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Top of Their Class
The ambitious restoration and redecoration of the College Club of Boston may be the most important interior design project in a private club since Elsie de Wolfe created New York's Colony Club in 1905. On that historic occasion, Boston's College Club was already fifteen years old, founded as a place for college-educated women to “enjoy sociability and companionship.”
Today it continues to function as a literate B&B, lecture hall, ballroom, gallery and membership organization devoted to high-minded pursuits (and nowadays welcoming men, too). The clubhouse is a handsome Victorian brownstone at 44 Commonwealth Avenue, the epicenter of traditional Boston society. And, now that the club has called on some of Boston's best designers to bring new life to the august building's interior, the clubhouse has entered a new golden age.
“When we first began to talk about this, I had an epiphany,” says Gerald Pomeroy, a College Club member and designer of the stunning Percy-Dauber drawing room and members' room. “I imagined people standing in this room a hundred years from now, celebrating the group of artisans who had come together to redo this townhouse. I felt humbled.”
That spirit guided the project over its two-and-a-half years, from the moment a surprising donation arrived from a long-standing member. When then-club president Judith Joyce traveled to deliver a personal thank you, she set in motion a chain of generosity, creativity and resourcefulness in which the gifts kept coming. The superb assemblage of Boston area interior designers even donated their services. “I was so excited,” says Lisey Good, who originated the idea of treating the guest rooms as if they were show house rooms featured on one of TV's ubiquitous makeover shows. “It seemed a great way to publicize our bed and breakfast and the club in general.”
The result features glamorous public rooms, a chic and comfortable members' dining room, and some of the nicest guest rooms in the Back Bay.
To redecorate the busy bed-and-breakfast inn without shutting it down completely, rooms were completed sequentially, each designer given a mere two weeks to transform his or her space. The budget was even more constrained.
The Connecticut College room's camel-colored walls and crisp blue and white accents exemplify the design guidelines: that designers take their cues from the college's culture and traditions. “The camel is the school mascot,” explains Good, a Connecticut College graduate and the room's designer. “The college colors are blue and white.”
Smith alumna Heather Wells designed the Smith College room in a lovely and delicate mix of that school's blue and golden-yellow colors. Allison Hughes credits the inspiration for her chocolate-brown and sky-blue Tufts room to the Tisch Library, with its exceptional views of the Boston skyline. In the top-floor Vassar room, Michael Carter decorated the terra-cotta red walls with evocative photographs from a 1915 Vassar yearbook.
The magnificent double parlor and attached members' room is another tour de force created out of a tiny budget. “When you have architecture like this,” Pomeroy says, “drama is possible. We celebrated the architecture, but we also created something fresh, timely and fashionable.”
The center room of the three features a mural created by Susan Harter, known for the classically inspired canvases she paints in her studio and then applies like wallpaper. She found thematic inspiration in the Fragonard murals at New York's Frick Collection, and based her color palette on Pomeroy's choice of fabrics. “Every mural solves a problem,” she says. “Here, it was darkness, a sense of enclosure in this space and stodginess. Above all, I wanted it to be romantic, because this room is often used for weddings.”
With help from Harter, designer Darlene Gentle and decorative painter Cheryl O'Donnell, who created the faux finish in the members' room, Pomeroy transformed a dingy set of rooms into a comfortable, colorful and drop-dead gorgeous interior. He introduced new pilasters that help to define the two halves of the drawing room, accentuated the skylight with new glass and lighting, and spruced up the superb existing millwork with high-gloss paint.
“When I talk about this project, the word I keep using is celebration, ” Pomeroy says. “We gave new life to this wonderful old place and reintroduced it to society.”
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