Made from Scratch

January 18, 2016

A favorite painting is the spark that helps a designer take a young couple’s Boston home from bare bones to beautiful.

Text by Louis Postel    Photography by Greg Premru


But I have nothing,” protested the newlywed. Her designer, Kristen Rivoli, had emphasized how important it was to incorporate furnishings the young couple felt an emotional attachment to. Her clients’ new 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom condo on Battery Wharf overlooking Boston Harbor would be that much more interesting and comfortable.

But nothing meant nothing. Ironically, the qualities that help young urban professionals launch their careers—the ability to travel light, to relocate again and again—are the very ones that work against them when it’s time to settle down, nest, and start a family.

So how to begin? Through the power of art.

Through their broker, the couple had found Theresa Brown of Dreamscapes to create their window treatments. Brown advised them that she usually came in after things were further along, and suggested they contact Rivoli, which they eventually did, after putting the nest-building project on hold for months in response to demands at work.

Once on board, Rivoli brought them to Jules Place, a gallery in Boston’s SoWa district. There, it was a matter of love at first sight: an oil painting by Kathy Soles, called Deep Water, inspired by time the artist spent in Greece. A strip of sunlight illuminates the jewel tones of Soles’s take on what lies beneath the surface of the Mediterranean. Rivoli gave the painting pride of place in the living room, then built the home’s palette around it.

“My clients love the city and were looking for an urban feel. I created a neutral palette of grays, greens, and creams with pops of color,” the designer says.

One thing she didn’t do was overstate the blues in Deep Water. “More blue would have watered down the painting,” she explains. “Instead, I picked up on the purples and golds for the cushions, and did the walls and drapes in cream so they wouldn’t distract from the water view outside.” The one blue exception was the custom-made, deep-blue, high-gloss, lacquered console Rivoli set in the entry under a mirror whose silvery, diamond-patterned frame has raised edges. It took a designer with a good eye to mount it on a dark-brown wallpaper decorated with silver circles that had come with the condo.

A sculptural console separates the living room from the dining area. Atop it, two Donghia lamps with bases of etched Murano glass are suggestive of columns in a Renaissance interior court. Additional light comes from tiny recessed spots embroidering the ceiling edges.

A striped painting by Michael Hoffman, also found at Jules Place, presides with a good-natured sense of order and authority over the dining table. The table’s metallic oval base joins Hoffman’s painting in yielding rich, reddish colors in high contrast with the gray lacquered walls by decorative painter Lynda ­Stephens.

One more blue exception: the Fiji-blue strié treatment Stephens gave the master bedroom walls. Light and dark neutrals—the charcoal-hued headboard and white bedding, a lamb’s wool rug, and a black-and-white flower photograph by Debby Krim—stand out against the luscious blue.

“The wife wanted a place where she could sit if her husband was off in the living room watching a game,” Rivoli says. “So opposite the bed, I created a seating area with the classic Knoll Womb Chair by Eero Saarinen. I also had some leftover Suzani pillow fabric from Donghia, which I framed in triplicate as artwork.”

The guest bedroom soon evolved into a baby’s room, as the couple welcomed a baby boy—“though I designed it not so babyish that he couldn’t grow up in it,” says Rivoli. Fabric from Boston’s Mally Skok depicting the Botswana trees of her home continent set the African motif repeated by the wall decals.

As Rivoli helped her clients begin married life with beautiful art and a beautiful home, she also encouraged them to seek out and bring back things they love to make their space even more their own. This they proceeded to do, as evidenced by the Thai copper-and-jade lidded vessel on the coffee table in the living room and a jolly silver teapot on the side table.

Clearly, this is no longer a couple who has nothing. In fact, relates Rivoli, the two are now shopping for a larger home. Baby boy is about to meet baby sister. •

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