Soul Woman

To outfit her Weston home, a Newbury Street shop’s stylish owner indulged her passion for striking design and the power of handsome objects.

Dava Muramatsu, who runs the upscale women’s clothing store Matsu, describes how hard it is to separate her work from her home life.

“For me,” she says, her heavily kohled eyes gleaming beneath a hedge of thick black bangs, “design is a lifestyle choice. Everything I do involves some kind of aesthetic decision.” Driving her artistic flair is a fundamental belief in the link between art and inner fulfillment. “When you have visual peace, you have a quiet mind. I surround myself with beauty in everything I touch in life—from soap, to sheets, to washcloths—whatever speaks of love, passion, and creativity,” she says.

Growing up with Italian parents in the Hudson River Valley in the 1960s, Muramatsu developed an eye for sophisticated design at an early age. “My mother would get extravagant dresses made up from Italian fabrics in avocado green and embellished pinks, and I inherited her fondness for textures and color,” she remembers. During her teen years, she collected beautiful objects, relishing the way they made her feel. “My parents wouldn’t let me go to Woodstock, so instead I bought my first ring, this cool Georg Jensen design, and got addicted to silver jewelry.”

In 1971, Muramatsu enrolled at the Paier College of Art and Design; afterward, she started a wholesale home décor business before buying Frontier, the Newbury Street clothing and home accent shop that would eventually become Matsu. “Back when I was in school, you were either a dirty hippie or a glamorous art student. I hated the contradiction because I loved the smell of turpentine and having my hands in oil paints. I had long, long braids and smoked pot. And yet, I liked the finer things in life.

“Eventually, I learned to embrace balance. Now my tastes are a little more sedate, classic, and sensual…softer, more sophisticated, warmer, rounder —I sound like I’m describing fine wine or something. They’ve gotten pricier, too!”

Muramatsu moves from room to room, pointing out the things she loves, her many bracelets jingling lightly as she gestures. The house is small but spacious, scented with perfume and fresh flowers; soft Brazilian music plays on the hi-fi; and artichokes are cooking on the stove. Everything says high design, like the collage of fashion magazine pages, quotes, and postcards on the bulletin board.

“Design feeds your mind and your soul,” she says. “Once you face life’s biggest challenges and get through them,” she smiles, referring to her recent separation from Masayuki Muramatsu, her husband of 30 years, “there’s a freakin’ rainbow on the other side with more than just seven colors.”

She still considers Masayuki, whom she met in a restaurant and admired for his Japanese heritage and Eastern-influenced style, her best friend. After the separation, she rented this contemporary ranch in Weston and her treasures took on a different light in new surroundings. “I loved this house because it was like a canvas—neutral enough to show off everything I had accumulated through my career, through my life, found everywhere from Paris to Marshalls,” she says.

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Boston designer Nirva Derbekyan, whose confident, flirty pieces have been available at Matsu for two years, describes Muramatsu as a talented buyer and a style mentor. “Dava is very in tune with design. She relies on her precise instincts when she buys—trying everything on and deciding how each garment makes her feel,” she says. “It’s very flattering when Dava chooses a piece because she is an incredibly visual person who has unusually distinct taste.”

Like most artists, Muramatsu doesn’t commit to a favorite designer; instead she likes to take “bits and pieces of everything and do it all in my own way. It’s gotta be processed through me. I’m like the sifter, going through designers’ things in order to come up with a unique menu, recipe, and components to make it so that it’s balanced for my own desire.”

And like most artists, Muramatsu has a sometimes visceral reaction to design. “At times, I’ll literally crave a color. It’s a physical thing. Last weekend I was all about the color grape. I went to Barneys, I went to Bloomingdales, I went everywhere. So when I couldn’t find anything, I ended up buying sheets and sheets of grape tissue paper and grape ribbon. And then I felt fulfilled.

“My life is all about glamour and earth, glamour and earth. It’s like wearing fine jewelry in the bathtub or wearing diamonds with denim. It’s like wearing a $1,100 bordeaux velvet coat to shovel snow in the woods, which I do! And it’s a little eccentric, too.”