An Affair to Remember

November 4, 2010

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Robert Benson    Produced by Kyle Hoepner

Chemistry or chance—does it matter? Whatever the reason, a good relationship is gold. In romance or otherwise, when it clicks there’s nothing better. This project was, according to architect Patrick Hickox, “a veritable love fest.”

All the parts fit: enthusiastic owners respectful of their home’s past, accomplished architects, an astute interior designer and a dedicated builder. The seamless collaboration (read: a simpatico team of people who, months later, still speak glowingly of one another, remembering not the work involved but the enjoyment of seeing their project come together) made for a flawless finish. The nineteenth-century home’s quality features are highlighted and, at the same time, the house is lovely and livable.

Granted, the pedigreed bones were in place. And, another advantage, architects Hickox and Brigid Williams, of the Boston-based firm Hickox Williams Architects, were well familiar with the house, having been involved in a number of previous alterations. “We’ve worked on over a hundred Beacon Hill houses and this has always been among our favorites. It’s one of the prettiest row houses,” Hickox says. “The style—red brick with a projecting bow front—is very characteristic of the city. It’s perhaps one of the first Greek Revival homes in a Federal neighborhood.”

The new owners, however, came with fresh eyes and a different vision. They pictured a serene and polished nest. The home’s inherently elegant vibe, lofty ceilings and desirable location overlooking a picturesque green square all played to this more romantic program. So to that end, ablitz was launched. “It was close to a gut but extremely surgical,” Hickox explains. “These old houses are sacred.”

The rectangular building runs deep and narrow. Today’s new design is unusual in that the entry hall, where the stairs begin their ascent to the second level, spills into the dining room. Hickox and Williams cleverly smoothed the union by introducing an elliptical domed ceiling and meticulous detailing. No one guesses that these skilled maneuvers are recent additions. Nor do they question the somewhat magical staircase, also new. According to Hickox, the old staircases were dangerously narrow. This character-filled version, designed by the architects and crafted by Foster, Rhode Island, stairwright Jedd Dixon, was devised to afford comfort and enhance what Hickox refers to as “the line of travel.”

About a quarter of the way into construction, with dust and noise mounting, Boston interior designer Gerald Pomeroy made his appearance. Pomeroy was recruited to personalize the rooms and, as he puts it, “celebrate the stunning architecture.” The beautiful shell was not without challenges. The unusual configuration of stairs and dining room, for instance, called for a dramatic solution: one that would tie the divergent elements together, speak to the home’s age and forge a logical connection with the adjacent living room. In a nutshell, “things needed to unfold in a manner that subtly guides you from one room to another,” Pomeroy says.

The answer that came to him—a dramatic hand-painted mural wallcovering by Boston artist Susan Harter—does all that and more. The mural sweeps up the grand stairs to the master suite as well as down to the ground floor where the husband’s office sits. Mementos of the owner’s travels, their favorite works of art and the nearby square are all referenced in Harter’s pastoral landscape. “It’s dramatic,” says Pomeroy.

The designer urged his clients to watch the 1958 movie Auntie Mame—just for fun, he says with a laugh, but also to check out the vintage sophistication that’s depicted. It’s not completely unlike the kind he was distilling here. Take the thoughtfully contrived palette. The regal-blue Donald Kaufman ceiling color that’s first spied in the dining room pops up again and again in varied levels of intensity. All the trimwork appears uniformly painted, but is actually variations of creamy antique white to suit the light as it changes during the day.

The luscious bisque shade that washes the living room walls was used to add depth and help ensure the space didn’t seem like the spectacular dining room’s “poor relative,” Pomeroy says. As if anyone would ever think that of a room where eighteenth-century coromandel screens, luxurious upholstered furnishings and silk curtains cascading like water provide timeless grace.

The mosaic backsplash that guards the kitchen range taps into the bisque color, too. Teamed with painted cabinets wearing fine furniture-like details, granite counters and a large island topped with a delicious three inches of burnished walnut, the streamlined kitchen is nothing short of perfect. Even if the breakfast area didn’t roost by a bow window overlooking a garden, it would be heavenly. But—no doubt about it—the generous window cinches it. Pomeroy framed the sweet view with linen curtains trimmed in gray flannel.

Upstairs, the sensibilities are equally tony. Pomeroy designed a stately four-poster for the master bedroom and then flanked it with handy drape tables (storage shelves are concealed behind the cloth). An eighteenth-century French settee wearing a leopard print is parked at the bed’s foot. The stylish print serves as a saucy contrast to pale floor-to-ceiling silk drapes.

Not to be outdone, the master bath includes a custom his-and-hers vanity designed by the architects. An updated clawfoot tub rests in its own mosaic-lined niche, while a spacious walk-in shower claims the room’s opposite side. Pomeroy singled out a vinyl wallcovering for the bath, adding a hint of edginess. A trio of English sconces—their design based on antique carriage lanterns—play off the wallcovering’s textured surface.

A beige and cream Colefax & Fowler wallcovering wed with wall-to-wall carpeting creates a cocoon-like ambience for the guest room. Visitors slide happily into twin beds from Leonards Antiques in Seekonk, Massachusetts. Another of Pomeroy’s favorite drape tables is anchored in between. Located above the kitchen, the welcoming room even snags a garden view. “We don’t want to leave,” say guests. No doubt, they really mean it.

Architecture: Patrick Calhoun Hickox and Brigid Williams, Hickox Williams Architects
Interior Design: Gerald Pomeroy
Builder: F.H. Perry Builder
Landscape Architecture: Allen Abrahamson