Open House: Mix Masters

Gary Lazarus and Monte Levin didn’t waste time agonizing over how to decorate their new Back Bay abode. Returning to Boston after spending the past decade as Realtors in South Africa’s Cape Winelands, they arrived with crates of antiques, art, and flea market treasures amassed during years abroad. “We just started putting things up,” says Levin. Paintings were hung as they were unpacked, and colors, themes and eras mingled. Oriental rugs and Turkish kilims, purchased in Europe and Africa, went everywhere, sometimes one atop the other. (Asked how many rugs they own, Levin shrugs, “A lot?” and begins laughing.) “There was no need to coordinate,” Lazarus says of their unique approach to design. “Beautiful things just go together.” 


As global wanderers, Lazarus and Levin’s style may be showier than the typical décor in this part of town, but that doesn’t mean they don’t adore New England architecture—they even took classes on the city’s varied styles. Their design includes classical elements, like the elaborate silk curtains made by a local seamstress that hang in every room, and the two massive crystal chandeliers from India in the parlor.

But that doesn’t mean the space is overly formal. “We travel a lot, so we need a place with a sense of home,” Lazarus explains. When they throw parties, Levin says, “We eat and drink and don’t worry about the furnishings.” In fact, the condo was designed with festive gatherings in mind, from the upper and lower decks to the folding wooden partition that separates the dining area from a simple white galley kitchen (which, Lazarus says, is “too small to make a big statement”).

None of the furnishings were considered too precious to improve, from the hand-carved Indonesian guest bed that the pair had painted a high-gloss coral shade to the antique light fixtures they had rewired to American standards after relocating from Africa. In the parlor, the 10 chairs that flank the dining table were originally a blond wood, but the couple had them “ebonized” (stained dark) for extra drama. Their queen-size master bed, which they purchased in Boston long ago and which accompanied them on their transatlantic journey, was sawed in half and converted into a California king before they returned to the States.

The idiosyncrasies weren’t all intentional, however. Of the two chandeliers in the parlor, only one is original; the other shattered on a highway when the delivery person swerved to avoid a collision. The reproduction, sourced from the same Indian supplier, arrived 10 days later and was so flawlessly copied that it’s hard to spot the difference between the two.

The décor is also dog-friendly—or rather, the pair’s Weimaraners, Zoe and Cleo, are furniture-friendly. “They’re well trained,” Lazarus laughs. He and Levin worried whether their pooches would thrive in a home that’s so much smaller than their South African estate. But the pups are happy to sit by the window and watch the city go by. “There’s so much to look at here,” says Lazarus. Like their owners, he says, they’re quite content with life in this city.