The first thing William Ruhl saw was a blank canvas. When Gary Ritacco and Michael Hunter hired Ruhl, principal of Boston-based Ruhl Walker Architects, to design their South End loft, the open space was part of a newly constructed loft building and, according to Ruhl, the space was raw.
“I saw an 80-foot-long wall with 12-foot-high ceilings that was blank,” says Ruhl. Hunter and Ritacco wanted an industrial, loft-like feel. “Gary called it a ‘masculine palette of materials,’” Ruhl says. “But it had to be comfortable and warm as well.”
THE FIRST THING WILLIAM RUHL SAW WAS A blank canvas. When Gary Ritacco and Michael Hunter hired Ruhl, principal of Boston-based Ruhl Walker Architects, to design their South End loft, the open space was part of a newly constructed loft building and, according to Ruhl, the space was raw.
“I saw an 80-foot-long wall with 12-foot-high ceilings that was blank,” says Ruhl. Hunter and Ritacco wanted an industrial, loft-like feel. “Gary called it a ‘masculine palette of materials,’” Ruhl says. “But it had to be comfortable and warm as well.” They also needed it to be multifunctional—with room to live, work (Ritacco worked at home before opening Uniform, his hip South End menswear boutique) and entertain.
“Every space had to function in as many ways as possible,” says Ruhl. “It had to accommodate occasional guests and parties for up to 200 people.”
His other challenge was light. The loft is long and narrow with small windows on the walls facing east and west. In between, there were just those 80 feet of white wall. But why meet one challenge at a time, when you can address two? Ruhl designed two partitions to “soak daylight into the rooms” and give dynamic structure to the open space. One, which Ruhl says functions as a “virtual window and catches a little bit of morning light,” is a luminous wall made of hand-sanded polycarbonate panels that provides a hefty amount of screened-out space. Ritacco’s home office, a walk-in closet and deep drawers for storage sit behind.
“Glass just wasn’t part of the budget. It’s 10 times more expensive,” says Ruhl. “The polycarbonate tends to expand and contract, creating a softening, bowing effect almost like a fabric.” Dave Blakney, a custom metalworker in Woburn, built the aluminum framing and the stainless-steel windowsills.
Another partition in the living room is a Formica product of brushed aluminum that helps lasso in the afternoon sun and provides media storage. “A lot of people suppose these metal panels are simply to obtain some sort of industrial look,” says Ruhl, “but really they’re very soft-looking, like gently running water, and they help bounce a lot of light into the space.”
In the two bedrooms, Ruhl made the “walls” optional. By the guest room, solid wood panels slide along industrial-strength rails, closing to allow guests privacy from the adjacent living room, and also sliding open and disappearing into pockets to give the couple an open space whenever they choose.
Ritacco, Hunter and Ruhl worked so well together that Ritacco only recalls one issue—Ruhl’s idea for a Murphy bed in the guest room was kiboshed.
“We had a really cool bed already, and the Murphy was going to cost a lot and take up space,” says Ritacco. “But all in all, Will has a great sense of interior design, as well as architecture. Take the sofa he recommended—B&B Italia from Montage. It cost a fortune but was worth every penny.”
In the master suite, an east-facing window has a treatment of evanescent quilted material. “It’s like a water wall that kind of shimmers,” says Ritacco. The fabric’s reflectiveness adds glamour to the space, a sparkle that plays off the polycarbonate panels of the middle wall.
The suite’s bed has built-in sliding tables, and Ritacco had the bedding custom-made in a monochromatic color scheme. “I wanted the bedding to flow into the walls and ceiling,” he says, allowing the tiger maple headboard to be the focal point.
Ritacco and Hunter wanted to add some color to the space and decided on yellow for two reasons: it’s one of their favorites and it would remind them of the sun. They chose an eye-popping
yellow for the kitchen cabinets and woodwork under the granite countertop. “We needed it to be very bright because the kitchen is extremely far from the windows,” says Ruhl. It didn’t, however, go smoothly.
“The yellow kitchen was a nightmare,” says Ritacco. In order to get the electric yellow that they wanted and still be able to see the grain of the wood underneath, they chose an aniline dye, which is normally used for fabrics. The trio worked with a New Hampshire company that was used to more traditional projects. “It was sort of an experiment on everyone’s part. The pieces kept coming back too brown and then too lemony yellow,” says Ritacco. “But they ended up doing a great job.”
Even a custom-carved birch window chaise was designed with consideration to the sun’s rays. Its stylish utility adds a spot of natural contrast to the loft’s dominating industrial materials and also provides an additional living-room seat—the perfect spot to bask in the light.