Design Times: June 2002
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: Webb Chappell
How to get “LUXURY MODERN”
by LOUIS POSTEL
IT’S ALL ABOUT EASY GLAMOUR. MARIO’S FAMILY-STYLE GET-TOGETHERS OF ARTISTS AND ENTREPRENEURS OFTEN START IN HIS KITCHEN AND OVER-FLOW TO HIS LIVING ROOM. BEYOND THE TWO-TONED TAFFETA CURTAIN LIES COBBLESTONED AND GAS-LIT BEACON HILL.
TOP DESIGNERS CELESTE COPPER AND RICK GARAFOLO MAKE OVER A FEDERAL-STYLE TOWNHOUSE FOR HAIR/COSMETICS MAVEN AND ART PATRON MARIO RUSSO.
MARIO RUSSO RESTS IN AN OUTFIT BY DRIES VON NOTEN IN FRONT OF HIS SOL LEWIT GOUACHE ON PAPER. RICK GARAFOLO STANDS BY. IN THE EUROPEAN TRADITION, RUSSO IS A PATRON OF DESIGNERS AS WELL AS ARTISTS. THE CHAIRS ARE FROM ADESSO, IN BOSTON.
RICK GARAFOLO’S BOSTON SHOWROOM, REPERTOIRE, FACES THE BOSTON PUBLIC GARDEN. THIS MORNING I AM ON MY WAY TO DISCUSS THE TOWNHOUSE INTERIOR HE AND HIS PARTNER, DESIGN DIVA CELESTE COPPER, CREATED FOR BOSTON’S PREMIERE HAIR SALON AND HAIR PRODUCTS ENTREPRENEUR, MARIO RUSSO.
Suddenly, I’m surprised by Canadian Geese just alighting on the grass. Isn’t this the Public Garden where we are supposed to make way for those fabled ducklings? This I understood, but geese! In any case, I pause to mediate on these soaring creatures and the design epiphany they offer up to the story of Mario Russo’s Beacon Hill town-house, which lies on the other side of the Garden. Indeed, they seem to represent to the two opposing sides of Cooper’s work: call it the intellectual versus the sensual. The parabolas of their necks, the perfect geometries of their V-shaped from in flight, speak to her architectural, formal genius, the “open question of her interior design work” as Garafolo would call it. The subtle colorings of their satiny, phosphorescent brown feathers suggest something about Celeste Cooper’s love of sumptuousness and comfort.
Without further delay, I proceed to Rick Garafolo’s Cooper-designed showroom and marvel at how contemporary is presented in such a complete and human way, low-key but with a definite point of view.
He and I talk as we walk over the Boston Common and through the Public Garden (past the geese!) up Beacon Hill to Marion Russo’s home in a Federal-style townhouse steeped in New England history. Built in 1824 by Abner Joy and house wright Cornelius Coolidge, it has a staircase designed by Charles Bulfinch, who introduced the Federal style to Boston and designed the gold-domed State House atop Beacon Hill. Ralph Lowell once owned the house. Boston Brahmins who produce famous poets and statesmen, the Lowells were so elevated that someone once quipped that Cabots spoke only to Lowells while Lowells spoke only to God.
“The key to the Mario project is Mario himself,” says Garafolo. “It’s about old-world refinement – Mario was born in Italy – and the dynamic new world.” Since Mario Russo and Rick Garafolo are old friends, Garafolo already knew his client’s tastes and his lifestyle before the design project began.
“Mario is into comfort and he is casual. He is very Italian and throws a lot of informal parties. Everyone starts out congregating in the kitchen. Then, in about an hour, in a simple, exquisite way, a risotto evolves. It’s very impromptu, and there’s always enough for everyone. It’s an art in itself . . . he is gracious and self-confident and not interested in impressing friends, which is an easy way to run into muddy waters. Sure, he could have done this design project himself, but the end result is that, through Celeste and me, it was a bit more challenging.”
MARIO RUSSO TAKES A BREAK UNDER THE ITALIAN GLASS LAMP HANGING IN HIS KITCHEN. BEHIND HIM IS A WINDOW SEAT AND THE QUINTESSENTIAL BEACON HILL GARDEN TERRACE.
“HE LOVES LUXURIOUS THINGS. IF THERE’S A CHOICE OF A, B AND C, WHERE A IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE, THAT’S THE ONE HE WILL PICK.” – RICK GARAFOLO.
IN THE BEDROOM, TESSA NAPS ON A SPREAD FROM ANICHINI ON A BED FROM RICK GARAFOLO’S REPERTOIRE SHOWROOM.
HE ENJOYS THE DYNAMISM OF AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY ART, COMBINED WITH THE REFINEMENT OF THE OLD WORLD, WHICH HE INNATELY UNDERSTANDS.
IN THE “RED ROOM” LIBRARY, ARCHITECT ADOLFO PEREZ KEPT THE ORIGINAL MOLDING ON THE WALLS AND CEILING. THE SOFA IS FROM REPERTOIRE, ABOVE IT HANGS A PHOTORAPH BY SHELBOURN THUBER.
Russo befriended Copper and Garafolo individually before they were established, long before they became partners. “He discovers and becomes the patron of many artists, quite in the European tradition. He has a very well-trained eye from his interests in art.”
