A Renovated Condo in Charlestown

March 2, 2019

Text by Megan Fulweiler     Photography by Greg Premru    Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent

The old theory that art and science involve different sides of the brain has been debunked. Both disciplines include keen observation, creative thinking, and problem solving. In fact, so intertwined are the two, many of today’s medical schools require students to sign up for art classes.

Of course, none of this is news to Boston-based designer Dennis Duffy. He was a science-oriented student who contemplated a career in medicine until the design bug hit. Happily for his scores of clients, Duffy’s skills allow him to study projects in myriad ways, zeroing in on details and functionality along with looks.

Take this home, for example. With their children grown and off to college, the owners had sold their art deco–style house in the suburbs and purchased a condo in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. An urban life had long been their dream, and when they came upon this unit, they looked no further. Located on the fifth and sixth floors of what was originally a nineteenth-century schoolhouse perched on the crest of a hill, the penthouse condo had views that were drop-dead gorgeous. True, the place was dated, with an awkward kitchen and tired baths, but all this could be remedied, and the time had come for a change of direction. “Our old house was crazy with colors and traditional. We wanted something serene and neutral,” says the wife. She and her husband did their homework, poring over designers’ portfolios. In the end, Duffy had the one that captured them both.

But where to begin? The couple decided to stay put through the renovation, which meant builder Mark Garufi had to keep operational at least one of the three baths that were being overhauled. And if nothing else, the pair wanted to be able to brew a morning pot of coffee. “We tried to do it in stages,” Garufi explains. “Customer service is important, and these owners were great to work with.”

Still, the husband says with a chuckle, “At one point, I slept in a closet.”

“And I traveled a lot,” adds his wife. Months later, however, when the construction dust finally cleared, everyone agreed it had all been worth it.

Rather than leave the somewhat cramped kitchen in its old spot, Duffy pushed it—along with a fresh plethora of wood-veneer cabinets—into the center of the main living area, anchoring the quartz-clad island to an existing pillar. The dining room hopped into the kitchen’s old locale, and a full-height wall that had once housed the fridge became a half-wall. This last move allowed light to flow in from the adjacent office.

For bonus storage, Duffy also designed a buffet flanked with similar cabinets for the dining area. The wood veneer lining the recessed niche above the buffet is patterned to lend the sleek built-in extra character and depth. The owners use the spot to show off an engaging painting by Diana McKee (an old friend of the wife’s). It’s such a welcoming setting, guests seated at the walnut table on the vintage brass-finished chairs are inclined to linger over dessert.

After dinner, however, there is the glow of a fireplace with a new marble surround to enjoy. Lovely at night, the living area is equally inviting by day, when floor-to-ceiling doors serve up a panorama of the city. During the balmy months, the vistas beckon everyone outside to the balcony. But no matter the weather, the living area is airy and sophisticated—everything the owners envisioned.

To do it justice, they said goodbye to their old furniture and hello to modern, posh pieces like a pair of copper-hued, crushed-velvet armchairs and a sectional big enough for a crowd—all custom-designed by Duffy. An Angela Adams wool rug floating like an island on the newly stained oak floor anchors the conversation area. The cool glass-topped cocktail table, Duffy loves to point out, was one of those miraculous street finds. “The husband found it sitting in front of the building,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The homeowners opted for pale walls, primarily in order to showcase their art. They had long wanted to start a serious collection, and now they had the ideal backdrop. So, in collaboration with Susan Lanoue of Boston’s Lanoue Gallery, Duffy helped them select a host of eye-riveting pieces including a trio of Karine Léger’s dream-like paintings and a print by South African artist Pamela Stretton. The last—centered above the fireplace—lends the tranquil main living area a note of visual richness.

Art also finds its way to the second floor and into the reworked master bedroom, where once a staid Queen Anne spindle bed held court. Duffy designed a walnut-stained bed that incorporates two-drawer nightstands. A bronze mirror tops each nightstand. Photos by Jerry -Uelsmann rest above the tufted headboard. And whisking away the last of yesterday’s vibes, a contemporary wool rug from Stark covers the floor.

To enlarge the master bath and make space for a generous glass shower, Duffy borrowed footage from a guest bedroom. A floating vanity adds a sense of lightness, while tile-covered walls add a handsome durability.

The guest room, not to be left out, gained a reading nook. Duffy ingeniously transformed a quirky space (the result of the master bath’s growth spurt) with custom-made cushions in fun colors. An accent wall of wood-grain tile adds to the coziness as do a bounty of pillows and, always, a warm throw. “It’s a hanging-out space, but it’s also another place to sleep,” says the designer.

Extra sleeping quarters are necessary, since friends and family are always eager to stay. So radical is the condo’s transformation, from dowdy to downright marvelous, that they want to absorb it all. The owners, though, aren’t surprised at the brilliant results. “With Duffy, the chemistry was right,” they say.

Chemistry? That could well be another field of scientific study: the magic that happens when homeowners find the one designer who’s just right for them.

Project Team
Interior design: Dennis Duffy, Duffy Design Group
Builder: Mark Garufi, Cypress

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