- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

The vibrant cultural diversity of the Washington area is captured in the distinct interior designs featured in many local homes. Residents are incorporating an ethnic flavor into their home decor to preserve and share their history with others or to integrate the elements of a specific ethnic tradition that strongly resonates with them.

D.C. resident Karen Campbell, whose home is featured in Better Homes and Gardens' recently published "Real Life Decorating," classifies her home as "internationally eclectic," representing diverse cultures from around the world.

Ms. Campbell has incorporated pieces she collected during her travels to Africa and Asia. Her heritage is captured in artwork, including sculpture from Zimbabwe and paintings of black women by local artists.

Her kitchen is drenched in Mediterranean splashes of color, and the floors are natural stones, such as slate and limestone.

"It evoked memories for me; that's what worked for me," she says. "Any type of decorating has to evoke a certain feeling. For each individual, your ethnicity and life experiences are your soul. You have to reflect upon them to determine how best to incorporate them into your home."

Interior decorators can help homeowners focus on the specific cultural theme they want to incorporate. Todd Martz of Todd Martz Interiors in the District has worked with clients to introduce signature items into their decor. For example, he worked with a Swedish family that wanted to incorporate forest gnomes into the home design, as these small dwarflike creatures are referenced often as part of Swedish heritage. Gnomes have been painted in hidden areas of rooms throughout the house.

Patrick Sutton, principal of Sutton Design Interiors in Alexandria, also has helped a number of clients weave ethnic motifs into their homes.

Mr. Sutton says he is dedicated to connecting with his clients by "amplifying their desires and interests." His first step is to spend five to 10 hours interviewing his clients to pick up on clues about their tastes and to let them drive the design.

"I ask them to show me what they love, to vent their own views," he says.

Mr. Sutton has worked on numerous cultural projects, including a kitchen for an English client who wanted the room to echo the English farmhouse kitchen she grew up with. Mr. Sutton also designed a kitchen for D.C. resident Rick Pessagno, who says he feels drawn to Santa Fe, N.M., and the Southwestern culture.

Mr. Sutton designed the room using Southwestern woods, such as mesquite and reclaimed heart pine; desert colors, such as Aztec red and cactus green; and fire-slate counter tops.

Mr. Pessagno already had many pieces in his home that evoke a desert theme: cowboy salt and pepper shakers, Western cookie jars; an old cowboy hat worn by his brother, who has since passed away; and colorful Southwestern rugs. Mr. Sutton says that by building on this theme, he and Mr. Pessagno created "a place where he is comfortable, a reflection of who he is, and the things he has a passion for."

Redecorating your home doesn't have to be expensive, Mr. Pessagno says. He suggests visiting auctions and garage sales to find items such as fabric for curtains, evocative picture frames, glasses and toys.

"Make it a process, and then you'll be happy with the results," he says. "Half of the fun for me was looking."

Before embarking on cultural design projects, local interior decorators advise clients to take an inventory of what they already have. Patricia Jackson, owner of Interiors by Patricia Jackson in Winchester, Va., asks her clients first if there are any artifacts, artwork or other pieces handed down to them that represent their family background.

For example, she has incorporated old christening outfits or wedding dresses as well as black-and-white photos of relatives into the design by putting them in shadowboxes to create a layered, three-dimensional look.

Ms. Jackson also advises clients to read books on their culture and to visit local museums to determine why the heritage intrigues them.

"Do some digging around," she says. "You may really like hot pink and not know why, and you may find out that that color is actually part of your history."

For Abbas and Aghdas Sharifi, the Iranian culture they value is reflected in the details of their Fairfax home, from the simple handmade Iranian shoes displayed on a shelf to the richly colored carpet. Each time Mrs. Sharifi takes a trip to Iran, she brings back items to add to the history that she wants to impart to her daughter and granddaughter.

Everywhere there are traditional Iranian elements, such as a miniature tea set, a handmade clock from Esfahan and an antique pipe handed down to her by her uncle.

Mr. Sharifi says he hopes the visitors he welcomes to his home can learn to appreciate his culture.

"We are really living in a world without boundaries now," he says. "We have to reach a point where we respect each other, to create a better society for the next generation."

More information

Books

• "Travel and Style: The Best of Elle Deco No. 3," edited by Francine Vormese, MP Bookline International, 1999. This book collects the colors, details, shapes and fabrics of faraway places and brings them to the reader in stunning photos representing design motifs such as the safari style, the New England style and the Oriental style.

• "Indian Style," by Monisha Bharadwaj, Soma Books, 1999. "Indian Style" examines the decor found in homes in India in a practical way and presents achievable ideas for every room in the house.

• "Behind Adobe Walls: The Hidden Homes and Gardens of Santa Fe and Taos," by Dennis Landt, Chronicle Books, 1997. This book is inspiration for anyone who wants to create his own Santa Fe, N.M. It includes portraits of 18 Santa Fe and Taos home designs.

• "Asian Style: Creative Ideas for Enhancing Your Space," by Jenny DeGex, Universe Publishing, 2000. This book identifies the typical furniture and artifacts associated with the East Asian style to help readers as they search for Asian design ideas.

• "Mediterranean Style," by Catherine Haig, Abbeville Press Publishers, 1997. This book captures the Mediterranean colors, ironwork, ceramics, baskets, screens and other elements that define the carefree Mediterranean design style.

• "Scandinavian Living Design," by Elizabeth Gaynor; Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1987. This book displays the definite style and grace of the Scandinavian countries and is filled with ideas for decorating.

On line

• The Web site www.suttondesign.com offers an in-depth look at Sutton Design Interior's portfolio, including inspiring color photos of Patrick Sutton's ethnic-cultural design projects.

• The Web site www.bestdecorators.com, a must-see reference source, provides links to designers in various areas and to on-line magazines, such as House Beautiful and Interiors and Sources to help generate innovative ethnic design ideas.

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