Devils + Details | New England Home

by Louis Postel for New England Home, 2005
by Louis Postel for New England Home, 2005



Trade Secrets

There’s so much going on in New England’s design world this fall season. I’m forced to spare you a lengthy introduction. Suffice to say that your correspondent remains committed to evidence that the life of professional designers is wonderfully glamorous – despite the fact that much of it seems, well, quite nitty gritty. For every bit of insight and creativity, there appear to be 30,000 grubby details forever in need of massaging. Case in point: Newton-based designer Sheldon Tager recently discovered his supplier had seriously underordered a huge ballroom carpet for the Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont. What to do? As a designer you have to think on your feet, especially when it comes to ballroom! Tager quickly devised a series of solid carpet borders and now it looks great: a dark red Belgian wool with black and silver striations. Perfect for après ski!

Also in Newton we visited architect Adolfo Perez, who is well known for his work with design diva Celeste Cooper. One can easily imagine Harvard design grad Perez, sophisticated, silver-haired and youthful as he is, leading a very glam design life. Instead, there he was hunkered down at his desk contemplating a single buffed and waxed limestone tile, “I love scouting around and fighting natural materials,” he says. “This one is called Lagos Azul, and the nice thing is you can get it both in tile for the floor or slabs for countertops, quarried from the same block so it all looks the same. It’s dark and dense and will hide stains. “Perez counsels that there’s a big move going on today away from polished, arguably overglitzy granite, but buyers beware: Limestone can be very porous. He recently tested a limestone slab that had been sealed, asking a client to try it by setting a glass of wine on it. Big stain. Says Perez, “You also see a lot of marble these days in kitchen- at least in the magazines – too bad because marble stains very easily, “Well it’s common knowledge that, unlike the one in your hands, some magazines are just pure fantasy.

We’ll leave it to decorative painter Audrey Sterk of Nantucket to literally wake us up to smell the coffee. Sterk has been installing hundreds of empty bags of coffee on all four walls for a surprised and grateful client. “My friend Wes Van Cott at the Nantucket Coffee Roastery travels the world collecting different types of coffees,” says Sterk. “I saved the bags for months, and I wanted to try something different with a lot of texture. I hit on the idea of the empty bags as wallpaper. ”It seems just right for the space, which is a merger of Nantucket style and contemporary. Sterk stretched the bags around pieces of custom-cut panels and fitted them together to make a whole wall. The outcome not only includes interesting textures and graphics but is also a “wonderful aromatic gift,” says Sterk.

Did you know that the Connecticut River flowing down from New Hampshire is the longest and most powerful river in New England? It must have inspired some environmentally thoughtful work in progress by architect George Penniman, whose office happens to be right on the banks of the river in the picturesque village of Essex,  Connecticut. Penniman is currently working on the complete renovation of a 12,000 square-foot 1917 Channel Norman- style stone house on Rhode Island’s oceanfront, and the owner has agreed to heat and cool using a geothermal well-based HVAG system. “The geothermal approach can be used in projects of all sizes and locations, as long as you can find a place to drill a deep well,” says Penniman.”It eliminates the need for boilers, flues, oil tanks and exterior condensers. It is being used more frequently in large houses out of environmental concern; it is also a very efficient system for heating swimming pools and cooling wine cellars.”

M-Geough  in the Boston Design Center is expanding its showroom, thank goodness. Not that it’s small, but it seems like such a growing magnet for designers I remember shooting an HGTV special there with designer Chris Madden. All those lights and cameramen and assistants to the assistant left no room for the great antiques Jim and Susan M-Geough had just brought back from Europe It was quite a squeeze. Now, presumably, there will be room to tape a whole series.

Pat Fortunato of Simple Home I Falmouth, Maine, reports on a very satisfying artwork-shopping spree in nearby Camden. She and her client came home wth paintings by Barbara Applegate, Robert Spring and Vern Broe from the Bayview Gallery, along with an antique Swedish long case lock circa 1840 at Downshire House.

Also in Falmouth, Joanne Larman of JML Casual Home reports on something a little less savory. “ I was just hired to work with a couple moving here from Virginia, and they had just closed on a house and planned to move within a month,” she says. “After the closing I went into the house and the smell of cat urine was so bad I could hardly breathe.” The upside was that Larman got to install all new hardwood floors.

Leonards is in Westport, Connecticut, Nantucket and Seekonk, Massachusetts, but it was in Seekonk that I remember Carly Simon stopping in for an antique bed. Sheri Mattiucci is a lovely designer working out of Leonards who very much misses Schumacher’s La Cite #528120 cork wallpaper with a map of Paris printed on it. She finds that it worked wonderfully for small spaces, such as powder rooms and hallways, but now it’s discontinued! If we have to eat freedom fries instead of French fries, let’s at least have #528120! Across the channel, Mattuicci found a gorgeous bonnet secretary in mahogany and upon her return home decided to buy it through she had no place for it. Alas,by the time she inquired, it was already sold. There’s a moral to this story somewhere.

Dennis Duffy I indisputably one of the hot young designers in Boston, and now in San Diego as well, where he is designing all the common areas in a thirty-seven-unit luxury condo project. Duffy is also doing three new hush-hush restaurant projects in Bioston: Italian, Mediterranean and one that’s part of a spa. All this work, along with his residential projects, has necessitated moving his office into a larger 3,000-square-foot space on Harrison Avenue in the South End. Young and hot as he is, Duffy has turned prematurely gray after wrapping up a recent job in the Caribbean. Not to mention trying to hurdle the language barrier, he met with only varying degrees of success trying to reconcile East Coast time with island time.

One of Boston’s most sought-after talents, Heidi Pribell, just checked out a condo for a client and noticed a fireplace mantle alongside a contractor’s debris down In the basement, “I advised her to make certain the mantle was included in the purchase and sale agreement,” says Pribell. “As a result, she now has a nineteenth-century carved marble mantle with all the grace and style of a Canovas sculpture, worth about $200,000. It was likely imported to this country at the time it was made by Thomas Appleton, who was serving as the U.S. ambassador to France.” In those days, ambassadors were unpaid and had to take on side businesses. Appleton imported eight such mantles and actually lived on the same street as the condo where the mantle was found. It’s not just $200,000 mantle’s Pribell’s been finding- it’s also a whole house. Recently she came across the Park-McCullough House in North Bennington, Vermont




As one of the only Napoleon III, Second Empire architectural sites on the National Register, the house is packed to the gills with family furnishings, books, art and so on. She’s already found several American Aesthetic Movement objects, including a pair of museum-quality Gorham mixed-metal candle sticks. Along with evaluating the collection, Pribell is volunteering to help out with room arrangements, the upgrading of wall and window treatments, and- that necessary evil- fundraising. By happy coincidence, you can read all about the Park-McCullough House, which is featured in our Past Perfect department on page 50.

Well, if you have read this far with bifocals, take solace in the fact that another young, hot designer, Mark Christofi, has just become eligible for reading glasses. Perhaps this can be blamed on all the blueprints he’s checking for a wonderful new project on the Floridian island of Captiva. “I flushed out te architectural concept of the home as well as the interior detailing,” says Christofi. Now if that’s not glamour, what is?