Industrial Chic on Boston Harbor

An old wharf building on Boston Harbor makes the perfect setting for a couple who appreciate history but live very much in the present.

Text by James McCown  Photography by Eric Roth Produced by Kyle Hoepner

They are a bi-coastal couple, but not along the usual New York-to-Los Angeles axis. Rather, they divide their time between Boston and northern California’s coast. Their respective passions are complementary—she for handcrafted objects and he for high technology and precise design.

Their stunning two-story pied-à-terre is in one of the old industrial wharf buildings that overlook Boston Harbor. It represents a remarkable collaboration among design professionals, all of whom sought to celebrate the space’s industrial roots while meeting the clients’ criterion that it refer to Boston and their own New England roots. “It’s low tech/high tech,” says architect David Hacin. “They were attracted to this space because it was where both of their passions could be addressed. It was important to them to preserve the eccentricities of the space. Utilitarianism is the aesthetic.”

The couple already had an apartment in the building, and when another one came on the market, they bought it and combined the vertically contiguous spaces. The program included rooms for the two college-age sons, a high-tech media room, and placement of the master bedroom so the couple can see the harbor from their bed. “It’s great to wake up to the sounds of the boats and watch planes taking off from Logan Airport,” the wife says. “Here, I get the sunrise, and in my California home I get the sunset.”

Hacin’s big design move was to cut a large opening between the floors to allow for a new open-tread stairway with skylights above to bring natural light deep into the unit. In order to highlight the brick walls and the wood ceiling beams, new partitions create a language of crisp floating volumes that contrast with the texture of the original materials.

“They wanted to preserve the DNA of the building,” says Matthew Manke, who works in Hacin’s office as a senior associate. As for attached elements in the space, such as doors and countertops, “Nothing is off the shelf,” Manke says. “It’s all custom-made.”

With this dramatic backdrop as a canvas, interior designer Jama Samek was challenged to express the clients’ wishes. “It was about a juxtaposition of the industrial and the modern aesthetic,” she says. “Because it is on the harbor, I wanted everything to speak to that. The colors reflect everything you see there.” Samek specified furnishings with a decidedly contemporary, European bent, including furniture from B&B Italia, Kasthall rugs from Sweden, and light fixtures by Philippe Starck.

On the lower main level, the master bedroom sits at one extreme and offers the required dramatic harbor views. A large, open space adjacent accommodates the kitchen, dining room, and floating stairway. A gallery, whose floor is dark gray schist quarried in western Massachusetts, connects to the sons’ bedrooms and media room at the opposite end.

The upstairs is the “wow” space designed for maximum punch. A circular seating area cozies up to a brushed stainless-steel fireplace that offers a contrast to the uneven industrial brick wall. A larger living room area on this level is a study in comfort, with its tranquil backdrop of grays given a jolt of color by a bright red chair and bold art.

The couple asked art consultant Jacqui Becker to help them choose the perfect art. “Their only directives were that they wanted color and they wanted the art to represent Boston,” Becker says. “I took the main important spaces and created a virtual gallery with five or six possible pieces for each space,” she explains. “Then I watched them. How did they react? I intuit what I think the client will like.

“For example, for the main spot in the upstairs living room, I chose four or five abstract expressionist paintings. When we put up the Marjorie Minkin work Cephalopod, I knew it would be a perfect match.”

In the dining room, a piece by Patrick Hughes called In Tents plays tricks with perspective and appears to move and change as you walk about it. Five identically sized works by Sand T Kalloch add bold splashes of color to the gallery.

The couple’s lack of formal art training made them more interesting clients, Becker says. “You don’t need to be schooled in art to appreciate it,” she says. “This couple had an almost childlike openness to the new.”

Bartek Konieczny is an artist whose medium is metal. He created numerous doors, light fixtures, and the kitchen’s striking island. “I kept feeling like we needed another material,” says interior designer Samek. “Then a light went off and it was metal. So we had brick and wood, and now we had metal.”

Like the rest of the team, Konieczny wanted to highlight the building’s industrial character. “I wanted to build on that feeling,” he says. “The natural patina of metal is like a painting to me.”

The doors in the apartment are huge objects, weighing about three-quarters of a ton each, Konieczny says. Every screw, rivet, and bracket is custom designed and fabricated in his studio. The kitchen island is a gracefully tapering metal object with a distinct midcentury feel, like a finned automobile or jet airliner. “The industrial aesthetic is about distilling the elements that are there,” he says. “It’s about honesty. When you bring industrial design into a residence, you translate that raw language.”

Chris Magliozzi, executive vice president of FBN Construction, was also on board to fulfill the clients’ wishes. “There was a computer model of the entire existing space,” he says, “and every time the client or designers had an idea, we’d see how it could be done. For example, we got salvaged wood beams to preserve the original space’s look.”

The wife has a deeply personal interpretation of the industrial aesthetic’s appeal. “I’m the first generation in my family with a college degree,” she says. “I’m from a blue-collar background. The industrial reminds us of where we came from.”

Project Team Architecture: Hacin + Associates Architects
Interior design: Jama Samek, Jama Samek Interior Design
Builder: FBN Construction

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