Contemporary Living in Downtown Providence

A thoughtful makeover turns a high-rise Providence condominium into an airy, sun-washed space that reminds the owner of her Manhattan roots.

Text by Regina Cole Photography by Nat Rea

When Nancy Neis began a new chapter of her life, she was determined to start fresh. “Before my husband and I bought this condominium, I had lived in a 160-year-old house with very traditional interiors. Now I wanted something completely different,” says the attorney, who works for a law firm in East Providence, Rhode Island. “We brought nothing from where we had lived before.”

The fresh start is on the twenty-ninth floor of a residential hotel building in downtown Providence. “I am originally from New York City, so I loved the idea of living in a high rise,” Neis says. “I love the distant views and living with all the conveniences.”

They chose this 1,870-square-foot apartment in large part because of the broad terrace that wraps around two sides. Created by a step-back of the building, it makes this one of only four units in the building with such outdoor space—a true aerie in the sky. “The terrace, especially, reminds me of New York,” says Neis.

The other draw was the open plan of the living room, dining room, and kitchen. “We have six children between us,” Neis explains. “Mostly, they’re grown, but it’s important for us to have space where we can all come together to watch the game or to celebrate holidays.”

When it came to the decor, however, she was stumped. She knew the dark wall colors, which felt gloomy to her, would need to go, and that she wanted a change from her previous home. “I wanted it to be contemporary, and I knew I wanted cool gray walls instead of the warm creams that I had been living with,” she says.

When she enlisted Providence interior designer Kelly Taylor for help with color and furniture, Taylor suggested that the apartment’s color scheme wasn’t the only thing that made the interior feel dark. “We needed more light,” Taylor says. “Fortunately, we learned from a neighbor who was the structural engineer on the building that the ceiling could be popped up in various places.”

She started by adding a bit of architectural interest and better lighting. “In the entry, we made a deep, rectangular cove and put recessed lighting all around it,” she explains. “The light creates drama while it brightens the space. Then we put a killer chandelier in the cove.”

The dining room got the same pop-up treatment. From a new cove centered above the table the homeowners hung a wedding gift, a blue multi-globe chandelier by Pawtucket, Rhode Island, glass artist Tracy Glover.

Taylor guided Neis to clean, modern pieces of furniture and persuaded her to replace the kitchen’s granite countertops with sleek white quartzite. She installed shades and draped sheer fabric at the glass walls, the tops banded with opaque fabric in a warm golden gray for the living room, fuchsia for the master bedroom.

Neis’s preference for grays and navy blues drove the choice of wall, fabric, and furnishing colors. “Nancy really likes gray, so that was our starting point. We added blues and yellows,” Taylor says.

In the master bedroom, the gray background meets a saturated fuchsia, the idea for the color sparked by a rag doll given to Neis by her daughter.

To finish things off, Taylor took Neis and her husband to the Pawtucket gallery of Candita Clayton, where she helped hem to choose art for their new home. The collection that now brightens the walls brings unexpected pleasure to this homeowner.

Neis’s favorite place however, is out on the broad terrace. “It’s like having a yard,” she says. “We eat out here, sit and watch the sky, have a glass of wine. We entertain a lot on the terrace.”

Taylor transformed the utilitarian concrete floor with tile and disguised a blank concrete knee wall with a row of planters full of boxwood. Astroturf rugs define dining and lounging areas and, in all directions, the views entertain and delight. Spot, the orange dog—a creation by the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio—overlooks the lofty scene.

“We don’t have a dog any more, so Spot is as close as we get to a pet,” Neis says.
And a low-maintenance pet Spot is. Unless the wind blows fiercely enough to bring him indoors, the jaunty fellow seems content to spend his days looking down on the city’s bustle. •

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