Q&A: Patrick Sutton on how to find your own design point of view

Patrick Sutton
Feb 21, 2019

Patrick Sutton is an interior designer based in Baltimore whose work excels in telling stories. Patrick, whose father was a travel writer, spent his childhood journeying to around the world to exotic hotels and top restaurants. Trained as an architect, he moved to Baltimore and joined an architecture firm in 1985. He opened his own architecture firm in 1994, switching to exclusively interior design in 2004.This history, coupled with his studies and training as an architect have shaped his process of design. He has designed numerous high style restaurants and hotels in Baltimore including Sagamore Pendry Hotel, the Elk Room and Rye Street Tavern. His first book, "Storied Interiors", was released in October 2018.

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Patrick Sutton is an interior designer based in Baltimore who is famous for his elegant residential work as well as sophisticated hotel and restaurant interiors. Patrick, whose father was a travel writer, spent his childhood checking out top hotels and eateries around the world. Trained as an architect, he moved to Baltimore and joined an architecture firm in 1985; then opened his own architecture firm in 1994. Ten years later, he decided to specialize in interiors. His well known Baltimore projects have included Sagamore Pendry Hotel, Tagliata, the Elk Room and Rye Street Tavern. His first book, "Storied Interiors", came out last year.

Good morning! I am Patrick Sutton, an architecturally trained interior designer based in Baltimore. I have a design firm that specializes in both residential and hospitality project.  I recently published my first book called Patrick Sutton Storied Interiors which illustrates my approach to design which uses a narrative to inform each project we do.  By treating each home, restaurant or hotel as a unique story that is being told our projects are crafted to have their own point of view that is specific to the homeowner, property or locations we are working. This approach has been effective in creating one of a kind properties for our clients that are specifically tailored for them and avoids falling into the trap of being trendy or short lived.

I look forward to our discussion!

Tell us some important features that you keep in mind when designing a restaurant space from scratch? I feel sometimes when I sit in a new hot destination that there are some glaring mistakes such as uncomfortable seating or bad lighting.

When I design a restaurant the very first thing we think about is where are we taking our diners to because going out to eat is very much about being transported on a mini 1 or 2 hour vacation.  Once we know that all our decisions tie back to that theme or narrative.  Think of it as creating an immersive experience for the guest, so every detail has to help with the illusion.

I'd like to redecorate my living room by replacing my earth toned furniture, to make it lighter and brighter, but I can't afford to replace all of the furniture at once. If I do it a bit at a time, it will look totally unmatched. Any advice?

Great question. I would say to try and replace the furnishing in grouping so at least sections of the room are cohesive.  Life is a process so changes are just part of it, so by all means go bit by bit and have a consistent vision of what it will look like complete and stick to it.

Please help settle a debate between myself, husband etc. We are ripping up our old ugly vinyl flooring in the kitchen and installing hardwood. It's the same hardwood that's on the main floor so it'll look like it's just going into the kitchen. We're also replacing our dishwasher which just broke (perfect timing!). Do you put hardwood UNDER the dishwasher? The company we're using for the install wants the dishwasher in first and said the hardwood will go up to it but not under. I sort of feel like the hardwood needs to be under it to protect the subfloor if there are leaks. I know our subfloor is shot so I'm expecting under the dishwasher to be bad. Settle the debate - hardwood UNDER a dishwasher or no?

I certainly don't want to get in the middle of a healthy marital debate but we generally run the flooring of the kitchen under the appliances to make it easier to access them for service (easier to slide in our out) but that can be done by running plywood flush under them as well.  If you want my advice I would run the hardwood under the dishwasher.

How do your edit your furniture collection from your large family home to a smaller setting? Do you just start from scratch as some folks do and go all modern/ more current ?

I am asked this question often.  The thing to do is find the pieces you have that you love or have significant meaning to you and keep those and get rid of the rest.  Things you love and make you happy should travel with you.  Then build around that with something fresh and new.

Hi, recently came across an article on painting ceilings pink, an idea which I immediately pounced on, because I'm trying to redo a small bedroom into a sweet feminine guest bedroom for my young granddaughter. It will have sunny yellow furniture, including a canopy bed, and priscilla curtains on the single north-facing window, but I'm really stuck as to wall and trim colors. Are warm whites the way to go here? Can you please recommend colors, including a nice pink, in preferably Sherwin Williams (but I can go with Ben Moore too). Thanks so much.

I love white walls personally because it is happy and bright and a great canvas for all the other colors to show off against.  My go to white is Benjamin Moore White Dove because it has just a hint of grey to keep it from being too cold.  It also wont look yellow or beige in waning light.  As for pink colors there are really too many to suggests. For the ceiling however I would lean towards something soft rather than a hot pink as it could get a bit tiresome.

Hi Patrick! I own a lot of art, furniture, etc. that I like, mostly collected from living in different places around the world. But my house just feels like a mishmash. How do I combine them into a cohesive look?

