Down To The Detail

Architect Patrick Sutton designs it all, from the paint on the wall to the salts in the bath.

January 20, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Designers are different from you and me. Consider Patrick Sutton, local architect and interior designer.

Ten years ago he and his wife, Lark Pfleegor, a graphic designer, bought a Federal Hill rowhouse and completely renovated it. They painted the interior white, but Sutton didn't like it. He felt it made the rooms too dark, so he repainted the rooms. The color he chose next? What his wife calls "a brilliant white."

It must have made a difference, because the house has since been featured in Metropolitan Home. It was also shown on HGTV twice. But perhaps it was chosen because of its flowing spaces (Sutton removed interior walls), the light-filled addition in back, or the lavish use of glass and wood.

The story illustrates the designer's meticulous attention to detail -- most of us probably couldn't tell the difference between the one white and the other -- but it doesn't speak to the cutting-edge sensibility that has made Sutton one of Baltimore's most high-profile and award-winning young architects.

"He doesn't have the traditional Baltimore clientele," says Greg McHale of Gaines-McHale Antiques and Home, who has worked closely with Sutton. "His clients are more cosmopolitan -- out-of-towners, transplants. They're looking for something a little different."

In fact, Sutton has just completed or is currently working on projects in Manhattan, Georgetown and Miami as well as Ruxton, Guilford and Owings Mills.

"The market appeal [locally] for what we can produce is relatively narrow," he admits. "Baltimore has a low self-esteem. Clients feel if they want sophisticated design they have to go elsewhere."

He tells the story of finishing a house for a Baltimore client. When friends came over to see it, they said to the owners, "It's beautiful, but we couldn't possibly use a local designer."

People from other cities don't feel that way. One of his current clients, Jan Whitener, picked him to decorate her Georgetown house when she saw his showroom in the Design Center in Washington. After she hired him, she took Sutton to her clothes closet to give him an idea of the textures and colors she likes.

She wouldn't have been interested if there had been any pink in his showroom, she says. "I hate pink, and generally pink people can't stay away from it."

"Patrick has [his biases], but he will listen," she adds. She describes the result of their collab-oration as "subtly elegant."

A holistic approach

He was trained as an architect, but Patrick Sutton has become as much an interior designer as an architect.

"All design is the same," he says. "I'm just as happy arranging food on a plate." (In fact, he loves to cook and says his specialty is going to friends' refrigerators and making something out of whatever they have left over.)

Sutton's holistic design approach started about 10 years ago when architectural clients who had come to trust him asked him to review the work being done by the interior designers they hired next. He was never comfortable with the process, so he got more and more involved in selecting the furnishings himself.

Other architects have blurred the distinction between the two disciplines -- Frank Lloyd Wright is the most obvious example -- but Wright probably never had to pick out bath salts for a client.

"Some clients want their homes finished down to the last detail," Sutton says. "Not the last piece of furniture, but the bath salts in the bathroom, the tea towels in the kitchen. Everything."

Which is how he came to open a retail shop, Patrick Sutton Home, in the building where his offices are located.

"Everybody asks why," he says now. "They say, 'Was life too easy for you?' "

The high-end shop, however, has simplified things. The firm had been warehousing accessories and products to be used in design projects. When Patrick Sutton Associates moved from Mount Vernon to new offices in Federal Hill last year, it was easy to put the items into a retail setting -- a setting that also showcased the firm's decorating ability.

At the moment, the designer is standing in the shop, which is filled with luxury goods like ornate velvet pillows with crystal beads and tassels, elaborate mirrors, a thick fur coverlet, and olive oil soaps from Provence. In contrast, he's a slim, minimalist figure, dressed in charcoal slacks, a black turtleneck, black shoes and pale gray socks. There's no jewelry, not even a wedding ring.

Sutton's round, small-featured face is boyish behind black-framed glasses, making him look younger than his 39 years. (He was recently named one of Baltimore magazine's 40 most influential Baltimoreans under 40.) He was born in New York, the child of a travel writer father and a Broadway dancer. He spent his childhood traveling to the world's most beautiful places.

As a result, he says, "I have a vast visual memory. My favorite thing was to go off and explore."

Modern and cutting edge

Sutton came straight to Baltimore after graduating from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

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