An Earthy, Soulful Exploration In An Historic D.C. Home

“Great design has to have soul,” suggests DC-based interior designer Nestor Santa-Cruz, whose work is highly celebrated throughout our nation’s capital and the country. “It has to be both physically and visually comfortable yet with a sense of elegance, timelessness and surprise moments,” he furthers.

Soulful is a more than apt descriptor – as are earthy and handsome – of this historic Washington, D.C. home built in 1911 and overlooking the National Cathedral. In a lengthy courtship, Santa-Cruz spent well over a year meeting with the family of four in order to understand their thought processes, interests and how they, together, make decisions.

A well-traveled couple, the wife was born in India and educated in England and the US, her husband is an international consultant working at a prestigious consulting firm. “[Design] has to respond to the owners’ sensibilities and lifestyles,” shares Santa-Cruz. In this home, as well as in his other work, he effortlessly makes direct references to his clients’ backgrounds and experiences.

Including the living room mantel, a neoclassical re-edition by Sir John Soane. “There are a lot of Anglo-Indian references, mixed with Scandinavian sensibilities and American simplicities,” Santa-Cruz remarks.

Truly getting to know the client is ingrained in his craft, something Santa-Cruz began honing at a very young age. With no more than a fistful of fingers, he asked his parents for a toy set of beautifully painted building blocks, with which he modeled homes and constructed building façades. As those fingers grew nimble, he progressed to Legos and drawing lessons in addition to reading Architectural Digest and GQ.

Couture details are woven into Santa-Cruz’s interiors, like the navy silk taffeta banding on the dining room curtains.

In this home, with recent design by Hamilton Snowber Architects, high-fashion details are countered with elemental, unfussy moments. Wood-tones run the gamut – cool, warm, polished, patinaed – providing comfort and a handshake with the natural world. Leaning into solid fabrics and leathers, Santa-Cruz shows a restraint in textiles, focusing rather on added details like tufting, contrast stitching and even how natural materials rest. No one color overpowers another, and the result feels expertly hushed and collected.

It feels collected because it is collected, with objects and curiosities from all over the globe. “The husband brought from Africa a very over-scaled ceremonial headpiece/mask … created [for] a dance ceremony with him as a guest,” explains Santa-Cruz. Aided by a former Smithsonian curator, it was mounted and given prominent placement in the entry atop an 18th-century Chinese altar table. From Indian Goddess figurines to wicker baskets from Morocco, each item tells a story; collectively, they tell the family’s story.

As author, Santa-Cruz borrows authority from time and place creating a space that displays both his knack for global eclecticism and predilection for calculated rule breaking – to wit, playfully juxtaposing over- and under- scaled items. Aside from styling, his education taught him never to ignore the principles of proportion, which is why his interiors are untensed and graceful.

Portrayed within a single space is an elevated, luxurious sentimentality while also fulfilling a very basic desire to be grounded and close to mother earth – not to mention provide a connection to many of the cultures inhabiting her. A home for four and a veritable melting pot of design is rightly placed in our nation’s capital.

Photography by Jaime Harris.

For more like this historic D.C. home, check out this vintage townhouse.

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