Yes, one can see that as soon as one experiences this place. Louis XV and George III chairs, covered in horsehair, juxtapose with modern furniture and Russo’s collection of innovative American artists.
Garafolo makes it clear that Celeste Cooper, in conjunction with architect Adolfo Perez, is the principal designer of the Russo project. Perez, in fact, is responsible for much of the “Red Room” library, where he kept the original moldings on walls and ceiling. Cooper had the walls lacquered in red maple. There’s pair of George III chairs covered appropriately in horsehair. The rug is Iranian. A photograph by artist Shelburn Thuber hangs over the Repertoire sofa. Thuber is famous for her empty rooms. She started out by shooting high school yearbooks, photographing the motel rooms while she traveled. What can be said about a room emptied of its contents? Paradoxically, there’s a lot there.
There’s a green aniline-dyed maple kitchen, and the super-hygienic green-tinted baths, which are perfect displays for Mario’s olive-based beauty products. While most “natural” products still come from big vats, Russo’s are hand-cut form bars in Vermont – with a little sea kelp thrown in for good measure.
How did so many superstars work together?
“It was easy to communicate with him regarding color and texture. Mario’s involvement in contemporary art supersedes everything, but he wanted comforts, not to live in an art museum. He also said that he didn’t want his home to look like the Starship Enterprise.
“It’s the reason Celeste and Mario created something so sensuous, so comfortable and yet so intelligent,” Garafolo tells me. “Contradictions and tension are Celeste’s trademark style, and she does it with apparent ease. Everything else falls into place, and it makes friends fell at home in a wealth of disparate elements.
“He loves luxurious things. If there’s a choice of A, B and C, where A is the most expensive, that’s the one he will pick. One pillow fabric for the library was back-ordered forever. Celeste and I asked if he wanted to skip it, but no, that’s what he wanted.”
In living room we’re caught by surprise and delighted amusement by a trademark Celeste Cooper choice incorporating luxury and severity. Cooper designed the living room curtains on very simple, thin rods, and Karen Gilman of Finelines in Peabody, Massachusetts, executed them in a beautiful taffeta. (Cooper and Gilman work together often, flying worldwide on some projects.)
“The curtains are almost parochial in their simplicity,” Garafolo says. “But done in silk taffeta, not an Oscar de la Renta pink silk taffeta that draws attention to itself, that’s way too obvious , but rather in a very subtle taffeta. You are just supposed to feel it, and it should feel expensive, not scream expansive. It’s all about how the room feels, and not just how it looks. That’s key to Celeste. It can’t read fake, or nouveau riche.”
Along with these straightforward taffeta curtains by Cooper and Finelines are Louis XV chairs, a modern Repertoire sofa, and a Neoclassic settee and table. It is a lovely surprising Boston room, with a Gerhard Richter painting between the north-facing windows that awaits the winter sun’s tiny arc.
Celeste cooper, who became a Hall of Fame designer in 1998, is considered one of the top 10 designers in the U.S. I remember her kips Bay room in 1996 (yes, with all those candles!). As I remember, there was not a lot in it. It had her signature tension between the intellectual question and the sybaritic answer.
Here is a lovely Biedermeier secretary sharing a quiet corner with a figure carved in the German tradition by Stephan Valkenhol. He’s a modernist who shocked the art world when he abandoned the conventions of the abstract expressionism and returned to the figure. He often makes his figures huge and installs them on bridges, or floats them on barges.
“We used Donald Kaufman paint throughout, blues and greens, but not obvious greens and blues; they’re very chameleon-like colors that, you might have noticed, change during the day. Color is important to Mario because of his taste in art. A tasteful taupe would not have been challenging enough.” Incidentally, I can’t help but compliment Garafolo on his black Prada shirt with its red grommets in strategic places. “For ventilation” he says, But back to the interview:
“When it came to the furniture selection, we used Mario’s own antiques, refurbishing the seating, and then we chose some new furniture. The Louis XV chairs and settee, upholstered in plaid taffeta, are juxtaposed with a clean, linear sofa in plum velvet that’s from our showroom, and a simple woven linen carpet. When Celeste saw the settee she said, ‘What will I do with that?’ But she figured it out!”
In the bedroom, Tessa naps on a spread from Anichini on a bed from Rick Garafolo’s Repertoire Showroom. Above Russo’s neo-classic Venetian bureau hangs what at first appears to be a big blue painting. It is actually a photograph by the Dubliner Paul Seawright, represented in Boston by Barbara Krakow. It’s mounted on aluminum and seems to float off the wall.
One of Cooper’s classic touches is a lamp from Karl Kemp on 10th Street in New York, made with brass-studded copper plates in a 50s California style. Mark Morisroe created the photograph over the bed. It’s an image of his mantelpiece in New York. Originally from Boston, he passed away ten years ago and is becoming recognized posthumously.
The biggest challenge?
“Because Mario is very open-minded and an art collector, it was sometimes challenging to keep the project tight, in focus, and ‘on message.’ He has a curious mind and that creates an interesting dialogue between client and designers. You certainly want to enslave the client in your design.”
Make way for geese!