Post-Minimalists in Suburbia

from New England Home March April 2014 by Louis Postel with photography by Michael J. Lee

Designer Marc Langlois
Designer Marc Langlois

For a certain stylish crowd, the phrase “moved to suburbia” may as well mean “moved to Vladivostok.” That fun couple everyone used to hang out with is now gone, lost to malls and PTA. But that mindset is changing. Now it turns out you can have comfort, some acreage, a kid-friendly house plus a whole lot of style and do it in the ‘burbs. You just have to know the right designer.

Jeff and Meghan Swenson knew the right designer. A year after they met him while he was working for another client at the Ritz downtown, they called him.

“It was daunting for these clients to move from a clean-lined, minimalist home to an 1894 Victorian in Wellesley. Basically, you have all these little rooms in the front while the back has been blown out. What do we do with all these rooms — How do you live in them? was the overwhelming question. I was at the closing. I began pulling down grandma’s drapes curtains right away, letting in light. The place looked like a funeral parlor — the green room, the pink room, the yellow room, there was no flow at all. Big balloon valences and a phony ball and claw dining table were all meant to proclaim Ye Olde, but just said fake. Many of the original architectural details were exquisite, however: the leaded glass windows welcoming you inside, the hand-carved baluster post with antique gold lights overhead, heavy pocket doors, and beautiful millwork everywhere.”

Designer Marc Langlois
Designer Marc Langlois

“At first, Meghan wanted a contemporary look, clean lines and everything white. I said ‘you know, contemporary scares me. To me it means white leather sectionals. Think of the dirt coming in with three kids. Let’s think transitional, mixing old and new, high and low — while keeping that open floor feeling that you had at the Ritz, monochromatic with a touch of color, wherein every room flows naturally into the next.’”

bath dining master not sure 1 not sure 2 stairMeghan and Jeff agreed, and Langlois set to work. Walk in on the completed project and it’s clear you’re not in Vladivostok. The eye immediately travels a long way back to the dining room’s ‘anchor wall’ as Langlois calls it — the wall that stylistically holds up the rest of the space. Pairs of window curtains and white lacquered mirrors hung over mirrored buffet tables gently keep the eye in focus and frame the scene (only one mirror can be seen in the photo). Guests then flow through pocket doors into the sitting room for cocktails before dinner, drawn to the carved mahogany fireplace Langlois had painted white, a transitional “New Victorian” statement or, more precisely, understatement. Or they can turn left into the more casual family room replete with shag carpet, bamboo shades, faux-fur covered ottoman and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa, Chippendale-style faux bamboo chairs Langlois bought at auction and had spray-painted white. A deeply coffered ceiling helps prevent this lovely array of casual from sliding into sloppy.

“It’s all about composition,” says Langlois who after graduating from RISD first became a photographer before launching his design career twenty years ago. First he was in Milan shooting for Italian Vogue, and upon his return to Boston for Creative Director at Design Times. “When I look at a room, I still see it as I learned to see through a lens, how to fill out a certain look. Composition is still key, devoting time to figuring out the foundation before going on to furnishings. I would sketch this composition right on the spot for Meghan and then blue tape it to show Jeff when came home from work. As a composition I always have to find out first where the anchor would be, the focus, the flow and balance. I also need work out how these forms I created would follow function — how my composition would work for my clients’ lifestyle.”

The master bedroom shows how all these elements come together — the charcoal-grey wall paper over the bed something of a master stroke. “I knew Meghan really didn’t like patterns, but I need to push clients out of their comfort zones now and then, and this time it worked. She loved this geometric design ‘Imperial Trellis’ by Kelly Wearstler,” says Langlois.  The wall color — a tonal match with Wearstler’s charcoal — is decidedly urban chic, a far cry from the yellow room -green room-pink room that came before.

Langlois has closed the urban suburban chic divide as smoothly as those pocket doors downstairs.  “Everyone’s going for the same stuff, anyway — shopping on the internet” he says as we part company, “ironically, it’s narrowing product, not expanding it.” Urbanites take note.