This Boston Brownstone Rocks

February 26, 2020

Text by Bob Curley    Photography by John Gould Bessler    Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent

Jerry Garcia once mused that “we live no particular way but our own.”

A Grateful Dead-loving couple in Boston certainly grooved to that beat while reimagining a Rutland Square brownstone as a Victorian/Bohemian mashup.

In the process, the homeowners turned to someone who would undoubtedly understand them at the deepest level. Designer Marisa Bistany Perkins was happy to help her sister and brother-in-law revive their early 1900s home. The goal was to rescue it from the doldrums of a mid-nineties transitional design, and to inject some free-spirited style for a couple who remain true to their roots as dedicated Dead fans and Phish followers. “We were looking for a warm, inviting home with an edge,” Perkins’s sister explains.

The previous design, dominated by plaid patterns and cream walls, had “no definition of space,” recalls Perkins. “We wanted to play up the architecture and add a lot of color and texture so it would have a story to it.”

The characters in this tale of what Perkins calls a “funky Victorian” makeover included three dogs, necessitating the use of materials that are durable as well as stylish. Perkins nonetheless found ways to bring in rich fabrics like chenille, velvet, and taffeta to good effect. In the study it’s easy to imagine Janis Joplin, wrapped in a vintage stole, reclining on the chenille sofa—although in fact, it’s more likely to be occupied by the couple’s furry family. Snakeskin-patterned wallpaper adds texture and a hint of modernity to the room’s original fireplace, wood and gilt mirror, and ornate crown moldings.

The decor includes cherished concert photos, collected nature art, and at least two mounted skulls—a nod to the couple’s second home in Park City, Utah, and their passion for the American West. Vibrant chinoiserie pillows enliven spaces where darker colors dominate, and chandeliers both classic and modern descend from the Victorian ceiling medallions.

Nature provides inspiration throughout the home, from claw-footed stools and a frameless equine print over the living-room sofa, to the fish-scale light fixture in the kitchen and animal print chairs in the dining room.

Still, each space exudes distinctive character: the kitchen, for instance, retains a country feel with its beadboard ceiling, wood floors, and open-legged countertop; subtle enhancements included the velvet-cushioned and floral-patterned counter chairs, the high-gloss ceiling paint, and, of course, a diminutive set of antlers hung on textured wallpaper.

A crystal chandelier and gilded sconces in the dining room might suggest formality, but the gold grasscloth ceiling and the wallpaper that depicts a rolling country landscape give the room an almost pastoral feel; a trio of wooden discs provides depth without distraction on a wall where a mirror might otherwise be expected.

For the most part, the admitted “hippie chick” siblings read from the same songbook, with only the occasional squabble over things like the wisdom of laying sheepskin rugs in the living room. “She loved them, I hated them,” says Perkins (her sibling won that battle).

“It was exciting, because I knew she and I had the same feel for the place,” her sister says. “My husband and I love coming home every day to a warm, cool home that is us. Not something we picked out of a magazine, just layers of texture, colors, nature—and, of course, rock and roll.”

Interior design: Marisa Bistany Perkins, M West Designs
Window coverings: Designer Draperies of Boston

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