I love this question because it could apply to my home as well!  Here is how you keep the mayhem tied together:  Art and artistic furnishings are like the melody in music but to keep the whole thing pulled together you need a consistent beat that repeats.  Try to weave your rooms together by using common fabrics, textures  and colors that repeat.  In my home I have a bunch of neutrals that tie together things I have culled from around the world.  Also,  try to curate how you place you unique pieces so they aren't all grouped in one place like a bunch of loud people talking all at once.  Give them some breathing space and surround them with a consistent supporting cast of background pieces that are consistent in color and style.


Coffee and tea stations are some of the coziest spaces in kitchens these days - and the most Instagrammed. Check out my story on how to organize a beverage station here.

We are giving our kitchen a face lift and plan to go on the market in the next year. We're finally doing stainless steel appliances, and running our hardwood into the kitchen (red oak but it's must closer to a white oak). We have a tan/grey backsplash and I want to do a paint color to make it pop but look nice. The only thing staying is the cabinets (white shaker) and the granite (grey/tan/hints of black). We're starting to look at the lighter greens from Sherwin Williams (Aloe and Kind Green) but what other shades should we be looking at? We prefer SW paint and that's what our kitchen contractor would be using.

This is interesting because you mentioned you are putting the house on the market after you renovate the kitchen.  That means you are going to be trying to appeal to a broader audience when you go to sell.  Color on cabinets can be tricky as color is really a personal taste thing and pale green is not what I would call a safe or dramatic choice.  If you want drama you might want to consider going with a dark, glossy green/black finish like a Charleston green.  I have done this quite a bit and it is very powerful.  It is a little difficult to opine on the different shades of pale green without seeing the context but if you want to play it safe it really needs to read as neutral and if you want a pop then take a look a the dark shade I mentioned.

George and Martha Washington had one of the most stylish sofas in Virginia. Read here about the discovery of this story and the re-creation of a dazzling vibrant blue sofa at Mount Vernon in a restoration of the front parlor.

I want dining out to be a pleasant, social experience that includes conversation. Yet many restaurants to so loud as to make conversation nearly impossible. Multiple hard surfaces are only one part of the problem. Do you consider noise factors when you design your hospitality projects, and if so, how do plan for sound attenuation?

As a designer who has crossed the mid century mark I can tell you that I pay A LOT of attention to sound in restaurant design.  Having said that there are times you want some energy in a restaurant especially in a fun bustling scene, and there are times when quiet is essential, especially in fine dining.  We employ a lot of techniques to help with this. Soft seating, drapery and fabric panels on the walls or ceilings help the most.  Believe it or not, hardwood is pretty good as a floor surface as opposed to concrete or tile which are the worst.  Walls of glass are also tough to manage with sounds.  I was in a restaurant once that had a big rectangular steel sculpture in the middle of it.  It was so loud in the space my wife and I had to leave because I couldn't hear her.  What the designer had unwittingly done is created a steel sound reverberator that amplified all the noise.  Big no-no.

Hope that your dog, Stella is doing well after her surgery! meg@pigtowndesign

Hi Meg! Stella is doing fine, thank you for asking though we didn't get much sleep last night!

Looks great but if you cook, have dogs, and children is it really practical??? A good friend who has hardwood in her kitchen as dents from dropped pots etc, scrapes etc. I prefer real linoleum or a commercial grade kitchen floor.

The biggest challenge with hardwood floors in a kitchen is dog claws scratching them and water dripping.  People like them because it is easier on their feet than tile or stone.  I personally don't think they are impractical if you know and are okay with having to buff and coat them every 3 to 5 years.  

I'm looking for a modern, small-scale -- but comfy -- outdoor dining chair. Any suggestions?

Take a look at Harbour furnishings.  We used them at the Sagamore Pendry Hotel pool dining area and they looked great!

What do you think of the trend to have all high tables in restaurants? As a senior, with mobility issues, it is impossible for me to sit at one -- and these restaurants rarely have other accommodations.

High tables are often used closest to the bar area and the reason for them is so someone seated at a high top is eye level with someone else that might be standing next to them.  There really is no other reason to use them and if its become a trend it's one I don't follow.  We generally only put them at tables that are part of a bar or next to bar stools.

I don't believe the OP wanted to change out the cabinet color, only the wall color to go with cabinets/floor/backsplash/countertops...

OK, my mistake. 

Thank you Patrick! You answered so many questions and so glad that Stella is doing ok. Next week come back to visit with Joanna Saltz, the editorial director of Delish and House Beautiful. Stay warm.

HI Patrick, I love the design you did for the Pendry ... wondering what are some quick tips that I can do at home to bring a luxury hotel vibe to my home?

I am asked this question often and here's the thing:  Designing for a hotel is very different than designing for your home.  It is high drama and theatrical in nature so be careful as it doesn't always translate to home.  Some things do, such as spa like bathrooms and the materials used there or oversized light fixture to bring the drama, but in general one should treat their home as a sanctuary, balanced and calm and save the drama for a weekend getaway at the Pendry!

Looks like we are running out of time and I am sorry I didn't get to everyone's questions.  To learn more about finding your own point of view in design please look for my book Storied Interiors where I delve deeply into the subject.  Thank you everyone!

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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 and organizing.

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