Photographed by Erik Kvalsvik
If these walls could talk, they might just say, “Well, hurry up already!”
That’s the level of enthusiasm (and urgency) homeowners Nancy and Jack Dwyer brought to Patrick Sutton when asking him to redesign their Roland Park home… in just three weeks.
The Dwyers moved into the Colonial Revival more than a decade ago. In fact, it graced the pages of Style in 1998. But over the years, the couple grew tired of the traditional design and wanted a change— a change they decided to make 21 days before Jack’s annual holiday party. Fortunately, Sutton was up for the challenge.
“You walk into this amazing manse with the most gorgeous bones— and you just can’t wait to get started,” says Sutton of the fast-paced project that included updates to the foyer, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom and his-and-hers dressing rooms.
By bones, Sutton means the home’s historic details, including millwork and trim so sexy it could make Martha Washington blush. The problem, according to the designer who is also trained as an architect, is the house “got trapped in the decorating,” which relied heavily on period-inspired finishes and furnishings.
Think freestanding Greek columns, Persian rugs, oodles of porcelain and a color palette of yellows and reds— all elegant choices originally selected to celebrate the home’s history. But eventually these trappings made the house (and its inhabitants, including two daughters, now in high school) feel a little sleepy.
“The house was so formal before, it felt too stuffy for us,” says Nancy, who hired Sutton after seeing his work at some of the couple’s favorite restaurants around town. “When you go to Cinghiale, Charleston, Pazo… they all have such fun, inviting atmospheres. I wanted that for my home.”
So Sutton set about warming up the home’s interior, starting with the foyer, where he replaced yellow-and-cream striped wallpaper with pale green French grass cloth for a “soft, shimmery, happy” effect. This single change was transformative for the space— and symbolic of a key tenet in Sutton’s design philosophy. Namely, that mixing contemporary touches with classical architecture can elevate them both.
“When you decorate in the same period style as the architecture, you do a disservice. It’s like you’re freezing the house in time,” he says.
Additional updates in the foyer include simple-chic wall sconces, an “uber-contemporary” burnt umber rug (“It’s just about texture,” says Sutton) and a center hall table from Panache. Taking its cues from traditional Italian design, the base of this walnut hand-carved beauty is both intricate and organic, like the roots of a tree.
As for the bronze-and-glass lantern above? “The way the fixture is configured, it creates a dappling effect on the ceiling, like sunlight coming through leaves,” says Sutton.
But the real force of nature in this home is the dramatic new dining room, designed with Mr. Dwyer (aka the resident wine aficionado) in mind.
“Jack loves hosting dinner parties and opening great bottles of wine with friends. So I asked what kind of atmosphere would be conducive to that,” says Sutton. “It’s not white walls and yellow drapery, which feels really ‘breakfast roomy’ to me. But rather it’s rich chocolate browns, cozy indulgence, moments of light and darkness.”
In addition to painting all the moulding and trim dark brown, Kelly Walker of Artstar developed a brand-new wall finish in record time: gold leaf treated with an erosive agent then topped with glaze. (“It literally glows,” says Sutton.) Candlelight now dances in the hammered Indian tin mirror hung between the windows. And the old Baltimore gentlemen’s club-style chandelier was refinished and topped with modern silk string shades.
Sutton literally elevated the design by removing valances that “cut the room” and hanging tall-dark-and-handsome velvet curtains with brass Ralph Lauren hardware accented by stitched leather finials. The drapery now soars to the ceiling.
“On the ceiling we did an ultra-high gloss, so it almost feels mirrored,” says Sutton. “It’s like there’s another dinner party going on above you.”
What a perfect theme for this modern family home: The more the merrier.