Local Designers Strut Their Stuff

A sneak peek at Potter Estate in Newton, where 35 Boston-area designers show off their skills.

It takes an impressive house to tear eyes away from New England’s famous fall foliage. The historic Potter Estate, which sprawls across the grounds of Newton’s Jackson-Walnut Park schools, certainly possesses that power, and this is one proverbial book you can judge by its cover. By selecting the site for its 35th Show House, the Junior League of Boston has ensured that there’s far more to the building than its stately facade.

To fete the anniversary, the all-women volunteer group commissioned 35 local designers to decorate the mansion’s many rooms. As Show House chair Elizabeth Tyminski led me through dressed-up rooms and hallways, she explained, “None of the designers consulted with each other… But it’s funny, it flows really well, even though the designers didn’t see the drawings for each others spaces.”

To prove her point, she pointed to a dog pillow on the ground of a room dubbed “Her Respite,” designed by the titular owner of Susan Dearborn Interiors. Tyminski noted that multiple designers incorporated bits and baubles to suggest a dog lives in the house, like the dog silhouette painted by John Coles that hugs the corner of the back staircase.

Flow or no flow, these spaces span a wide aesthetic range. But the common thread among them is that each feels like a haven in its own right. A canopy bed in the master bedroom, Andra Birkerts Designs‘ cozy and tactile “The Hideaway” – which Birkert described as “a space for getting alone, creating” – and a seating area tucked into a nook under the stairwell serve as functional retreats.

In the “Gentleman’s Library,” a lit nerd’s dream designed by D. Scott Bell and Susan Schuab of Theo and Isabella Design Group, one expects to find Jane Eyre crouching behind the sofa with a leather-bound book from the shelves. Artifacts around the world make the library transportative as well, and kitschy objects are similarly used to achieve that sense of wanderlust in spaces like “A Traveler’s Retreat,” designed by Beverly S. Spear of Spear Interiors.

One inevitable symptom of this getting-away-from-it-all theme? Fashion sometimes conquers function, as exemplified by “La Sala da Bagno,” a plush bathing lounge. Stephanie Rossi of Spazio Rosso, who designed the space, calls it “more of an art installation,” and her vision pays off: in one of the house’s most memorable exhibits, she mutes the menace of a ribcage shower by adorning it with painted butterflies.

Saving a few of the more richly outfitted rooms, most designers chose to capitalize on the airy quality many of the rooms already possessed. Some spaces, like the tranquil conservatory, designed by Gerald Pomeroy, and the cheerfully pattern-filled “A Young Woman’s Bedroom,” had natural light on their sides before their makeovers.

Other designers achieve that calm, breezy vibe by playing to the rooms’ high ceilings. Kris Shaffer’s glamorous downstairs bathroom, dubbed “Ladies Room – Gentlemen Welcome,” capitalizes on the room’s 11-foot height with a long vertical mirror and a modern chandelier.

Carefully considered proportions also contribute to that uncluttered atmosphere, especially in Hilary Bovey’s “Garden Guest Bedroom.”   Bovey, who heads Bovey Steers Design Group, said she opted to keep the furniture small so as not “to overwhelm the room.” The consequent openness of the space works with its dreamy wall mural and stunning, chameleon-like rug to keep the room tranquil.

All this barely covers the tip of the Show House iceberg, which includes over 20 spaces not mentioned here. Those who wish to discover the design labyrinth for themselves can visit the estate, located at 71 Walnut Park in Newton, through Nov. 18 2012. Tickets cost $30 per person, and can be purchased online here. More pictures: