Washington designer Paul Sherrill on kitchens. | Home Front

Mar 28, 2013

Paul Sherrill is a partner in the Washington design firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill, which specializes in high-end interiors. He chatted with readers about kitchen design.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

Good morning. And welcome Paul Sherrill one of the city's most distinguished interior designers with the firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill. Paul decorates interiors all over the world that combine modern and traditional elements with special emphasis on architectural importance. We are thrilled to have him here today answering questions about kitchen design and other topics.  I hope you have all had a chance to read the Local Living annual KITCHEN ISSUE today. You can find it HERE. Let's get going with your questions.

I notice that in the photos accompanying the article, there were humongous range hoods. We all want to keep smoke and smells out of the rest of the house. Are you using professional grade units in the kitchens you design? How noisy are they?

Hello- We do use commercial grade range hoods in most of our projects. Many are indeed noisy. We often request that the blowers be remote, if possible. For example, they can be installed outdoors, but this wouldn't be possible for, say, most apartments. Thank you for your question.

I am 5' tall and find that my kitchen counters are too high for me to use comfortably for any length of time. I end up with cramped shoulders and a stiff neck. The wall cabinets are a problem, too. I need a ladder to reach the top shelves and a step stool for the middle ones. The step stool is lightweight and I kick it around the kitchen as needed (I don't want to pick it up with my clean hands) but it scuffs up the floor and is always in the way when not in use. Do you have any suggestions to help me? I love to cook and would love to make my kitchen more ergonomic.

Appliances dictate the height of most counters....but a portion of your permiter counter could be adjusted at a lower height for your primary work surface. Or, a central island could be built at a comfortable height for you. What about a butcher block style cart that you can adjust to the desired height? This could be a convenient work surface, that could be moved around the kitchen.

As for the step stool, I have seen examples that are on wheels, which would facilitate your moving it around the kitchen without harming the floors. For safety, the wheels retract when weight is placed on the stool so that it does not slide out from under you. I hope this is helpful! Thank you for your question.

I have a small kitchen that has a pass through opening over the sink into the family room. There are cabinets on only one side of the opening and about 24" of wall on the other side of the opening. I want to do a back spash under all my cabinets but can't figure out how to deal with this 'window' into the living room. Do I only do a back splash on one side? I think that would look strange. Do I do a back spash on both sides but only up the same distance as the other side?

Hello-- What about tiling the entire area under the cabinet and the entire wall from counter to ceiling? This way, the look is more unified and can become a feature wall of the kitchen. Thank you for your question!

I have a rough idea of the paint color I'd like to use in my kitchen and bathroom, but then I go to Lowes and get overwhelmed. There are SO many shades of the same shade of blue or yellow I wanted. How is God's name do I pick from everything?

Hello! Paint selection can be a tricky business. I would recommend going to a paint manufacturer such as Benjamin Moore who makes larger (about 18" by 18") paint chips. Carefully taping these larger samples on the wall in your kitchwn will not only help you identify the color you like, but also how that color reacts to the particular lighting of the space. Be sure to look at the samples at different times of the day (if dealing with natural light) and note how they look at night when you have the lights on. Thanks for your question and good luck!

I have dozens of cloth napkins and many placemats for every day use in my kitchen. How do I store these most efficiently - preferably in my pantry? I end up with all of them piled on top of each other and whenever I remove several, the pile gets all disheveled.

Great question. First of all, I would make sure that all the napkins are either ironed or folded properly. Storing them in a drawer is a nice idea because you can stack them in piles by color and design and have them out of sight. You could also buy some organizing drawers or dividers at places such as Container Store or Target so you could put the stacks of napkins together neatly.

I want to mention that Solis Betancourt & Sherrill's most recent book is called Essential Elegance and it was published in 201o by Monacelli Press. There are lots of great ideas in there and inspirations for many rooms.

What are your favorite counter top materials that balance beauty and durability?

I love honed marble--the biggest concern for many is stains. But I love the patina marble takes on over time--- think of old bistro tables and how wear gives them character and personality.

If staining and wear are a concern, there are many quartz infused counter surfaces such as silestone and ceasarstone that perform beautifully and come in a number of colorways. Thank you for your question.


