Urban Spaces: A Snazzy Row House in the Nation’s Capital

For the past five months, Paul Shaw, an internal consultant for a government agency in the nation’s capital, has called a cozy row house home. Situated in Trinidad, a gentrified section of Northeastern Washington, DC, is his completely renovated two bedroom, two bathroom abode where African masks, chocolate browns and vibrant artwork pepper a sun-drenched open layout.

Shaw, a native of St. Louis, MO and frequent entertainer, took me on a tour of his welcoming 1400 square foot digs, which includes a Club Monaco inspired friendship wall, a skylit bathroom – and an upscale kitchen that serves as the soul of the home.

URBANE URBANITE: What do you like most about your neighborhood?

PAUL SHAW: I like that my neighborhood is in DC proper and is convenient to any place within the district. Also, the fact that most of the homes look similar on the outside, but inside many are rehabbed and changed to the tastes of the inhabitants. I also like the fact that it has a residential feel with yelling school kids and people walking their dogs.

UU: How would you best describe your decorating style?

PS: I’ve never really set out to have a style or a theme for my place. I guess I’d describe it as organic, based upon the fact that my décor simply contains those things that are appealing and significant to me.  Through my travels and such, I just see things that I like and make me smile and I try to make them fit in my space somehow. I will admit that my tastes may lean a little more ethnic or African just based on my experience as a black man but I don’t intentionally set out for such.

UU: Where do you get your decorating ideas from?  
PS: I guess I get them from all over – peoples’ homes, places I’ve seen in my travels – you never know where it may strike you. For instance, my friendship wall was inspired by the old Club Monaco store in Georgetown that used to have this huge wall of black & white pictures of models wearing their clothes. I liked how it looked and figured I could do something similar with pictures of friends that I hold near and dear.

UU: What’s one thing you dislike about your space? Or maybe something you wish it had that it doesn’t.

PS: I wish I had more wall space and floor space. Wall space because, as I mentioned, when I see different pieces of art or pictures that I really like, I buy them with no idea of how I’ll be able to exhibit them. I have a painting in my living room now that I bought nearly six years before I ever got around to finding a good spot for it to hang. I also have pieces from Indonesia and another from a classmate from Botswana that I don’t have any space for at the moment. I’d like more floor space as well, just so I could entertain more.

UU: What made you choose such a bold color for your eating area?

PS: Actually a friend of mine, Antonio Coke, a designer in Chicago talked me into using deep brown and orange for my den in my condo in Chicago. I thought it was going to be rather jarring at first but it turned out to be one of my favorite spaces. I decided to stick with those colors for my current place and thought that since the kitchen is one of the liveliest areas of the home, I wanted to have a bright color that reflected that characteristic.


UU: You have quite a bit of African artwork on display in your home. What’s the story behind your favorite piece?

PS: The two paintings in my eating area of African tribesmen standing near a tree in the grassland. I bought these matching pieces in a market in Cape Town and they were some of my first pieces that I knew were truly unique and that no one in the world would have. Plus, they were pretty cheap for something original.

UU: You host quite often. Where do your guests like to convene the most?

PS: When I have folks over, they definitely are all anchored to the long island that runs the length of my kitchen. It’s one of my favorite spaces in the house because it allows guests to be engaged with whomever is cooking or the like. There was a time when it frustrated me that at each gathering everyone was in the kitchen and not in the living area but I’ve grown to embrace it.

UU: Picture it: Your place is on fire. You’ve only got time to grab one thing. What would it be?

PS: Hmm, how morbid. Probably my external hard drive because it has most of my pictures saved on it. Most of the other things can be replaced, but the memories not so easily. Maybe it’s just a Cancer thing, but I can be rather sentimental in that regard.

UU: What’s one piece of advice you can give people who may have a hard time figuring out how they would like to decorate their home?

PS: It’s your home and no one knows better what your style is than you. While I try to keep rather classic/versatile pieces for the furniture all the decorations/art are things that I’ve just seen along the way and like – and found a place to make it work. I think anything can flow together if it shows who the person truly is. Peoples’ personalities are dynamic and multi-faceted, and I think their surroundings should mirror that. Trying to tie too closely to a theme or a look is like looking at a person based upon one particular characteristic. Besides, if someone is in your home, it shouldn’t be a matter of whether or not they like the style, but whether or not if you like it and whether it reflects you as a person. I appreciate being able to walk into a space and get an understanding of who lives there based upon how they’ve decorated.


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