East Coast Chic
A West Coast couple’s second home, in Boston’s Back Bay, has a quiet luxury, a sense of ease, and a dose of Old World elegance.
Michael Carter’s West Coast clients yearned for an East Coast haven. Not only do the two frequently visit family in Massachusetts, they’re also avid New England sports fans. The Back Bay brownstone they purchased meant no more impersonal hotel stays, and gave them the ability to entertain. All the amenities allied with twenty-first-century efficiency were in place but, alas, a recent revamp had stripped their historic Boston pad of its charm.
With complete confidence in their designer’s ability to reestablish some pedigreed polish, the owners simply directed him, Carter says, “to do what I do best.” And, of course, any pro would find that counsel complimentary.
With his clients thousands of miles away, however, zeroing in on their aesthetic was tricky business. Carter wisely zoomed across the country and paid them a visit. Their beautifully decorated home, he explains, provided clues about their tastes and lifestyle.
The couple had only two caveats, and both were in step with Carter’s philosophy. The husband requested that there be a smattering of antiques mixed with some modern artwork. His wife, a dedicated animal-rights supporter, asked that the house be animal-friendly, with no ivory, leather, or products that involved possible animal exploitation or abuse. Being an animal lover himself, and with a husband who happens to be a veterinarian, Carter describes the last proviso as “perhaps the best restriction I had ever encountered.”
Intent on bringing what he calls “a sense of Old World back in,” Carter began by revamping the hearths in the public areas. New mantels introduced during the building’s renovation were removed and replaced with stone mantels from Chesney’s in London. The chimneypieces couldn’t be more era-appropriate or character-filled.
Next, keeping the owners’ comfortable California house in mind, Carter sought out furnishings that promote leisurely gatherings and conversation. Even the entry hall and spacious foyer have their share, including, for example, a Dessin Fournir chaise. A grand antique mirror captures the scene. But there are also hip players in the mix, like a cool Lucite console from Plexi-Craft, along with an intriguing painting by Alexys Henry that the designer discovered in L.A.
The palette remains pale throughout, with a masterful injection of soft, moody blues for interest. So intent was the designer on achieving just the right shade for the interior of the living room bookshelves—one that would match the hue of Edward Lentsch’s painting above the sofa—he held off finishing them until the art was delivered. “You enter and it’s like a symphony,” Carter says happily. “The color sweeps your eye completely around the room.”
Each of the living room’s twenty-four cubbies holds a bisque-colored (not snow white and not creamy white, the designer specifies) object. “We searched high and low,” he says. “My rule was no more than two of any one shape.” The attention-grabbing grid has a contemporary bent, making it the ideal foil for a Dennis & Leen Murano-glass chandelier and classic Rose Tarlow club chairs.
Lentsch’s painting is a favorite piece, says the designer, but so, he admits, is the slick coffee table/ottoman unit by Baker, with its sculpted bronze cross pieces, glass top, and sliding seat below. Carter’s savvy marrying of shapes and textures enhances the narrow living room, while the lofty ceiling creates a sense of airiness. The ambience is light and soothing—just right for owners who are, after all, accustomed to sun and azure skies.
Should they desire a dose of authentic New England coziness—with a heady degree of elegance—their dining room, which doubles as a library, awaits. The richly paneled room was another fitting backdrop for Carter’s magic. He swapped the existing lackluster mantel for a black marble Chesney’s model, installed a Murano-glass chandelier, and imported a gleaming antique dining table. Dessin Fournir chairs clad in distressed velvet the hue of a darkening sky and sumptuous velvet curtains take dinner up more than a notch.
In his usual deft fashion, Carter also assembled a winning vignette of juxtapositions to dispel any stuffy, museum-like vibes. Opposite the hearth, a custom screen of gilded wallpaper rests behind the antique sideboard. Neatly assembled on top perches a tray with a cache of contemporary glass decanters. The screen breaks up the dining room’s dark wood, Carter explains, and also reflects the chandelier’s light. Lording over it all is a seventeenth-century Italian landscape with an operatic sapphire sky.
The pristine, well-crafted kitchen by Dalia Kitchen Design required only minimum tweaking. Carter concentrated on enlarging the island to accommodate more seating and added a separate breakfast bar. The last, he reports, “has been a great success, because people come in and
help themselves.” A tailored valance and a trio of streamlined pendants boost the style factor.
The powder room called for greater intervention. Carter wrapped the walls in a stunning faux-bois wallcovering by Romo. Sconces and a mirror resembling tree branches, along with a marble sink, delight visitors. “We were playing off the notion of natural elements,” Carter says.
On the day of the big unveiling, having toured the other rooms, the owners were hardly surprised to see how beautifully their designer had captured their sensibilities in the bedrooms, too. Their personal oasis sports curtains and walls of Rose Tarlow’s lush Arya cotton-and-linen blend. Groupings of seventeenth-century Italian engravings of fantasy fountains hang on the wall beside the upholstered bed, and a nearby sitting area holds a cushy club chair.
A guestroom to accommodate the couple’s nieces was more challenging. To make the windowed wall work for twin beds, Carter hung a wide curtain with tiebacks to “let in light and reorient the symmetry,” he says. A scheme of blues, grays, and greens conjures a fresh, youthful mood.
In the end, it’s not likely the owners would have changed anything, even if they’d been on hand. The urban nest is so to their liking, it’s as if they’d been by Carter’s side the whole time. Such long-distance chemistry doesn’t always happen. When it does—and the proof is here—it’s amazing. •
Interior designer: Michael Carter, Carter & Company Interior Design
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