Date: May/June 2007
Photography by Richard Mandelkorn
Produced by Kyle Hoepner
Interior design by Roger Lussier
By Louis Postel
A devoted collector with a decidedly unique design sense surrounds himself with favorite art and ephemera to bring panache to his Boston apartment.
On the third floor there’s a sweeping Victorian ballroom, still in its final phase of construction. The level below holds a drawing room with a bust of Ulysses S. Grant front and center, a lady’s bedroom, a master suite and a dining room. “I don’t call it a dollhouse,” says Roger Lussier, standing before the open cabinet – a Danish linen press, actually – that forms this diorama in his bedroom. “I call it a porcelain collection.” The Lilliputian white and ormolu chairs, tables, beds and mirrors sparkle in the sun that radiates through a southern window of what used to be Boston’s storied Second Empire – style Hotel Vendome and is now a hive of apartments and office suites. The twentieth-century pieces filling the cabinet were never made for dollhouses, Lussier explains. “These were prizes to be won at carnivals, souvenirs and trinket boxes.” And, he adds teasingly, “They were probably worth five cents in those days . . . but not today.”
As the print dealer and frame-maker of choice for much of Boston’s design trade, Lussier’s delight in art and collecting is palpable. With an eponymous studio for more than forty years just around the corner on Newbury Street, he’s known as a collector’s collector. But how does a collector design an apartment for himself? How best to marshal all these beloved objects into a congenial living space?
A clue can be found in the cabinet in Lussier’s bedroom that houses his miniatures. Furniture, frames and other objects become architectural and sculptural elements in themselves. Like more traditional space-shapers, such as architectural moldings, pilasters, vaulted ceilings and spiral staircases, Lussier’s collected objects help to remake his rather featureless square footage into something special.
Take one of the many elegant frames covering his walls, for example: while its purpose can be said to show an engraving or print to its best advantage, that same frame can also be used architectonically for its inherent geometric properties, its contrasting scale and proportions and its shadow lines. Moreover, a frame of burnished gold throws off light. “In the old days,” says Lussier, “when people didn’t have electric lights, they needed all these gilded frames, crystal and mirrors.”
Even a hat can be an architectural elements – a little dome, a tiny sculpture. “I am a hat man,” says Lussier, leading the way into the hall where several hats from his collection rest near a carved and painted Danish table. The apartment is tiny: a hall cum dining area, a living room straight ahead and a bedroom to the left just big enough for a narrow upholstered sleigh bed and the aforementioned diorama.
Minus the hats, the hall table doubles as a dining table. Two delicate-looking, antique Danish chairs are surprisingly supportive – faded ladies that turn out to be a lot stronger than one would guess. Bracketed by a pair of eighteenth-century carved and gilded Venetian lions, an Albrecht Dürer etching completes the scene.
Lussier is generous with the size of the mats he uses on most of the framed prints. “In order to let the art breathe,” he says. “I’m known for that.” The Dürer, for example, resides in an oversize frame with an oversize mat cheek to jowl with other fine prints and mirrors.
A faded screen opposite the table hides the kitchenette. “I couldn’t bear coming home at night and seeing that!” says Lussier. The screen is exquisite – an eighteenth-century Frenchman’s imagined picture of the New World, complete with clipper ships, American Indians and rearing elephants.
The front hall/dining area looks straight through to the living room, a perspective Lussier reinforced with a pair of matching lamps, one in the foreground and one at the far back wall by the window. Neutral in tone, the room is a chiaroscuro study of lights and darks like the farmed prints themselves. Lussier has strategically placed tiny red rosettes, carved of wood and gilded, on the ceiling to suggest the crown moldings he felt were lacking.” After a few glasses of wine, I just came up with the idea,” he says.
He also placed a horizontal mantel mirror vertically in the entrance to the living room space to create the illusion of yet another hall. A pyramidal construction on the right side of the room, composed of a gryphontopped Italian mirror, candelabras, conches, ostrich eggs and starfish on top of a console, resembles some sort of secular shrine.
Another faded lady of a Danish chair by the couch has marvelous gauffraged velvet upholstery. Through it’s tissue soft, it never rips, says Lussier, The coffee table is a Chinese trunk set off by a Chinese export dish, and the sofa is covered in a decadent chocolate-colored silk. The sofa, oversized for its space, came from a previous home of Lussier’s that had a larger living room. “I was thinking of getting rid of it,” he says “but now I am happy to have it for guests.”
Facing the gauffraged Danish chair sits an Italian grotto chair with armrests carved to look like dolphins and a seat and back carved with a shell motif. The chair has a distressed look – as if, well, it had been sitting in a grotto for hundreds of years. Perhaps the best indication of the uniqueness of this piece is that a friend has already asked Lussier to bequeath her the chair in his will.
More architectural elements define the living room space. A Swedish desk, simple in style, is embellished with a collection of porcelain, paper, books and artifacts, including packets of handmade English paper and a pair of French porcelain potpourri holders. “I sit here and contemplate,” says Lussier.
In the living room and bedroom stand stacks of books that Lussier has covered in white paper. “I pick the book up and it’s a whole new find,” he says. The books look like bricks, building blocks for interior architectural space. The same holds true for the stacks of orange boxes from a well-known boutique lining a niche by the bedroom – more moveable bricks.
A move of his own is in the making. Every ten years, he says, “It’s time to go.”
But not far: just to another part of the building. He’d like the high ceilings, crown moldings, wood floors and other architectural niceties that he now lacks.
With or without, Lussier will always have a knack for making it all work. NEH