Splendor in the Grass

Text by Louis Postel | Photos by Richard Mandelkorn for New England Home | May/June 2016

2-090818_2574fLet’s say you owned a huge 1920’s Federal Style home on Chestnut Hill. William Perry designed it, the same architect behind Colonial Williamsburg. You’re pretty lucky! However, you discover one drawback — the living room feels too somber, dark and formal on certain occasions.

What to do — punch out an enclosed deck, drag in a disco ball and few pinball machines to lighten things up? No, no, and no. Give up?

Here’s how architect Ivan Berezniki and interior designer Susan Reddick ended up rectifying the situation beyond anyone’s expectations. They created a separate, stand-alone building opposite the house itself, a garden pavilion situated at the end of bluestone path set in the lawn.  A twenty-eight hundred square-foot, lattice-like sandstone structure, its understated, Palladian proportions make the pavilion seem like it’s always been there,  though everything about it is new.

If there’s one drawback to a separate structure, of course, is that it’s a destination. You have to go there!  If you happen to be in your jammies and you have a yen for a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s in the pavilion in the middle of the night during a snowstorm, best find your slippers.

“The owners and I went on a sort of world tour of architecture before we decided on what kind of garden structure to make — from something Japanese to Frank Lloyd Wright. Then one of the owners saw a pavilion in London’s Bennington Arcade suggestive of the neoclassical style of the late Edwin Lutyens and the Venetian villas of Andrea Palladio of the 16th century.”

“One of the things this building says to you is ‘OK, there are a lot of arched doors.’ But when you approach them, you realize there’s a musical rhythm happening, an ABBA with the A’s being the smaller doors situated to the left and right of the front elevation, and ABA on the side.”

Rhythm or not, the owners were concerned that Berezniki’s blueprints were scaled too large for the site. That’s where the ABBA rhythm played its part in convincing them otherwise. “We had a mockup done in plywood,” said Berezniki, “and not just the facades but all the openings. Without the openings it would indeed have felt out of scale.”

2-150806-1581f copy“The pavilion is not an exact copy of anything Palladio did, but I was very careful to honor his spirit, staying as true as possible to key details. Unlike so many overdone, flashy houses today, Palladio was very refined. For him, everything was about modulation and moderation, a precise layering of opening and sheltering elements. Like other Renaissance masters, he believed that all design should relate to the human figure. In other words, a building should be more like a sleek Olympic swimmer than a body builder on steroids flexing his oversized pecs.”

The construction overseen by builder Michael Alberino used certain technologies that were far different than anything Lutyens or Palladio could imagine. Rather than teams of craftsmen laboring away with chisels to shape the sandstone, it was cut by computerized saws in Ontario, arriving in Chestnut Hill like a big jigsaw puzzle. Then Berezniki had the slabs hung from a steel frame to form the building’s façade, just as one would hang paintings.

Interior designer Susan Reddick grew up in England, where she has fond memories of running around her father’s cricket pavilion. “You were expected to appear, but you didn’t have to stay,” she says. The Chestnut Hill pavilion is a more multifunctional than a place to break from bats and balls. “It’s beautiful year-round, night and day, a space in which you don’t have to shout to be heard if there’s just two having breakfast. But when you add leaves to the center table you comfortably seat twenty at dinner. There’s even a catering kitchen in the back for just that purpose.”

Reddick’s program brings out the ABBA rhythms Berezniki was talking about, but from the inside, looking out. Here she arranged three seating groups of before the three arched doors and directly below the three leaded-glass skylights. She kept the furniture flat-backed and low enough not to interrupt the views of landscape designer Rick Lamb’s artistry. “But too much horizontality can be monotonous,” says Reddick, who broke things up with the vertical hump on a camelback sofa upholstered in Eddie Chenille from Groundworks. This rise, in turn, joins a pair of soaring, fluted columns and one of a pair of ficus trees in Poterie de la Madeleine containers from Winston’s.

If you’ve sat in a Neoclassic chair lately, you’d probably remember it. They’re hard. Though not exact copies, Reddick’s furnishings capture the unfussy, clean-lined spirit of this 18th-century style. The little Gustavian armchairs from John Roselli, for example, show the delicately tapered arms and legs to go with the architecture, but they also offer modern comfort.

The woven backs of the dining chairs from Minton Spidel, the light-colored, French limestone flooring (with radiant heat in winter), the blue sky upholstery by Decore in Chelsea, MA, the untypically jewel-tone-less Afghan rugs from Steven King/Beauvais in the BDC, and automated Conran shades by Back Bay Shutter all contribute to the lattice-like garden airiness of the Pavilion space  — a welcome retreat from the formality of the big house across the lawn.

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