By Beth Herman
Chromophobia... fear of color.
You won't find it anywhere in interior designer Camille Saum's Washington oeuvre, and certainly not in the Edgemoor condominium she created for renowned D.C. area real estate broker Sherry Davis.
Known as much for her personal style as prodigious use of color (think: sun-yellow floors and skin-pink ceilings), in more than three decades Saum has yet to acquiesce to the beiges, blacks, browns and greys of convention –unless absolutely pressed!
"You do have to listen to the client—that’s what success is all about," Saum affirmed, conceding that she has worked very hard over the years to be able to strike a balance between clients' desires and her own evolved design ideas.
Transitioning Davis from a sprawling 4,500 s.f. Bethesda home to a 2,500 s.f. penthouse in the same neighborhood, Saum said in addition to the use of color for depth and drama, economy of space was paramount. By the same token, the client’s priorities clearly needed to define the space.
"The instructions that I had at first were that she’s got to live in this room,” Saum said of the living/dining room space, because unlike the expansive home Davis was leaving, there were no other areas to which to escape except for a bedroom and guest bedroom. Desiring a comfortable, largely contemporary environment, accommodating a cherished, aging schnauzer with accruing health problems named Max was also high on Davis’ dance card and factored heavily into fabric and flooring. A durable “nubby” fabric was subsequently chosen for the couch and loveseat, and a wool rug that could be easily cleaned was added.
Because size mattered, Saum had furniture custom-made which allowed more flexibility in scale. “You have to be creative,” she said, reaffirming the smaller room mandate. Recalling an issue at The Westchester, where she resides, Saum said she’d once witnessed a failed attempt to load a magnificent antique sofa through a doorway. “Every piece of furniture I order for every space—I measure doorways and everything else,” she said, whether custom-made or otherwise. “You can take the feet off and do other things, but I prefer not to do that.” In fact, in the client’s aptly named Panache Penthouse, Saum made the sofa backs shorter, for easier entry, so the cushion sits up three inches above it and looks beautiful.
With small grandchildren, space in a concentrated area for them to spread out for reading, games or art projects, or to be able to participate in holiday meals, was achieved with two built-in pedestals that double as seating, with colorful cushions on top, or as low table surfaces.
Saum chose a favorite in her signature color palette for the space’s tray ceiling—the resulting shade of “plantain” redolent of the sun. Reflected in accessories such as pillows, lamp shades and especially a wall-sized acrylic canvas by artist Linda Cafritz, the plantain hue transforms the room into a bright, shining environment. “I always try and make a space happy, because when you walk through a door, you want to love to be there,” Saum said.
Enlightening space and client
Not enamored of recessed lighting, Saum said her client had to be convinced to try it and when she did so, never looked back. “She thanked and thanked me, as we had to think about what we were going to do in the living room when a floor lamp wouldn’t be enough,” Saum said. An antique chandelier from Dominion Electric Supply added sparkle to the living/dining space, and table lamps “float,” according to Saum, with holes drilled in glass-top tables and skirts to conceal cords.
In the master bedroom, a custom 72-inch leather headboard in a deep camel with green cording complements neutral walls and soft, moss-green furniture. Twin Donghia lamps were painted to accent the room, and a camel-colored area rug with 3-inch banding and mitered corners completed the space. The penthouse’s guestroom utilizes an iron bed from Davis’ former home, along with a crisp mustard-and-white-striped chair in Donghia fabric. A simple Pottery Barn bedspread, cuddle pillow with a solid flange, and toile quilt and sheets - also in a Donghia fabric - reflect a serene and gracious environment, with chili-red lampshades providing a dollop of drama.
Of her designing life and proclivity for color, Saum maintains she was “born with it in her blood.” A bona fide daughter of Georgetown, among Saum’s earliest memories is a move from one home to another where she recalls the placement of every piece of furniture, along with the color and texture of the wallpaper, when she was just 4 years old.
“It’s intuition, and all the school in the world cannot change that if it’s not there,” the designer affirmed. “Color is inside of me.”
photos courtesy of Gordon Beall Photography