Interior designer: Skip Sroka, CID, ASID, Sroka Design Inc., 7307 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 214, Bethesda, MD 20816; 301/263-9100, srokadesign.com.
Architect: Anne Decker, Anne Decker Architects, 5019 Wilson Lane, 2nd Floor, Bethesda, MD 20814; 301/652-0106, annedeckerarchitects.com.
Builder: Gibson Builders, 5185 MacArthur Blvd. N.W., Suite 210, Washington, DC 20016; 202/364-1555, gibsonbuilders.com.
Photographs by Werner Straube
Text by Candace Ord Manroe
Produced by Eileen A. Deymier
Necessity is to creative types as a basketball court is to Michael Jordan, both a challenge and the ultimate inspiration. Slam-dunk interior design wouldn't spring to life without it-certainly not the intelligently hard-working, uniquely good-looking kind that graces the new home of Washington, D.C., designer Skip Sroka.
"When we were building our house, we decided we didn't want separate living and family rooms but one big living room where we would spend time," says Skip. "We didn't want to debate, should we have drinks in this room or that one." Yet that's where agreement ended. Skip and fashion executive John Kammeier, though partners for 23 years, had disparate visions of how their living room should function. John wanted it equipped with a TV and a bar; Skip, not so much.
"I don't mind TVs and bars in a family room, but not in the living room," the designer says. His challenge was to somehow unify and gratify their opposing needs without compromising either one. "I created something that made us both happy," he reveals.
His creative solution is an exquisitely paneled pale wood wall that opens to reveal a fully stocked bar. When the bar is closed, only beautiful, seamless paneling is on view. When the panels are thrown open-party time!
"It's my favorite design in the house," Skip admits. "Kind of baroque-meets-21st century."
He conceived the design by first studying the exteriors of structures built in English baroque style. "I noticed, especially at the exterior front doors, they did these very intricate patterns in stone. I decided to translate stone to wood for a contemporary adaptation. I came up with a pattern and did the geometry so it would make sense in a white-lacquered, two-dimensional design."
To grant John's request for functionality and at the same time honor his own aesthetic, Skip also concealed a flat-panel TV behind the large gilt-frame mirror above the living room fireplace. But hang on. These are just the beginning of his inventive solutions to practical problems.
In the library-shown above-Skip played more hide-and-seek with two built-in desks that pull out from chair-rail moldings and concealed file drawers that pop out from the wainscoting. Both units are symmetrically positioned on either side of a pair of big French doors leading from the foyer. "We each wanted a place to work, but we didn't want to have a mess to clean up every time the doorbell rang," explains Skip.
Drawing from his background in industrial design, he "planned the library wall grid to within 1/16th of an inch," he explains. "I like grids-I think that 20 years from now, they will still stand the test of time." Tweaking the traditional concept of a wood-paneled library, he chose faux leather instead of wood as the primary wall material, which he then fashioned into a grid. "I knew I didn't want a typical wood-paneled library. I wanted to make it more tactile. I have no idea where I get my ideas. This one probably resulted from a project I had just completed for clients, using mohair inserts in wood paneling and then adding matching mohair draperies."
A kindred backdrop for leather books, the faux leather imparts warmth essential for a library, but its plumped-up padding also adds a cushion of comfort that goes beyond the norm. And while raising the room's warmth, the inventive wall grid also ups the cool factor. Nailheads neatly trim each square of the grid, reinforcing the precision of the geometry.
"I didn't want the nailheads to become overly decorative," notes Skip, "so I avoided any kind of swirling pattern that would draw attention to them. I believe it's better to tear a design down a little bit and get to its essence, especially with backgrounds."
Elsewhere in the home, Skip ingeniously hid electronics and small appliances or fit them so glove-tight into shelves they appear to have sprouted organically. A microwave disappears into a kitchen cabinet; a TV in the kitchen fits between shelves so snugly only 1/8 inch of air hovers in between. Another TV is behind a hinged painting in the master bath's bookcase, allowing viewing from the tub. Even the foyer is not what it appears: "An entire panel pops open that houses all of the AV (audio-visual) stuff," observes Skip.
It's not brain surgery, he insists, though his solutions do require a cooperation of left and right lobes, as they are equal parts inspiration and math. "Can you tell my background is industrial design?" he laughs as he talks about the painstaking geometrical precision of his creations. "But, basically, I just think there are a lot of practical things we use in our lives that we need to hide. That's what I've done here."
Mantel (designed by Skip Sroka): Sroka Design, 301/263-9100, srokadesign.com.
Fireplace screen: Decorative Crafts, 800/431-4455, decorativecrafts.com. Available through Sroka Design, 301/263-9100, srokadesign.com.
Chair left of mantel ("Washu Chair" #PB9930, by Powell & Bonnell): Dennis Miller Assoc., 212/684-0070, dennismiller.com.
Glass-top end table: Sroka Design, 301/263-9100, srokadesign.com.
Floor lamp (by Visual Comfort): Circa Lighting, 877/762-2323, circalighting.com.
Chair to right of mantel: BSG, Buying Service Group Inc., 301/263-9300, buy4designers.com.