by Louis Postel in New England Home | March/April 2016
Coming to the city can make almost anyone feel lost, whether it’s settling into a first apartment post college, or into a luxury pad post the kids and suburbs.
Then, hopefully, there follows one of those casual encounters of the lucky kind that pulls everything together, that makes a person feel like she’s landed somewhere good: a renewed acquaintance, a friend of a friend, or in the case of Tracy and John Atkinson, a condo on Beacon Hill designed by Elizabeth Benedict.
“My clients wanted a pieds a terre in the city now that their youngest was off to college, but they continued to live in Weston with no plans to move into Boston full time. Their approach was casual, buying the condo more like a whim,” said Benedict about the one bedroom, 1,350 square foot space with two baths and a loft. “And while their house in Weston was traditional, they had no fixed ideas about their new place in the city. They ended up liking it so much they sold Weston, moved in full time to the condo and now I’m working on their house on the Cape.”
Tracy and John met Benedict, who is based in Chestnut Hill, MA through a mutual friend. Benedict had done their living room. The Atkinsons liked what they saw, hired her for Beacon Hill, and from there on the design itself was carte blanche, with a flexible “Do what you think best, we trust you” budget. The only directive was to make the place “more contemporary and at the same time warm and inviting,” says Tracy, who it should be added did not hesitate to give away or put on consignment all the traditional furniture in Weston once she and her husband decided to make the move.
There are two entrances to this triplex. Step left and find yourself drawn on an axis to a wide view of the Charles River. Before that expanse, there’s a Juliet balcony full of boxwoods in planters from Ruvellis then backing up the great room, the kitchen area, and then the small foyer where you hang your coat on arrival. Or you can proceed directly upstairs to the loft, skipping the view, or downstairs to the bedroom where there is another more private entrance.
Benedict believes in what she calls “cohesive design, with a unified palette” to help enlarge a space. The greige, cream and cranberry flecks of the granite counter tops in the kitchen seemed just right for the whole house. Notice the cranberry stripes in the vase by local potter Jill Rosenwald and the cream subway tile backsplash. Benedict had had the first generation recessed lighting with its seven inch cans removed first thing, installing a huge glass pendent to emphasis the kitchen’s double ceiling height.
The pendants transparency allows you to see through to the great room, which is one step higher. Benedict had to go through twenty plus manufacturers before she found Fairfield Chair in North Caroline that could make the chairs arranged around the kitchen counter in the great room match the stools in the kitchen lower down. Such are the demands of cohesive design.
While the boxwoods on the Juliet balcony strategically block out Storrow Drive, creating an artificial horizon on the Charles, it served a very real purpose during the three week installation period. The busy thoroughfare became a launching pad for hoisting the great room’s thirteen foot sofa by crane through the condo’s window into the great room. “It’s a sectional, but only one piece,” said Benedict of the Lewis Mittman/Edward Ferrell piece in greige upholstery by Kirkby Design’s high performance fabrics.. Facing the sofa, architectural woodworkers Herrick & White of Cumberland, RI created a custom wall unit that fully expresses the client’s wish “for more contemporary, and at the same time warm and inviting.”
A Pullman ladder stained dark to match the kitchen cabinetry stands ready to access the wine storage area at the top. The big chair in the middle by A. Rudin picks up the cranberry flecks of the granite counters in the snake-skin patterned fabric by Cowtan & Tout. Benedict commissioned artist and college friend Will Day of Boulder, CO to create to the exuberant, super-sized oil hung on the grass cloth wall over the sofa.
Downstairs in the master, Benedict papered the coffered ceilings and demo’d a slate fireplace in favor of a vanity with wall cabinetry again by Herrick & White. The designer sourced much of the art from consultant Libby Silvia. To the right of the Kravet bed, Silvia placed a canvas by Wellesley artist Julia Blake that brings out the bluish greens of the striped pillows as well as the throw draped over the arm of an art deco-inflected Ligne Roset chair and the tree patterns of the window treatment by Mark Alexander.
In a confident demonstration of high and low, Benedict had the legs sawed off a $59 dollar table from Target, covered it in faux fur and placed it before the $5,000 Ligne Roset chair.
Two flights up in the loft an antique mirror makes up for its windowless state, Herrick & White cabinetry and a pull out Kravet sofa make up that space efficient and flexible – as a guest room, a home office, and a room for the Atkinson’s youngest to return to during college breaks.
“Initially she did not want us to sell our family home,” said Tracy, but at Christmas break last year she declared that there was nothing to do in Weston and gave us the OK to sell. Now she loves being in the city, and her friends enjoy it too!”
Though they had only wanted a pied a terre, and were pretty casual about its acquisition, Elizabeth Benedict gave the whole family a warm, contemporary place where they’ll never feel lost. Such is the power of cohesive design and a unified palette.