Saturday, August 13, 2022 Aug 13, 2022
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Museum Quality

The beauty and craftsmanship of this 1940s Colonial Revival-style house designed by Julio Quinones unfold subtly like a work of fine art.
By D Magazine |
A Larru Leathers, Beidermeier settee from Nick Brock Antiques serves as the focal point of the living room; it’s Don Lett’s most coveted piece. “I love the cognac color of leather,” he says. Beidermeier chairs flank the coffee table. Vaughan lamp bases are from George Cameron Nash; Julio Quiñones trimmed the lampshades in vintage metal fringe from Paris. Antique bull’s-eye mirrors—a Quiñones trademark—hang at each end of the room.

A millwork specialist by avocation, Don Lett fell in love instantly with the architecture of his 1940s Colonial Revival-style house on University Boulevard. Knowing the house would require some work to undo 60 years of aging, Lett enlisted longtime friend and collaborator Julio Quiñones for advice. When Quiñones casually suggested opening up a dining room wall, “I said, ‘Don’t start that,’” Lett says. “Once you open Pandora’s box, there’s no closing it.” The duo ended up gutting the house down to the studs and redesigning the floor plan, while staying true to the original style. The result, three years in the making, is a masterpiece of refinement. 

(left) Designer Julio Quiñones.
(right) Jade stone for the fireplace was one of the first selections Julio Quiñones made for the house—the hue served as the inspiration for the green study. Accessories, such as the symmetrical painting by artist Rice, came later. “I think artwork communicates with you, and you have an emotional attachment or a feeling—colors affect my mood very easily,” Don Lett says.

Lett had long wanted to give his friend a blank canvas and generous budget to work with. He knew Quiñones had talent: Metropolitan Home recently named him one of “The World’s Best Young Talents” among 28 others. Before letting Quiñones loose on the interior, Lett worked to rebuild the structural elements, opening up the dining room and adding a study, which Quiñones later had painted a high-gloss green to play off the house’s Colonial influence. Lett drew on his woodworking skills to custom-design the impressive white molding that frames rooms, hallways, and doorways throughout the house. He had every shingle removed, flipped, and repainted to avoid changing the appearance of the roof. “I believe in authenticity,” Lett says. “People often try to emulate something from the past, whereas, for me, I’d just rather have the real McCoy and bring it back to where it was originally and let it speak.” One evening mid-project, Quiñones suggested replacing a wall to the upstairs sitting room with glass so that half of the space is viewable from the hallway. “You’ll sometimes have a gem of wisdom,” Lett says, his eyes flickering. “We’re always collaborating so we can express something we agree on.”

The house’s façade was preserved to maintain its Colonial-Revival style.

An expansive “real working kitchen” was rebuilt and designed to complement Lett’s affinity for entertaining. Although Lett’s passions include architecture and art, interior design doesn’t come easily—and that’s where Quiñones stepped in. “Julio thinks like a classic artist,” Lett says. “While it takes money to do things, he doesn’t come from that angle. He comes from, what’s the ‘painting’ supposed to be, and no matter what, we have to hold true to the concept. I wanted the [design] to express exactly what he saw.”

 Quiñones’ rooms are deceptive at first glance; you have to spend time in them before the details begin to unfold. Muted base colors—whites, creams, and taupes—unremarkable on the surface—are revealed later to be much more complex up close. “Rooms have more life when the color selection is subtle and reflective,” says Quiñones, who often creates dramatic effect with textures rather than color. A pale, cotton chenille fabric chair in the upstairs sitting room resembles python; metal ribbon detail on draperies in the living room and antique metal fringe from Paris on a lampshade aren’t at first noticed, but count for a lot later on; glass lamps have detailed etching; custom-upholstered benches have intricate hand-tied knots, and chairs have tailored dressmaker details. “It’s really about texture, whether it’s a ceramic or a fabric, or a texture of the light, or the paint, or the finish on the table, or the glass,” he says. “I look at all of the senses, and how it works.”

“I use color in unexpected places, but overall, the space is not about a trend. I look for design elements that are classic and sexy.” — Julio Quiñones

A pale palette is an ideal backdrop for Lett’s bold paintings, which liven everything up. Quiñones also added cheery accessories such as aqua and coral pillows in iridescent taffetas and silk velvets, and hand-woven throws with bright embroidery. The study’s green hue is echoed on the lacquered front door, in the striped curtains on the back porch, and on the trim on the garage door. “I use color in unexpected places,” Quiñones says. “But overall, the space is not about a trend. I look for [design elements] that are classic and sexy.”

(left) “The architecture of the kitchen isn’t this ‘super mega’ kitchen; it’s a real working kitchen, and it goes with the house,” Julio Quiñones says. The goal, he says, was “to be authentic to the house and the era.” 
(right) The floor-to-ceiling fiery painting by Larry Locke “keeps the dining room from being too traditional and too predictable,” Quiñones says. Draperies, trimmed with Samuel & Sons gold metallic tape from George Cameron Nash, were custom-made by House of Design. A gold Philip Maia Antiques mirror coordinates.

Quiñones’ surprising combinations have given Lett a new design perspective. “As an artist, I think the most impact you can have is of opening up a person’s mind and getting them to think of something in a different way, and getting them to look at something that they couldn’t see the beauty in before,” Lett says. “I had to get out of my comfort zone and trust him.”

It’s in his finished home that the patron is truly able to appreciate the designer’s art.

(left) Above the hallway, a clear glass pane was installed to open up the small media room. Don Lett’s talent for custom molding is best showcased here; he designed each panel himself.
(right) The green-lacquered study was an addition, although it looks original to the house. To help provide authenticity, Julio Quiñones salvaged wood paneling from elsewhere in the house to use as flooring. The historic green color echoes the house’s Colonial Revival inspiration.