Lights, Color, Action
June 5, 2014
A couple’s bold use of color and art in combination with subtle lighting creates an eye-popping Providence loft space that’s anything but minimalist.
Text by Jill Harrington Photography by Stacy Kunstel Produced by Stacy Kunstel
New Year’s Eve, 2005. Tripp Evans and Ed Cabral spend their first night in their new home at the Pearl Street Lofts near Providence’s trendy Armory District with just an air mattress, a boombox and a disco ball.
That was likely the last time the space was quite so spare.
Step inside today and be struck by colors—hot pinks, golds, aqua—art-covered walls, layers of décor, a sense of whimsy. Sure, it has traditional loft features: amazing twenty-foot ceilings, exposed brick and vents, oversize original windows and a pedigreed industrial history as a foundry, laundry company and most recently, a furniture showroom. But this is loft living in double time.
The Providence architectural firm Durkee, Brown, Viveiros and Werenfels got this party started, restoring the nineteenth-century complex to its industrial roots. In Evans and Cabral’s loft, that included removing a wall that had obscured the beautiful arched windows and adding a spiral staircase up to a revamped space above the loft that was once an elevator override system. “We essentially removed years of ‘upgrading,’” says Michael Viveiros, lead architect on the project. “We try to expose as much of the original building as possible and celebrate what there is about it that’s industrial.”
This was the sleek but blank slate Evans and Cabral encountered when they stopped by on a friend’s recommendation. The price, the location, an extensive private rooftop terrace—all they were seeking came together here. “We were combining two homes into one but didn’t want something that looked like where either of us had been. This felt like a new adventure,” says Evans.
And an adventure it has been, this 1,700-square-foot loft they have made distinctly their own, blending their lives and possessions with a healthy dose of fun. “It’s hard to say what we are, style-wise,” says Evans. “What we aren’t is minimalists. We are maximalists!”
They began their design odyssey by breaking up the wide-open expanses, adding salvaged architectural columns to give shape to the large space that now comprises the living room, sitting area and dining room. Evans, a professor of art history at Wheaton College who studied architecture at the University of Virginia, built some of the interior architecture himself, including both a pergola that further separates the dining and living areas and a hallway bookshelf to house some of his more than 6,000 books.
Today the large living area has been divided into two, more intimate sitting areas, with leather chairs and a Mitchell Gold suede ottoman resting under the bright light let in by the arched windows—a perfect place to perch and take in the surroundings.
They commissioned an artist friend to add intricate molding to the wall dividing the hallway from the bedroom. The wall is embellished with a reissued geometric David Hicks wallpaper from Cole and Son to create a headboard of sorts. “It’s like a stage set. It’s the suggestion of a traditional bedroom,” says Evans.
The duo hired lighting designer Barbara Kristiansen—a move Evans says was key to cozying up the loft. She brought the lighting closer to eye level, replacing planned pendant lighting in the kitchen with lamps on the counter, taking a page from small, intimate bars, says Evans. In the hall, Kristiansen created what she called a “barrel vault” of seven-foot-high continuous arcs with little bulbs at the ends. It makes the sixteen-by-three-foot hall seem “less like the bottom of a well and created a wonderful kind of architectural ‘ceiling’ of light,” says Evans of his favorite lighting treatment.
With the bones and lighting in place, Evans could focus on his other trademark: unabashed use of color and art. Where some might fear to tread, Evans marches bravely.
Take, for instance, the dining room, where Bubble Gum Pink, a sculpture by Kik Williams, prompted the parade of pink in the loft. Then came the flocked pink Mao bust and the Warhol reproductions. “We pick up colors from our artwork rather than the reverse,” Evans says. Pink and lime green Flor carpet tiles enliven the dining room floor. “I’m a child of the ’80s,” jokes Evans. A midcentury sectional from an old Miami hotel sports bright pink pillows on its creamy leather seats. Even a nearby Frank Lloyd Wright reproduction lamp has a spot of pink.
The shade pops up again in the kitchen, with stripes of Fetish by C2 surrounded by expanses of curry yellow and dark brown.
The Indian palette is a favorite of Evans. “I used to be worried it [bright pink] was too much, until a friend from India said ‘Oh, but it’s the navy blue of Calcutta, my dear,’” Evans says, laughing.
Says co-collaborator Cabral, “Tripp has an amazing sense of color. He puts colors together that normally would never seem right, but work.”
Cutting the color calvacade is Evans’s slightly surprising other love, the absence of color—black. He points to the ceilings throughout the loft and the spiral staircase, both of which they had painted black, and the pièce de résistance in the kitchen: a giant silhouette of a chandelier inspired by a Jean Orlebeke design that Evans first traced onto the wall, then painted. “Every room should have some black,” Evans says.
If the flocked Mao isn’t enough of a clue, the pair’s sense of humor infuses the space. Evans collects small doors, one of which sits at the far end of the hallway, a stretch that seems all the longer thanks to the three-foot aqua door. “I’ve had the Alice in Wonderland fixation for a while,” says Evans. “I really like surprising scale. It’s so big in here, it’s easy to play with juxtaposition of scale.”
And the opulent hall bath, with its gold-leaf walls, has an inside joke at its root—a nod to an East Berlin hotel the couple stayed in a few years ago that had Westernized in an over-the-top way. “They’d gilded everything—even the toilet and lid,” recalls Evans.
The other story here is the copious amount of art on display. Evans estimates that they have around eighty pieces gracing the walls at any given time, rotating new pieces in frequently. Most of them are works by their talented friends, says Evans, including two large abstracts by Laurel Sparks, one of which is currently on loan to the DeCordova Museum in Massachusetts.
The space combines humor with a sentimental tinge, industrial edge with comfortable chic. “We both like to mix styles and have never liked the ‘matchy-match’ look,” says Cabral. “So bringing all our things together worked well for us.”
“We want it to be accessible and fun,” adds Evans. “And we love every square inch in here—it all reminds us of our friends and family.” •
Architecture: Durkee, Brown, Viveiros and Werenfels Architects