Industrial Strength: A Contemporary Boston High-Rise Penthouse

January 9, 2014

An urban condominium suits its new owner by blending the sleek, contemporary look he desires with enough warmth and whimsy to make it feel like home.

Text by Regina Cole    Photography by Laura Moss

David Jankilevitsch found the designers of his dreams when he went out to eat. He had traveled all over the world, was conversant with design language, and knew the aesthetic he was after for his new condominium in downtown Boston. But, until he dined at Oishii Boston, in the city’s South End, he didn’t know where to turn to realize his vision.

“He had a strong concept, but he didn’t know how to make it a reality,” says Maho Abe, principal designer at Zen Associates. That changed when he discovered that Abe and her colleague Rina Okawa had created the restaurant decor he found so appealing.

The views are what first sold the young real estate developer on this unit in a high-rise building. Windows look down on the Charles River, across the South End, toward the harbor and South Station. With that kind of dramatic backdrop, the interior had to hold its own. “I have always loved old factory spaces, and wanted a concrete, lofty feel,” Jankilevitsch says. “I was looking for a modern, contemporary design, but I also wanted a warm feeling.”

“He was strongly influenced by contemporary European architecture,” Abe adds.

With help from a talented crew of subcontractors, Abe and Okawa executed an interior that is as industrially inspired and chic as the modern European style Jankilevitsch loves. They accomplished this through the skilled use of color and materials, so that walls finished with Venetian plaster look like concrete, and an apartment with standard ceiling heights feels lofty. “The color is blue-gray, and it is all over the entire space,” says Abe. “It resembles concrete. The ceilings are all painted a soft gray. The resulting look is industrial and edgy, but warm.”

The layout places the kitchen at the center of the apartment. Jankilevitsch had envisioned a wall of stone around the core of the unit. “I wanted the interior to function like a large circle with a smaller circle inside, and for all the walls to look like either concrete or stone,” he says.

The designers sheathed the kitchen walls with a slender, dark-gray, Japanese ceramic tile laid horizontally. The effect is textured and rich, and reinforces the industrial look Jankilevitsch was after. “Both the inside and the outside of the kitchen walls have that look of textured stone,” he explains. “With the kitchen at the center, the layout makes for a very nice flow.”

The living room, dining room, and kitchen constitute the open, public areas of the condo. Behind the kitchen is the homeowner’s study. The three bedrooms sit on the other side of the unit, hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling door beside the entry. “All the doors in the apartment go from floor to ceiling,” Abe says. “It is part of what gives it that sleek, clean look.”

Achieving that look required meticulous engineering, says Deborah Butler, millwork project manager at Woodmeister Master Builders, general contractors for the project.

“The Venetian plaster and the lines of the doors going all the way from floor to ceiling draw the eye up and make the space look bigger,” Butler says. “But it means that we have to start with the substrate and make everything fit perfectly.

“Door casings typically go atop walls and hide any imperfections in fit,” she continues. “But here, we had to work from the inside out. We took dimensions, made framing, and put shims behind the wallboard so that everything would align. All this is done after the walls are plastered and tiled. If the lines where the doors meet the ceiling were off, you would see it and it would spoil the effect.”

Paint that gives the surface of the doors a metallic look reinforces the industrial sensibility of the space.

To get the warmth their client wanted, Abe and Okawa introduced natural elements that add texture and intensity. “We used materials like stone, wood, and glass—materials that are very sleek, but rich,” Okawa says. A long dining table of dark walnut stands at the ready for company. A live-edge slab of walnut tops the boxy gray coffee table. And the kitchen peninsula is accented with a slab of walnut, too, softening the stainless steel and ceramic tile.

The designers bleached the white ash flooring throughout the apartment. “This way, the grain is stronger,” Okawa notes. “It gives it more of a natural feeling and, thus, more warmth.” A shag rug in the living room area and hide rugs in the study and master bedroom add a plush counterpoint as well.

An industrial aesthetic does not rule out all whimsy. Just inside the front door, Okawa placed a set of hooks in the shape of hands. Gilded branches are recurring decorative elements. And a jolt of color here and there—an orange bench in the foyer, a cobalt-blue side table by a chair in the master bedroom, and vivid pieces of modern art—imparts a light touch.

The lighting, too, bridges the divide between industrial and homey, thanks to the work of Mark Howland of Howland Architecture Studio in Somerville, Massachusetts. In the entrance hall, the ceiling’s recessed LED lights illuminate one of Jankilevitsch’s large contemporary paintings. More LEDs—often hidden in the moldings around the recessed ceilings—cast ample glow in the living room area and the kitchen. “You don’t see the fixtures, but the area is flooded with light,” Jankilevitsch notes.

While he loves to entertain, and so enjoys the wide-open spaces of the kitchen and living and dining areas, Jankilevitsch confesses that the study is his favorite room.

“As a young professional, I was looking for a more outgoing, younger, even controversial feel,” he says. “But I love being in my study. It’s very cozy, great for work, and, like the rest of the apartment, beautifully detailed and neat.” •

Interior design: Maho Abe and Rina Okawa, ZEN Associates
Builder: Woodmeister Master Builders

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