Transforming Urban Condos into Home Sweet Homes

April 3, 2019

Text by Marni Elyse Katz    Photography by Sabrina Cole Quinn Photography, Justin Levesque, Eric Roth, Emily O'Brien, and Michael J. Lee

Large open kitchen with blue subway tile backsplash from the countertop to the ceiling. Open shelving featuring dishes. Stainless steel appliances.

Aimee Anderson designed this kitchen to accommodate multiple cooks. Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn Photography.

Urban living is full of perks, but tight square footage and unadorned drywall don’t rank among them. We talked with seven local designers to get their advice on transforming cookie-cutter units into singularly stylish and supremely functional home-sweet-homes.

Pare Down
Portland, Maine-based Ariana Fischer engages in an intimate process for downsizing clients who are coming from a larger abode. “Only belongings that are beloved make the move,” she says. Culling a lifetime of possessions isn’t easy, even more so when nostalgia is involved. Fischer talks through every piece, from the oversize French armoire to Mother’s Day mugs, to determine what will work. Although it can be stressful, it’s also liberating. She notes, “The new condo truly reflects who they are and everything they love.”

Pursue Passions
Newton, Massachusetts, designer Aimee Anderson ensures that hobbies translate, especially for empty nesters. For one couple, it meant allotting space for a loom and designing a kitchen that functions beautifully for their cooking club. Anderson says, “We did double sinks, a built-in teak drain board for hand-washed utensils, and a seventeen-foot counter that accommodates multiple chefs.” The setup offers ample flow and great views. She adds, “It can be sad to leave a home, but if there’s excitement around the next chapter, it can be wonderful.”

A white wall of built-in shelves with a large green shelf that has been turned into a reading nook complete with a reading light, accent pillows and a white cushion

Fitting maximum storage into tight urban units is always key, and for one client, Eleven Interiors’ Gabrielle Pitocco even tucked in a space for reading. Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn Photography.

Build In
Limited floor space presents opportunity. Gabrielle Pitocco of Eleven Interiors, in Boston, spanned a sixteen-foot-long living room wall with cabinets and shelving punctuated by a cantilevered compartment enlivened in a pop of green. “The homeowner sent a photo of her son in the nook, reading and laughing,” Pitocco says. “It’s nice to see design function the way it’s meant to.” Boston-based Dee Elms designed a built-in sofa for a master bedroom that lends the ambience of an upscale suite and provides a perch for watching television and the view.

Embrace Quirks
Turning tricky situations into major moments can be the best part of a design. To mitigate the effect of two disparate soffits in a Boston condo bedroom, Newbury, Massachusetts, designer Gina Baran ran wallcovering in a wood-like herringbone pattern from behind the bed onto the ceiling. “It creates visual impact, drawing the eye to the middle of the room and distracting from the soffits,” she explains. Maine designer Tyler Karu employed a similar stratagem in her own upstairs guest bedroom by mirroring the angle of an awkward roofline to form a decorative wallpapered niche that serves in lieu of a headboard.

Hallway with a brightly colored piece of art on the wall at the end. There's a bench under the artwork and an abstract light hanging from the ceiling.

Dee Elms used eye-catching art and a ­statement chandelier for dramatic focus in an otherwise understated condominium hallway. High-gloss walls, set against rougher wood on the floor, likewise pump up the glamour factor. Photo by Michael J. Lee.

Warm Up
To break out of the plain white box, designers get creative with materials. In a teenage girl’s room, Diane McCafferty, of Stern McCafferty, in Boston, layered colorful abstract artwork over Christian Lacroix wallpaper with a raised, lace-like design, and hung a Verner Panton mirrored chandelier for sparkle. For renters, Gina Baran hangs framed panels of wallpaper in groups of two or three. “It still provides drama, and you can take it with you,” she says.

Whether you are a young professional kitting out your first real-adult apartment or a post-kids couple moving in from the suburbs, a designer’s imagination can be your greatest friend when it comes to transferring downtown.

Ariana Fischer, Ariana Fischer Interior Design
Aimee Anderson, Aimee Anderson Design
Gabrielle Pitocco, Eleven Interiors
Dee Elms, Elms Interior Design
Gina Baran, Gina Baran Interiors + Design
Tyler Karu, Tyler Karu Design + Interiors
Diane McCafferty, Stern McCafferty

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