. That's how much I like it."
A mirror hangs above a headboard of walnut and faux suede in the guest room.