Yours, Mine, and Ours

January 9, 2014

A designer employs both diplomacy and talent to help a pair of newlyweds retool the husband’s Boston penthouse, fashioning a home to please both spouses equally.

Text by Jaci Conry    Photography by Michael J. Lee    Produced by Kyle Hoepner

Before hey became a couple, Shannon and Michael Sperlinga were neighbors in their Back Bay condominium building. They met in the elevator on the way down to the lobby to walk their dogs. It turned out that Shannon’s Siberian Husky and Michael’s yellow Lab, having been walked by the same dog walker, already knew each other well. After that first meeting, Michael wasted little time asking Shannon out. The rest is history.

Once they were married, Shannon sold her unit to move into Michael’s more spacious penthouse. But before they could live happily ever after in the space, serious work had to be done to the interior. “It was very much a bachelor pad. The place was very dark, there were a lot of browns and leathers, artwork framed in heavy gold frames, and too much furniture that made the space feel crowded,” recalls Shannon, a native Californian who favors white tones and lighter finishes.

Michael, fortunately, was open to change. The couple brought in Boston interior designer Phoebe Lovejoy Russell to scale back the home’s masculinity and create an atmosphere that balanced both spouses’ tastes.

Lovejoy Russell began by replacing the heavy color scheme with a palette centered on gray, cream, and cool white accented with tones of yellow, pale blue, and green. “The colors helped to redefine the apartment as a place for the couple to share and brought a consistency to the space, easing people through the living room, dining area, master bedroom, halls, and bathrooms,” Lovejoy Russell explains.

The designer strove for a chic look that called for minimizing clutter. “We did a lot of editing of the furniture,” she says. The pool table, for example, had to go, but the couple held on to Michael’s cherished poker table, adding a removable mahogany top so it could double as the dining table. Lucite and lacquered pieces make the space feel brighter, and Lovejoy Russell employed antique-mirror and polished- and brushed-nickel finishes and fixtures that bounce light around the home.

Each room has expansive window walls that offer amazing views of Boston Common, and it was important to the Sperlingas that the furniture layout offer ample opportunity to appreciate that feature. The dining area’s tufted sectional banquette, sheathed with durable faux ostrich and fitted with multiple drawers, has become the couple’s favorite perch to absorb the landscape.

“All of the furniture is very low. Nothing is higher than the windowsill, so pieces don’t block the view of the outdoors,” notes Lovejoy Russell. In the living area, a backless sofa tucks neatly under the windows. Directly across from it sits a low-backed chair with decorative nail-head trim. While the room’s furnishings are all upholstered in similar cream tones, Lovejoy Russell used different textures for subtle contrast, covering the sofas in cotton velvet and the chair in chenille. The designer scaled back Michael’s abundance of animal prints, but recognizing his penchant for them, she outfitted two stools in a chic zebra fabric. A wool rug features a grid of octagons—just one instance of several geometric patterns Lovejoy Russell sprinkled throughout the home to add dimension and visual interest.

Also custom-made is the dark wood cabinet fabricated by South Boston’s Art Application to store the couple’s wedding china, serving pieces, and vases. “The front is made of interlocking wood circles against an antique silver background,” says Lovejoy Russell. Other furniture pieces were discovered by happenstance and seemed ideal for the space, like the Hollywood Regency–style cabinet in the foyer fitted with silver-paneled doors that repeat a pattern strikingly similar to the one on the living room carpet.

Lovejoy Russell incorporated Michael’s collection of oil paintings by replacing their heavy gilt frames with white-lacquer frames and crisp ivory mattes. “It took all the work to a much cleaner level to complement the serene color palette we created,” says Lovejoy Russell, who also selected a few new pieces with softer appeal, including two ocean-view horizons by Jordan Kantor in the master bedroom and assemblages of colorful butterflies encased in a shadowboxes in the nursery.

In the master bedroom, Lovejoy Russell designed a pale-yellow, biscuit-tufted velvet headboard for the bed. While the intent was to make the space soothing and quiet, the room called for a little something to jazz it up. Lovejoy Russell envisioned a feature wall painted with a chevron pattern behind the bed. The light, beige-toned gray forms a pleasing contrast with the dark peacock-gray of the rug, barrel-back chair, and ottoman. A narrow Lucite makeup table nestles perfectly under the windows, and white-lacquer Oly bedside tables with antiqued-mirror inserts flank the bed.

As the project was under way, the Sperlingas learned they were expecting a baby boy, so plans for what was to have been a guest room morphed into a nursery. Lovejoy Russell outfitted the space with light gray and darker blue-grays accented with pops of orange for a playful look. The room’s elements—a glider upholstered with bold orange and gray stripes, a custom book shelf with geometric cutouts, and a white-lacquer changing table with blue-gray panels—make it Shannon’s “favorite room in the house.”

Michael’s office remains his personal space, though Lovejoy Russell revived the room to make it more modern and functional. “We didn’t want to completely overrun him, so we turned the room into a sophisticated man cave,” she says. A new leather sectional, oriented toward the city skyline, is a prime spot for lounging and smoking cigars. New shelves behind and above the sofa display Michael’s books and collectibles. A mother-of-pearl–topped coffee table rimmed with silver and gold offers a touch of elegance. Walls are blue-gray, while the ceiling is painted pale mustard yellow to offset the zebra-print toss pillows on the couch.

The home has undergone a true transformation. “Phoebe completely changed the house; it feels so warm and comfortable, light and airy,” says Shannon. “Sometimes we can’t believe it’s the same place.” •

Interior design: Phoebe Lovejoy Russell, Lovejoy Designs