Growing Up in Style
February 29, 2012
In the hands of a capable design duo, a spacious Beacon Hill condominium gets a makeover that blends just the right measures of glamour and comfort.
Text by Louis Postel Photography by Michael Partenio
“You’re kidding me. This rug is just not for kids,” said designer Maribeth Brostowski. But her client wasn’t kidding. The silvery rug the client noticed in Brostowski’s office expressed exactly the low-key glamour she was looking for. After all, her three boys were no longer toddlers. They were growing up. It was time to live again, to throw an occasional party. Now it would be up to Brostowski and Polly Lewis, her partner at Lewis Interiors, to transform their client’s newly acquired condo on Boston’s Beacon Hill into a glamorous (but boy-friendly) space.
First, though, the unit—once part of a stately home but recently used as a college office building—had to be brought back to its residential roots. Architect Guy Grassi recalls his first sight of the space: an empty shell where harsh fluorescent lighting shone down on abandoned metal desks. Along with general contractor Metric Construction, Grassi worked miracles, adding moldings, wainscoting, mantels, soffits and other details. Now the condo has warmth and character to spare, with no vestiges of its detour into life as a work space.
Brostowski and Lewis welcomed the challenge of designing an interior that suits both grown-ups and kids, partly because they had worked with this family on previous projects and knew they’d enjoy the job, and partly because this is, frankly, a special space with its 8,000 square feet spread over three floors plus a roof deck, an intriguing “upside-down” layout with living room and public areas above and private areas below, and unusually commanding views for oh-so-tight Beacon Hill.
The success of the Lewis-Brostowski partnership may well lie in the differences between the two designers. “Polly’s very good at furniture placement; she’s quiet, thoughtful,” Brostowski says. “I’m more frenetic. I come from the fashion industry, which called for a lot of shuttling between Paris, Milan and New York. That’s why Coco Chanel’s maxim for dressing comes to mind when describing what we do. Chanel said something to the effect that one should get fully dressed and then take something off. In the same vein, I’ll get a room fully dressed and then Polly will start taking things out.”
One thing no one would dream of taking out is the super-sized lantern suspended over the spiral stairs. Just as visitors step off the elevator, there it is: like a ruling planet, the fixture governs the 2,500 square feet of living room/gallery space with dignified grace. A constellation of smaller lanterns lines the gallery to the left, which leads to the kitchen. It certainly is a grown-up space, but as Brostowski notes, “With kids around you can’t really do marble floors.” Instead, the designers went with wooden flooring at the entry and, in the living and dining rooms, matching silk-and-wool Tibetan rugs edged with a circle pattern in a mesmerizing, silkily iridescent aubergine.
Though the condo is large, especially for Beacon Hill, ceiling heights are comparatively low, a Lilliputian eleven feet. This turned out to be a plus for the fabric budget—and, by extension, the art budget. Whatever the husband and wife saved in drapery was easily made up for by the collection of fine art Boston art consultant Andrea Marquit Clagett helped them assemble.
Aiming for an ambience of midcentury French glamour without being too literal, Clagett and the couple hung a group of figurative 1930s gouaches on paper by Jerome Roth in the kitchen, a Paris-themed work by California artist Lloyd Dallett in the wine cellar and another by Boston’s Nancy Berlin in the hall. Further down this passage en route to the kitchen, a playful lady is immortalized on a set of plates by the Milanese decorator Piero Fornasetti.
Lewis and Brostowski had already done a number of homes for the clients, including two on Nantucket. “We were gravitating away from the French traditional that the wife likes so much and more toward French contemporary,” says Brostowski. Nowhere is this more evident than in the dining room. The Elizabeth Dow wallpaper looks at first glance like Venetian plaster brought to a lacquer-like sheen. Chandeliers by Dessin Fournir, Himmel mirrors and Grenelle chairs from Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman all serve to enhance the luminous jewel-box effect.
Given its dimensions of fifteen feet by just nine feet, the lower-level study provided a bit of a challenge for the design team. To give it what Brostowski calls “presence,” she and Lewis had upholsterer Kevin McLaughlin create a pair of forty-three-inch-deep chairs along with an oversized ottoman, which bring the far ends of the room into scale.
Caviar and blini served with cold vodka might be all that could bring additional “presence” to the media/game room. A study in brown and turquoise, it was inspired by one of Brostowski’s favorite haunts, a Russian restaurant called Caviar Kaspia set in the heart of Paris.
In the serene master bedroom, rays of sunlight turn Farrow & Ball’s Parma Gray paint a romantic sky blue. Installing the king-size bed and the furnishings required careful maneuvering through tight elevators and even tighter windows. (At one point, Brostowski found herself taking an urgent phone call while simultaneously directing a crane as it attempted to swing the bed in from the street.)
Now, after twenty-two months of intense work, the family is snugly ensconced in their new home. The designers have arrived at one of Lewis’s pause-and-reflect moments. The next steps will be slower: a layering and refining as the family matures and tastes change. Meanwhile, Grassi, Lewis and Brostowski can take pride in the way they’ve imbued the rooms of this stately residence with formality, drama and just the right amount of youthful energy. In the final analysis, it’s fair to say, the designers are glad their client wasn’t kidding.