Hi - I have a 17 year old kitchen in a 1940's house... cabinets are still fine but flooring and countertop need to be replaced. Due to floor uneveness, I can't have ceramic tile. I like the look of Marmoleum but it is soft and prone to nicks. Don't like the darker lower end granite countertops, am thinking of formica. What would you recommend for countertops & flooring for a tight budget - ease of maintenance is important too. thank you! East Silver Spring

Have you considered cork or wood laminate floors? I really like my laminate and it has lasted very well since 1999. People I know who have cork love it and its comfort factor. As for your counters, quartz is great but you can also do well with Corian.

As a result of removing a wall recently, now find adjacent windows ( 5 feet apart) are different heights. One is 5 inches higher. What decorating solutions can I try to de-emphasize that?

Roman shades are a great trick for disguising uneven head heights of windowns. Take the roman shade all the way to the under side of a crown molding and it gives the illusion of taller windows. Thanks for your question!

I have tons of cloth napkins, too, that have more-or-less seasonal patterns on them. The ones that are out of season I store in my upstairs linen closet. The ones in season go in basket that sits on a sideboard in my dining room. I like having them out because they're easy to access.

Another thing I would suggest. If you own tons of napkins, make sure you really use all of them. It might be time to take a serious look at them, checking for stains and fraying. Toss the ones that look bad or use them as dusting or polishing cloths. And as this poster said, separate them by season and only keep out the ones that seem right for spring and summer.

thank you for taking my question..trying to decide on renovation directions.. what are your favorite go to's on countertops & flooring? middle+ in cost... I like idea of concrete tops(too costly?) I like wood flooring(durable enough?) can not make up mind. many choices.

Hello! For countertops, I love honed marble, though that can get expensive. I personally don't mind formica though I think it can be dressed up with a hardwood edge, possibly ebonized oak? I'm thinking a deep charcoal formica with an ebonized oak edgeband. I've actually used pre-made formica style countertops from Ikea with a laminated edge detail.

Concrete tops can be costly, but it never hurts to get a bid. 

As for flooring, there are a number of affordable large-format tiles. I personally like the cement color tiles from Porcelanosa.

What do you think of a high-end range in a bright color? We are in the final planning stages of our kitchen renovation and are very tempted by the colors available on the Blue Star ranges (leaning toward red). The rest of the kitchen will be very neutral- natural maple cabinets and gray tile backsplash.

I tend to shy away from the brighter colored ranges. I think black, white, stainless steel and maybe copper are the safer long-term choices. You never know if resale will be in your future.

For a dash of color, I prefer selecting vibrant wall coverings, window treatments and accessories. These are easier to change should you get tired of the color. Thank you for your question.

Have you been talking to my wife? I thought she was the only one who had that idea...

Haha! We should all live more seasonally! There is nothing wrong with having a warm weather and cold weather napkin wardrobe. Your wife is wise!

Paul - what is your favorite brand of dishwasher?

I like the Fisher and Paykel models with drawers, which permit you to do smaller loads. You also don't have to reach down as often to load dishes.

Miele has always worked well for me as well. I prefer keeping the dishwashers stainless steel or doing the full overlay panels to match adjacent cabinetry.

No matter what, keep an eye (or ear) on the sound rating. 

Ok, so we just finished a gut-and-rebuild kitchen renovation, and LOVE it. Now I'm trying to find all those accessories that I thought would be oh-so-easy to locate. The two I'd like help with is a knife block (my Wusthof block is on its last legs) that looks good enough to sit out on the counter, and a funky steel or brushed nickel napkin holder (I prefer that paper napkins be held horizontally rather than vertically). Thanks for any specific brands, or stores I should check out!!

Hello- Accessories can provide a great deal of visual interest. For the knife block, a nice alternative could be to use a large decorative vase or wine cooler filled with dried beans, which will hold up the knives. This is a fun alternative to a knife block.

For the napkins, how about a nice tightly woven square basket? That's a great place to use a vintage paper weight.

If you are in the Washington area, go see my friend Adam Mahr at A Mano in Georgetown. The store has great items for the kitchen and beyond.


Faucets have changed a lot since we renovated our tiny Old Town kitchen a decade ago. I need to replace my faucet and have been shocked to find that the spout diameter has grown over the years. These over-sized pieces probably fit well in Mcmansion kitchens, but would overwhelm mine. Any suggestions for where I can find a smaller-sized faucet?? Please help! Thank you so much. Nancy

I love Kohler's Karbon faucet-- it is beautiful and functional. It's articulating feature allows it to be sculptural while also permitting it to be folded away compactly. 

Thanks for your question.

When my aunt and uncle built their house many years ago, my aunt had the island built about three inches lower than the standard height. She also had the cooktop installed three inches lower as well. For someone who was around 5 foot tall, it made a big difference.

