A Boston Home for Art Collectors

January 4, 2022

A living room built in 1870 transforms into an at-home art gallery fit for the entire family—almost.

Text by Erika Ayn Finch     Photography by Read McKendree

In an example of life imitating art, Lisa Tharp designed one Greater Boston family’s living room to act as a giant canvas and ornate frame—witness the home’s original 1870 ceiling and crown molding—for her art-collecting clients. The room serves as a gathering space for the extended family members who congregate here for the holidays, so it also needed to be comfortable and durable. “The goal wasn’t to replicate the home’s period but to reflect how the owners live now,” says Tharp, a recent inductee into the New England Design Hall of Fame. “We wanted to honor the bones and the volume of the space—make it refined and sophisticated but also plush and comfortable.”

Winter-white walls and millwork and floor-to-ceiling drapery help emphasize the room’s eleven-foot height while showcasing the artwork. Shades of wheat and mossy green, most evident in the performance-velvet-covered Dmitriy & Co sofa, and dark wood floors reference the home’s verdant landscape. The wife, who has a fine-art background and wanted to see it reflected in the living room, says it was Tharp’s artistic eye that drew her to the designer, who likes to paint in her spare time. “Lisa has a way of compositionally balancing a variety of shapes and styles,” the homeowner says. “She knows how to let the architecture and art sing, while at the same time using—but not overusing—color.”

Tharp’s artistic touch extends beyond the furnishings to the applique painting that hangs above the sofa and anchors the space. Serendipitously, the hand-dyed piece was crafted by Tharp’s daughter, artist Fia Tharp, a recent Rhode Island School of Design graduate. The homeowner appreciates personal connections to her collection: the portrait that hangs between two windows features her mom, a 1960s folk singer, and was painted by her dad, Billy Hardison. “My mom is a lifelong subject of my dad’s,” says the homeowner. “This portrait hung in my house when I was growing up, and I’ve carried it with me from place to place. It now has its spot.”

The painting isn’t the only piece that looks like it’s always been there. The mirrors that flank a doorway leading into the family room were custom designed to fit the walls from the top of the wainscotting to the bottom of the crown molding. A corner settee with upholstered legs and a fringed ottoman inspired by the billiards room at The Breakers, one of the Newport Mansions, were also custom. “Fringe can be a polarizing detail,” admits Tharp, “but it can also add just the right amount of elegance and soften the hardwood floors of an area that doesn’t have a rug.”

Elegant seems to sum up the space, but it’s not too elegant to use, says the homeowner, whose daughter takes her guitar lessons in the room. The lack of television fosters conversation, and the open floor space in front of the fireplace encourages winter puzzles and game nights. But there is one family member who has yet to set foot, or perhaps we should say paw, in the room. “We recently got a puppy—our first dog—and he’s not allowed in the room quite yet,” says the homeowner with a laugh.

Project Team
Interior design: Lisa Tharp, Lisa Tharp Design
Renovation builder: Kistler & Knapp Builders