Art Deco Style in Boston
August 15, 2022
Michael Barnum reimagines a South End triplex, finding function along the way.
Text by Marni Elyse Katz Photography by Sabrina Cole Quinn
Michael Barnum has had a lifelong obsession with art deco style. “It’s my go-to historic niche, though I always update and morph it,” the designer says. “I keep the soul and bones, but make it fresh and functional.” Case in point: the triplex in a five-story South End row house that he redesigned for a Harvard professor. In addition to injecting rich color, curvy lines, luxe fabrics, and glossy glamour, Barnum boosted utility, reinventing rooms that the owner hardly used. “His priorities evolved over the last two decades,” Barnum says. “We fine-tuned the home to support the way he lives now.”
Carefully considered furnishings with art deco flair dramatically bolstered the performance and presentation of the living room. Barnum replaced a too-small sofa with a custom-sized sectional that maximizes seating. The luscious crocodile-embossed velvet pieces hug a cushion-topped coffee table with drink holders on every side. “Fireside shearling slipper chairs pull right up to it, so six people can play board games comfortably,” Barnum says. The homeowner stores said games—Catan and Terraforming Mars are favorites—in a fan-shaped end table with a sunburst veneer top that Barnum designed. “The silhouette mirrors the curve of the stairs next to it to ease circulation,” he says.
Patterned silk rugs made from jewel-toned Indian saris tie the living room to the dining area, where Barnum reimagined his client’s dining table using two different stains. “The table was sufficiently narrow, and the geometric base has an art deco feel, so it made sense to retain and refinish it,” he explains. A black-and-white triptych picturing wild buffalo acts as a virile foil to an exquisite bronze branch chandelier dripping with amethyst and crystal icicles. “I wanted to bring sparkle to the middle of the house,” Barnum says.
The designer collaborated with Donna Venegas to create a jewel box kitchen steeped in art deco design, from the stepped profile of the crown molding to the Kelly Wearstler mosaic tile floor. “It’s straight out of Rock Center,” says Barnum, referencing the 1930s marble floor in the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Venegas hid bells and whistles aplenty inside high-gloss cabinetry crafted from eucalyptus and enhanced by stain laced with silver fill and notes of deep plum. The star, however, is the island’s backlit blue agate countertop. “We turned to our most opulent finishes: exotic veneers, metallics, and precious stones,” Venegas says.
The royal purple sofa that Barnum deemed too small for the living room kicked off the foyer color palette one floor down. Here, it nestles in the niche between a coat closet and a closet equipped with wine fridges. Since his client didn’t need additional living space, Barnum turned the adjacent potting room into a cocktail lounge and decreed it and the foyer perfect for entertaining larger groups. He even fitted a 1930s French burlwood bar cabinet with wheels so it can roll away from the wall to allow a bartender to serve drinks from behind it.
It all adds up to a chic home in which every space serves a purpose. “I used the living room maybe only six times in the last twenty years because it wasn’t functional,” says the homeowner. “Michael proposed installing a large-screen TV with the bar below it, along with a table he selected with the games in mind. I enjoy my home a lot more now than I used to.”