Very wise people.

I speak from personal experience on this one -- it is difficult to find a repair person for F and P dishwashers, and when you do find one, they charge an arm and a leg. Ended up replacing mine with a more common brand after repeated problems and costly repairs.

Thanks for sharing this - very interesting.

Hello Paul, I am planning to update my kitchen. The cabinets are cream color and so is the countertop. Can you recommend a paint color that would look clean and sophisticated? Also, what is a good lighing fixture to put in the kitchen nook to replace a ceiling fan? Thanks.

What about a raffia or straw wallcovering or paint color? This slightly more intense of a yellow-golden color would keep the room cheery while also maintaining a certain neutrality.

What about a hammered iron light fixture? This could add a warmth and texture to the space. You could find something vintage and have it electrified. Thank you for your question.

Good Morning: any suggestions for stores that sell clean, simple kitchen accessories, such as utensil holders, storage containers, etc?

Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Container Store, Target and Ikea. Any other ideas?

I am meeting with a kitchen designer in 2 weeks, to start planning a kitchen renovation. I have no clue what things will cost, but of course I don't want to pay a king's ransom. My house is about 30 years old, the kitchen is original, I am not a big cook, I just want something functional that cleans easily! I do not want to change the plumbing; I do want to improve the overhead lighting (currently 2 fixtures) and add some undercabinet lighting. Any idea how much this might cost me?

Hello-- I can't give you a dollar amount, but I have had great success with Ikea kitchens. They have many products with a great look. For example, I love the stainless steel wrapped cabinet doors and drawerfronts. As well as the glass cabinets doors with aluminum frames. And the high gloss doors are great  as well.

You can always use the Ikea doors and doorfronts on a more quality built cabinet and drawer box.

Even once we have the money saved for a reno, I'm inclined to live with my old kitchen because of the disruption. How do people deal? If I am basically replicating the same layout, just replacing everything with new, am I to expect months without a kitchen?

Hello! If you can, buy all of the components for the renovation and store them locally. This will certainly help to avoid unforseen delays. Always make sure that the contractor has time built into his schedule to be focusing on your project. 

I have a small kitchen and need to replace the cabinets (they are at least 20 years old and deteriorating) and appliances. I can't afford to do both at the same time. Which would you recommend first? Thank you.

I would say the appliances. If they start failing, you will have to make hasty decisions about replacing them as soon as possible. Make a plan to replace the appliances first, do your research before buying them and then enjoy the upgrade. Save up to do your cabinets later.

Seasonal napkins ? - I use all mine all year 'round! But I do need to get rid of the ones that I don't use, so that was a good (and obvious!! ) response. Placemats - right now I roll them which works pretty well.

Rolling them is a good suggestion.

I/m not the original poster, but I love the idea of a colorful vase of dried beans as a knife holder! What an excellent way to add some color to the counter top. (And to use the vases my husband is always threatening to throw away!) Thanks for the idea!

Love it.

This is so timely! We are embarking on a sort-of kitchen renovation. We are changing the countertops, sink, faucet, putting in a blacksplash and adding undercabinet lighting. In that list, where would you splurge and where would you save?

Countertops are the most visible, so I'd splurge there. I'd also consider spluring on the faucet since it gets so much use and you don't want to have problems with leaks and faulty equipment.

It is easier to find a quality sink for less money, possibly on sale. Backsplashes don't have to be expensive-- I like using mirrored backsplashes to open up the space. And under cabinet lighting can be very affordable. If you have the space, what about a small lamp on the counter that can add visual interest? When entertaining, the lamp can be dimmed to change the mood of the room after food preparation is complete.

A suggestion for the person whose counters and cabinets were too high - my very petite mother-in-law had steps built into the footkick area of her cabinets (the three or so inches between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor). She can pull these out and stand on them to be able to reach higher. Just a thought!

Interesting idea. Thanks.

Thanks again to Paul Sherrill for being on the chat today. You gave us lots of great insider information on kitchens and other subjects.  Check out all the Washington Post kitchen photo galleries and very useful renovation articles today online. Here is one here.

Thanks for joining us today to chat with Paul.

In This Chat
Paul Sherrill
Paul Sherrill is a partner at the Washington design firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill. With projects all over the United States and Latin America, the firm specializes in high-end interiors that combine modern and traditional elements, with a special respect for the architectural importance of a space.
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Recent Chats
  • Next: