View from the Top
The view had always been spectacular. High above the city, enormous windows look out onto this old maritime port, where today, hotels and condos survey the waterfront as ferries bustle in and out of the harbor. Inside, however, this Boston Harbor Towers apartment was dated, reminiscent of 1971, the year it was built. But the owner wanted a beautiful place to come home to, both inside and out. Here's how the design team made it happen.
The view had always been spectacular. High above the city, enormous windows look out onto this old maritime port, where today, hotels and condos survey the waterfront as ferries bustle in and out of the harbor. Inside, however, this Boston Harbor Towers apartment was dated, reminiscent of 1971, the year it was built. But the owner, a physician originally from Europe with an intensely packed schedule, wanted a beautiful place to come home to, both inside and out.
“I wanted a home that was serene, uncluttered and inviting, with a modern, contemporary look. And I wanted to see the water. I love the water,” says the owner.
Her first job in this renovation was to find a compatible decorator. “My tastes are not traditionally Bostonian, and it took quite some time to find the right person. Everyone I met with kept suggesting French style with moldings and chair rails. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not me.”
She finally met her match in a team led by designer Heather Wells, owner of Heather G. Wells, an architectural interiors firm with offices in Boston and Chicago. “I showed Heather the book of images I’d collected over the years, and she showed me an apartment she had designed in Chicago,” the owner says. “She got it.”
Wells assembled a team to renovate the apartment that included Amy Finch Williams, who was Wells’ classmate in architecture school at Harvard, as the project’s architect, assistant designer Tatiana Armstrong, and general contractors from Boger Construction in Chelsea, led by project manager Deb Thurmond. The all-female team worked closely with the client to construct a space that would be both warm and contemporary.
In the old layout, the best vantage point to see the water was obscured by walls. The team decided that deconstruction would be the first step toward reconstruction.
“The apartment was dark and divided, so she wanted to open up the space and capture the views of Boston Harbor in her main living space,” says Williams. “She wanted a clean, modern scheme. We completely gutted it and started over.”
Heavy construction meant the owner, a busy doctor, would be displaced from her apartment for nine months, but it was well worth the inconvenience. “I enjoy [the apartment] one hundred times more than I did before,” she says.
The project’s incubation period allowed the designers to knock down walls and move the bedroom to achieve a more open-air plan. A studio apartment next door was added to the existing 1,200-square-foot dwelling, creating a 1,730-square-foot oasis in the sky.
Everything In Its Place
The new, bigger living area, once a bedroom, has a wall of windows overlooking the harbor. To clear the view, the team lowered the railing on the small terrace. Lining the windows is a long, plush window seat, a prime spot for taking in the waterfront view. The streamlined seat is also quite practical: Its cushioned covers lift up to expose storage underneath.
“This apartment now has tons of storage,” says Wells. “And most of it is hidden.” Closets line the hallways, many with doors indistinguishable from the walls themselves. There’s a media cabinet and several file cabinets, all tucked discreetly behind lush silk drapes in the living room. And with the extra square footage from the former studio, there’s room for a giant walk-in closet.
The ingenious storage isn’t just practical; it’s a key design component. “It’s necessary for the modern look,” says Wells. “Before, this space looked full of stuff, and it had a cluttered feel. Now, it’s clean and spare, and all the stuff is hidden away.”
The clean design lets the owner showcase a few important antique pieces. A stately wooden religious icon, a family heirloom, now keeps watch from a spare white block that overlooks the living space. This Dutch statue, estimated to be from the 16th century, is of Saint Cornelius and, the owner says, “reminds me of my European origins and culture.”
Another focal point is a painting by the Polish-born Tamara de Lempicka, which the owner’s mother bought from the artist a year before her daughter was born. The figurative painting inspired Armstrong’s choice of color for the living and dining areas, including warm earth tones, oranges and reds that balance the starker details.
A 17th-century rosewood sideboard in the Italian Baroque tradition, inlaid with ivory, sits in her dining room near a contemporary light fixture.
Making this modern space warm and inviting depended, in part, on well-balanced choices of color and texture. Whitewashed hallways reflect softer tones of green and ivory in the master and guest bedrooms. The de Lempicka-inspired color scheme pairs well with the cherry floors and the warm wood kitchen cabinets, creating intimate nooks within the open space.
The kitchen, though modest in size, is set up with entertaining in mind. “The kitchen hadn’t been updated in 20 years,” Wells says. “It had parquet floors and dark cabinets.” Now, it opens into the living space with a bar-style counter playfully highlighted with space-age stainless-steel LEM Piston barstools from Design Within Reach in Boston. The counters themselves are made of black galaxy granite with bronze flecks, which creates a striking contrast to the light-colored walls. The flecks add “a little sparkle,” says Wells, important for the owner, who wanted hints of glamour, even when she is indulging in her favorite take-out.
Rich golden silk drapes frame the water vistas from the lounge, where the comfortable L-shaped leather couch from Roche-Bobois in Boston and the Larsen-fabric-upholstered chairs keep company with books and photos.
Let There Be Light
Thanks to the huge windows and pale walls, this apartment is flooded with natural light in the afternoon. Though the owner is rarely home during the day, lighting was nevertheless a critical consideration around the clock. Reflected light from the water is persistent, while the tranquil nighttime setting can be customized with mood lighting for entertaining and dinner parties.
Futuristic hanging lamps with exposed bulbs are suspended from metal filaments above the kitchen bar. The dining room table is lit from above by an eye-catching configuration of twisted metal from Italian Design in Brookline.
More serene lighting characterizes the bedroom, where a large, pale green floor lamp that resembles an amorphous sea creature radiates soft light through panels of stretched handmade silk. The dramatic Charles bed comes from Montage in Boston. There’s a clean shelf lining the wall where the owner can lean framed art.
Also in the bedroom is a screen that is designed to pull down from the window to block bright morning light—a must for any busy professional hoping to catch a few extra winks.