High Style in the North End

A 1,500-square-foot urban retreat blends old-world décor with new-world luxury.

Photograph by Sean Litchfield

Photograph by Sean Litchfield

Over the course of Acquire’s seven-year run, owner Nikki Dalrymple became known for her eclectic eye, stocking the North End accessories boutique with new and vintage finds culled from home and abroad. This past May, Dalrymple decided to put her discerning taste to use in a fresh venture, closing the shop to transition to a full-time interior design firm.

It wasn’t exactly new territory for Dalrymple: Two years ago, a longtime customer had approached her about redoing her neighborhood home. Space was limited, she said; Dalrymple might need to get creative. But when she finally checked out the condo, Dalrymple was more than pleasantly surprised. At 1,500 square feet, the two-bedroom, open-layout apartment on the first floor of the North End’s historical Christopher Columbus building was low on light but big on character, with 13-foot ceilings, original 1900s-era details, and a wraparound terrace. “The first thing I thought was, Wow, small or not, she really won the real estate lottery,” Dalrymple says. “It was a little jewel box of a house right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood.”

The living room is anchored by a French gilt mirror framed by industrial cabinets custom made by Acquire. (Photograph by Sean Litchfield)

FROM LEFT: A wall of eclectic art in the dining area includes new and vintage finds; the den’s fresh orange color palette is underscored by Ralph Lauren sconces with custom shades and a vibrant ottoman, created by Acquire, featuring fabric from GP & J Baker. OPPOSITE: In the foyer, an antique lamp is offset by a modern umbrella stand. (Photographs by Sean Litchfield)

The client and her husband had moved into the condo in 2000, bringing with them many of the furnishings from their larger home in the suburbs. Now, the knowledge that their North End apartment suited them—and would likely continue to do so—gave the couple the freedom to customize their décor. They also wanted the place to feel more welcoming to guests. The objective, Dalrymple says, was to lighten the condo and make it “cool without seeming cold,” while playing on the grand scale of the space’s architectural details. “We went for dramatic but not too serious,” she says. “A place where people could come in and throw themselves down and not feel like they were tiptoeing around precious furniture or objects.”

Aside from a few new built-in shelves in the bedrooms, the changes were mainly cosmetic, not structural. The mirrored panels surrounding the living room fireplace were swapped with marble for a lighter look, while new recessed lighting was positioned to spotlight vintage pillars Dalrymple found in Maine. Thirty percent of the existing furniture was reused, including a French gilt mirror and a couple of sofas that Dalrymple had brightly reupholstered by Partners in Design. Custom-built items, such as an antiqued-mirror dining table and a pair of vitrines, were constructed by Acquire’s in-house furniture team. Modern sconces and artwork—like a fashion photograph above the fireplace—were juxtaposed with existing early-19th-century paintings. Nothing, Dalrymple says, was off-limits: “Sometimes people just starting out with design play it safe. But this was not their first time designing a home, and [my client] felt comfortable with what she likes and what she doesn’t.”

ABOVE: An antique ladder found in Maine provides easy access to shelving. The brick wall was hand-ragged in Farrow & Ball paint and showcases a mix of found antlers. OPPOSITE: The guest bedroom features a custom headboard, pillow, and bed skirt from Acquire. (Photographs by Sean Litchfield)

Most of the major work was completed quickly, but filling the space with personality, in the form of what Dalrymple calls “collections,” took more than 18 months, as the interior designer treasure-hunted her way through New England and New York for art and accents. It helped that she and her client shared a “more-is-more sensibility,” as well as a love for antiques that aren’t too precious: “Sometimes we antiqued together, but more often than not I’d be sending numerous weekend emails and texts along the lines of ‘I found the perfect piece to round out such-and-such collection.’” If by chance an item didn’t work, Dalrymple happily kept it for herself. “But nine times out of 10, even if it was something I actually had bought for my own home, it would work in hers. It’s just this magical little place where everything always seemed to fit.”

ABOVE: An antique salvaged piece hangs between vintage shutters on the wraparound terrace. OPPOSITE: A table and chairs from Gerard’s, in Lincoln, are the highlight of the outdoor dining area. (Photographs by Sean Litchfield)

Interior Design and Carpentry: Acquire
Upholstery: Partners in Design
Fireplace: Louis Mian