Carriage Trade

As thoughtfully designed as Isabella Stewart Gardner’s carriage house might have been, it wasn’t the kind of place a modern family would eagerly call home. To become the house that it is today, the circa-1880 structure—modestly hidden in the flat of Beacon Hill—needed complete reworking.

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AS THOUGHTFULLY DESIGNED as Isabella Stewart Gardner’s carriage house might have been, it wasn’t the kind of place a modern family would eagerly call home. To become the house that it is today, the circa-1880 structure—modestly hidden in the flat of Beacon Hill—needed complete reworking.

It still stands unassumingly on one of the neighborhood’s quieter streets. But now, thanks to an overhaul by Boston design and fine carpentry firm Payne/Bouchier, the relatively humble exterior—the front foundation is an old sea wall—belies the marvel of gracious, efficient and contemporary living that exists within.

A team led by Payne/Bouchier project manager Myles Maguire and in-house designer Kelley Sullivan spearheaded a renovation that now features unforgettably
beautiful elements and puts practically every inch of the 4,500-square-foot space to good use.

The focal point of the home’s newest iteration is a stunning staircase, a hallmark of Payne/Bouchier projects. It’s an elegantly curving elliptical stairwell with a mahogany rail that soars upward from the entry floor toward a splendid skylight. “The stair is my favorite thing in this house,” says Stephen Payne, co-owner of Payne/Bouchier. “It has such a Beacon Hill feel to it—it’s grand, but not football-field grand like you’d find in the Back Bay.” Indeed, the stair captures the old-fashioned charm of the neighborhood perfectly, even though it’s brand-new. Centered on the floor at the foot of the steps, an elliptical inlay of wenge, tiger maple and mahogany is embedded in the quartersawn white oak floors that run throughout the house—all decked out with radiant floor heating.

Beyond the small foyer, nothing had ever been developed on the entry floor. But Sullivan saw its potential. “It was a great raw space,” she says. “And we wanted to use every nook and cranny.” Now that little area includes a mudroom (tiled in Ann Sacks stone) where kids and visitors can neatly and cleanly divest themselves of shoes, coats and book bags. A powder room is accented in shades of red and yellow that hint at the decoration scheme (from the Newbury Street firm Lewis Interiors) of the rest of the house.

A side door from the foyer leads to a garage—the 21st-century version of the carriage house. The pristine space is equipped for caterers to use as their base of operations during a party, so they won’t intrude on guests by working in the open kitchen.

THE SECOND FLOOR SERVES AS THE MAIN public area, but Payne says that wasn’t always the case. “When we got ahold of that space, it was flip-flopped—the public space was on the top floor. We essentially had to tear out a cast-in-place concrete floor because it prohibited the rational location of bearing walls and HVAC components, but we were able to make the house more normal and natural feeling.”

The floor’s central space contains a sweeping, open living room and an open kitchen. The colors—mainly shades of red, yellow and green that play throughout most of the house—are potent but never strident. “The owner loved red, yellow and green,” says Polly Lewis, owner of Lewis Interiors. “She had several of her fabrics picked before we even started this project.”

Those fabrics—including the first one she picked, a Scalamandré pattern that now covers a pair of chairs in the living room—served as inspiration at almost every turn. The kitchen cabinets, from Schrock, are rich red. (And there are a lot of kitchen cabinets: Ample storage allows for all clutter to be tucked away.) The living room centers around a large red leather ottoman/coffee table, and the upholstery on the living room furniture is in varying combinations of red, yellow and green. A chocolate-brown-and-red Venetian wax paper by Donghia lines the walls of the sophisticated dining room, and the dining room chairs (from Webster & Company) have green upholstery. In the library, red, yellow and green fabrics play off built-in tiger maple cabinetwork from Payne/Bouchier.

IN THE LIVING ROOM, A FLAT-PANEL tel¬evision is artfully hidden (literally) behind a reproduction of a John Constable painting that rolls up at the push of a button. Glancing at the museum-quality gilt frame that surrounds the painting (and the many original pieces that adorn the room’s other walls), no one would guess.

The Payne/Bouchier-designed kitchen island contains tons of storage and provides always-in-demand counter space, while in the butler’s pantry gadgets are tucked away in convenient appliance garages. Because the kitchen has no window, Payne/Bouchier installed a slightly recessed white tile space above the sink that gives a suggestion of a window, and a spot for anything the owners want to store on the sill.

Also on the main floor are a powder room—consciously set apart from the living room by a tiny hallway to create a sense of privacy—and a très petite guest suite. Though it uses minimal square footage, the toile-bedecked and skylighted bedroom has everything it needs, right down to room for suitcases, thanks to extremely deep built-ins that Payne/Bouchier designed with space “borrowed” from beneath the staircase. “Anywhere there was dead space,” says Sullivan, “we found a way to use it.”

AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS ON THE THIRD floor, French doors open outside to another staircase leading to a roof deck. “We had to work hard to get the Beacon Hill architectural commission to OK the front facade of the third floor,” Sullivan says. “But we wanted them to have this large outdoor space.”

The master suite, two children’s bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a kids’ desk and workspace, and a laundry room are also on the third floor. Every room is equipped with oodles of built-in storage—drawers, closets, seemingly endless walnut shelving in the master closet—that allow these relatively small boudoirs to remain, like the rest of the house, clutter-free. With such a clean backdrop, the creative decor (sporty blue and yellow in the girl’s room; shiplike teak bunk beds in the boy’s room; soothing pale yellow grass paper and jaw-dropping artwork, such as an original Childe Hassam pencil drawing, in the master bedroom) truly pops.

Accessible from the master bedroom is a small, prettily landscaped balcony that surrounds much of the third floor and provides a layer of greenery between the bedrooms and the city—something that helps the whole family sleep better at night.