Just one look at the lobby ceiling,” says designer Stephen Sills of the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C., “and I knew that only a classic style of glamour would work in the Presidential Suite.” Just two blocks from the White House in downtown Washington, the eight-story Italianate building on the southeast corner of 16th and K streets has seen its fair share of presidential glitz: Coolidge cut the ribbon in 1926, when it was the Carlton Hotel, FDR mingled with the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Orson Welles at the lobby bar, and Truman used it as his social headquarters and held affairs of state there while the White House was being renovated. Now it houses the sprawling Presidential Suite, whose latest incarnation made its debut this April.
At 2,510 square feet—on the sixth floor—it is the hotel’s largest suite and certainly its most luxurious. New York design team Sills Huniford, whose past projects include the St. Regis in New York City and the homes of Tina Turner and Vera Wang, embarked on a 16-month renovation of the entire property, awarding James Huniford and Stephen Sills a clean slate in the Presidential Suite. “Washington maintains such a beautiful balance of old and new,” says Huniford. “So I thought of this suite as a mission to breathe new life into a classic setting in a way that was respectful of both past and present times.”
And Sills Huniford didn’t have to look far for inspiration: It took cues from the lobby’s original molded and hand-painted ceiling with gold leafing. “I pictured a floor of ornate Italian tile in the guest rooms, then I drew up a carpet pattern,” says Sills of the green and gold mosaiclike floor covering that runs throughout the suite. “From there, the tone for the rooms was set.”
The two reinterpreted the color scheme, choosing tobaccos and golds to create a feeling of elegance without the stuffiness. The entrance hall, however, with its wire-brushed oak floor, blanc de chine urns, and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, distinguishes itself from the other rooms. It’s really a nod to the Oriental-influenced fashions of Colonial Williamsburg. The foyer divides the suite into two areas: the private master bedroom and a large, open communal space for dining and entertaining.
In the enormous sitting room on the south end is an antiquated smoky mirror along the west wall, a wood chess set, and a velvet-covered chaise longue, evoking the atmosphere of debate-filled salons of yore. Sills Huniford custom-designed the neoclassical chairs and sofas, covering them in a tone-on-tone woven brocade. The duo is known for having an eye for the uncommon, so it’s no surprise that throughout the suite are one-of-a-kind end tables and various decorative objects, which the pair uncovered while scouring some of their favorite antiques stores in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. All the light fixtures—from the chandelier in the master bedroom to the gold-finished wall sconces in the sitting room—and much of the furniture are available for custom order through Sills Huniford’s furnishings line, Dwellings.
The simply decorated dining room, which seats ten, is seemingly bathed in gold from the hand-painted gilt wallpaper. An adjoining butler’s entrance and pantry are stocked to the brim with kid- and adult-friendly snacks and drinks, including rows of glass-bottle Cokes.
Speaking of butlers, the suite comes with one (a full staff can be requested) whose motto is, Anything legal and moral is possible. The staff speaks several languages and hails from all over (Egypt, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Trinidad), making international guests feel right at home. If you’re throwing a dinner party, a table can be set with Wedgwood china and floral arrangements created by Nick Perez, of the Virginia-based Multiflor, who designed all those that appear in the suite. And while Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse’s new—and only—D.C. restaurant, Adour, is just an elevator ride away, the chef is happy to design a menu with the likes of chilled Maine lobster medallions and duck breast fillet for your own private engagement.
At the other end of the suite is a wood-paneled library with a walnut desk; there’s also an ample seating area for intimate gatherings. The library leads into the master bedroom, which has a king bed covered in Pratesi linens, thick pillows, and a silk and faux-fur throw. A columned maple console—an item present in every guest room and created by the design duo exclusively for the St. Regis—stands opposite the bed and accommodates an LCD television, an entertainment system, and a minibar.
The real luxury of the suite is in the his and hers bathrooms, each with a marble sink, a hand-tumbled travertine-tile shower, and Remède bath products. A 15-inch LCD TV is recessed behind the mirror so that, say, a Democratic wife and Republican husband can watch their respective news channels in the morning. One bathroom, likely hers, has a large soaking tub.
And it should be pointed out that no matter how spectacular the suite is, it is, in fact, “party neutral”—there’s no view of the White House or the Capitol, but instead, the hustle and bustle of K Street.
The Presidential Suite at the St. Regis hotel is $10,000 a night (923 16th St.; 202-638-2626; starwoodhotels.com).
The idea: Create a suite that pays tribute to Washington, D.C.’s rich heritage while maintaining a residential atmosphere that’s elegant enough for entertaining.
The Custom Furniture
To make the suite feel like a real home, Sills Huniford had an uncompromising vision for the furnishings, so the firm took matters into its own hands. From the tufted-back armchair with coffee-finished legs upholstered in black-and-beige brocade in the library to the bespoke upholstered bed frame with brass finials and the wooden ottoman with quilted silk cushion at the foot of the bed (at right), Sills Huniford designed most of the furniture and all the light fixtures to fit the feel of the suite. All available by special order from Dwellings, prices upon request; 800-953-3267; dwellinghome.com
Though the paint on the walls has hardly dried, one can’t help but get a sense of history in this suite—perhaps because it’s dotted with hand-selected antiques. The sixties Italian green glass twin vases, from Mantiques Modern in New York (212-206-1494; mantiquesmodern.com), “bring in a modernist sensibility and act as a contrast in color and texture to the cinnamon velvet chaise and the palette of the room,” says Huniford. At the other end of the suite, the oak coffee table in the library is from John Rosselli (202-337-7676; johnrosselliantiques.com), and the Spanish bedside tables were discovered at David Bell Antiques (202-965-2355), both in Washington, D.C. The cast-bronze ginkgo pods from the Georgetown boutique Cadeaux Debe Stricklin Antiques (202-333-1653) add “a sense of nature,” says Sills.
The library shelves are stocked with glossy coffee-table books—many from Rizzoli and Assouline—largely dedicated to style, photography, and art and design. The topics are as international as the hotel clientele, from the patriotic American Fashion to the tour of Italian villas and palaces in Italian Splendor to Alain Ducasse’s French cooking in Grand Livre de Cuisine. 212-473-1452; strandbooks.com
The tobacco- and gold-hued panels hung on the foyer walls depict a serene Asian landscape. Although in step with the suite’s color palette, they are a bold departure from room’s neoclassical style. They are hand-painted in a Chinese atelier, thus no two are alike ($1,365 a panel; 212-924-6816; graciestudio.com). Setting the dining room aglow is the Yangki hand-painted wallcovering in oxidized gold ($60 a yard; 415-322-0709; yangki.com). Designed by Sondra Alexander, it was inspired by the weathered textures of New York’s urban architecture.