Where Every Day is Top of the World Day
by Louis Postel for New England Home | Jan/Feb 2015
If you’re from out of town and pass The Prince Building on Boston’s waterfront you might ask yourself what prince were its builders referring to. Was it a Saudi prince, perhaps, drawn to what’s now called Boston’s Gold Coast, between Lewis Wharf and the North End, or was it some other — a prince perhaps from earlier times, observing with a certain royal disinterestedness from the height of the building’s 10th floor the unceasing toil of the masses as they swarmed the wharves like ants?
But you would be wrong. For you have now approached what was once the home of The Prince Macaroni Company, where it churned out one of New England’s premiere comfort foods, next to clam chowder. Wednesday may well be Prince Spaghetti Night according to the jingle for years to come. Built in 1917 and converted into forty-two condominiums in 1974, there’s actually a penthouse rising an additional two flights where the impossibly small elevator leaves off on the tenth floor and our story begins.
“We had to use a crane to get everything in,” said interior designer Justene Spaulding. “I can’t tell you how many times we had to block off the street.”
Spaulding’s client, Anne Benedict Chappell, is the owner and sole occupant of this choice 1250 square foot pied-a-terre. Suitcase in hand, Chappell was about to descend the same elevator, then to proceed to Logan Airport and points South, just as Spaulding and another visitor arrived. “Having been a realtor in the neighborhood,” she explained to the latter, “I had a pretty good idea of what kind of condition I’d find the unit in, but once I saw the views, I felt like I was sitting on top of the world. What I wanted from Justene was a clean and functional space that was also warm and cozy. Working with Justene was a great experience. Her sources are many and varied. She’s also got great attention to detail and a knack for problem-solving.”
Clean and functional and warm and cozy sound like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. If clean and functional is a slice of prosciutto with melon, warm and cozy is a big bowl of Prince spaghetti. But Spaulding makes it work. “My design is basically a take on 40’s Hollywood glamor and its understated femininity, which is Anne’s look — free of frills, and pinks — combined with the grittier industrial wharf aspects of the building itself, and the space-saving consciousness of ships. In the master to the left, for example, we broke through the drywall to reveal the heavy beams of the factory. We juxtaposed this rough texture with soft metallics, the golds and silvers, evident in the rug and tufted headboard. We also added a hotel-like built-in to serve as a wardrobe-desk-AV equipment storage to maximize space. From the master you can see through the glass door past the kitchen and dining area, the living room with its fourteen foot floor to ceiling windows, a deck and the harbor beyond. If you were really good, you could throw a stone all the way across and hit the Design Center.”
From the dining area in the center of the layout, the living room opens up a half-flight down over a knee wall that has been set with purple cushions. It looks like a stage with of Boston’s busy harbor and history as a backdrop, doubled in intensity by a semi-abstract oil of a Maine seaside hanging stage right by the late celebrated protégé of Philip Guston, the artist Jon Imber whose struggle with ALS forced him to paint it with a headset holding attachable brushes. A purplish grey, tone on tone space overall with purple accents in the throw pillows and stemware, there’s a prominent wingchair stage left upholstered in a clean, functional Ikat fabric, cutouts for shelving made with a shipwrights’ precise angles, and a working fireplace Spaulding had wrapped in stone along with a flat screen TV.
There’s a crystal and chrome chandelier over the dining room table whose prisms sparkle like a diamond ring, suggesting a bling from old Hollywood. It’s illumined not only by the large windows but also by a skylight Spaulding had installed despite some raised eyebrows by the powers that be. “Anne has air rights, as well,” she says, thereby opening even further skyward. Cumar, the stone fabricators based in nearby Everett, created the purple grey Caesarstone dining table surface supported by a pair of antique trestles found by Spaulding. “Cumar also did the kitchen counters,” she added. “I wanted a granite called Super White, which is rare. It has the properties of granite and the exquisite veining of marble. Every slab they pulled was too grey, until finally one came along and there it is.”
Setting off the Super White counters in the kitchen are black Shaker-fronted cabinets whose heavily grained, wenge-stained wood is at once an homage to the old mills of the waterfront and a knowing nod to the Hollywood deco glam of the 40’s. By combining homage and glam with a shipbuilders’ skill, Spaulding teased out a solution to the comfy vs. clean conundrum. Any worthy prince — or princess — might feel right at home.