Life of the Party

Interior designer Tanya Capaldo brings her signature style—and hospitality—to a 19th-century brownstone.

brownstone makeover

Photograph by Eric Roth

“Never dust the day of a dinner party.”

That’s the mantra interior designer Tanya Capaldo lives by when she entertains friends and family in the St. Botolph–area brownstone she shares with her partner, private equity manager Tom Caracciolo. “I always want people to feel like they can touch things,” says Capaldo, who tends to offer a familiar pat on the arm as she chats. Her outlook makes even more sense when you consider her background: Before embracing her passion for interior design, Capaldo spent many years in the culinary industry, eventually running her own personal-chef-and-catering business, Mod Cuisine. Hospitality remains paramount. “I don’t want my home to have the feeling of being precious or breakable,” she says.

And yet Capaldo did have to break a lot of structural bones to imbue the 2,000-square-foot space with the breezy elegance it has now. The couple moved in last November, following a five-month gut job that was intended to bring their two-floor home within an 1885 brownstone “back to its sense of grandeur,” Capaldo says. The previous owner hadn’t updated the space in decades, and Capaldo’s pre-renovation photos reveal an overstuffed diorama of 1970s kitsch (picture the Partridge family living in a house from Hoarders). From the garish dollhouse wallpaper to the dated wall-to-wall orange shag carpeting, the home’s décor was completely at odds with Capaldo’s comfortable minimalist sensibility.

brownstone makeover

From left, Tanya Capaldo and Tom Caracciolo, seated on a Jonathan Adler brass stool, entertain often in their brownstone; the dining area showcases a German wooden table. (Photographs by Eric Roth)

So Capaldo embarked on a plan that would honor the Victorian-era architecture of the building while complementing the couple’s collection of modern art and mostly midcentury furnishings. It had to be relaxed, not the kind of austere, museumlike setting that “seems like it should be behind velvet rope,” Capaldo says. After all, the couple had moved to Boston from Connecticut so they could be closer to Caracciolo’s three high school– and college-aged sons, who live in Maine full time but visit often. Today the duplex home features a parlor level perfect for entertaining, and a Zenlike master suite downstairs perfect for decompressing.

To create a more functional main living area, Capaldo combined two rooms, replacing the interrupting wall with an arch that subtly defines the living and dining spaces. To the arch’s base Capaldo added period-appropriate, ornately carved vintage corbels she procured through Connecticut antiques dealers. The airier layout also emphasizes the home’s only original feature: the gorgeous stained-glass panels in the bay windows’ transom units. Charles J. Connick, the famed stained-glassmaker whose work adorns landmarks like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, housed his long-running Boston studio in the St. Botolph Street district, and Capaldo believes these panels are among the last surviving examples of his work in the neighborhood.

brownstone makeover

Over the antique fireplace hangs Five Dollars Abraham Lincoln, by Bulgarian artist Houben R. T. (Photograph by Eric Roth)

For the living area, guest bedroom, and downstairs master suite, Capaldo pulled together elegant but diverse accents. The smooth curves of midcentury furnishings, like a stone scroll coffee table from Karl Springer, are juxtaposed with the jagged lines of a contemporary faceted cabinet by Somerville custom-furniture designer Paul Cusack, and industrial-chic sculptural lighting from Brooklyn-based designer Lindsey Adelman. The home’s creamy neutral color palette is enhanced by surprising moments of color and texture, including accent walls adorned with handpainted Anya Larkin paper. The home boasts an impressive modern-art collection, procured in large part through Newbury Street’s DTR Modern Galleries: Guests are greeted by Andy Warhol’s colorful Annie Oakley (from his Cowboys and Indians series), dine near a large Volker Hueller piece depicting abstract debauchery, then gather by a marble fireplace that bears the splashy work of Bulgarian experimental artist Houben R. T. But it’s not all museum-worthy work. Over the couch hangs a Capaldo original, a Blick Art canvas layered with textured gray paint. She made it in a pinch to fill the space. “Tom always gets a kick out of it, when someone says how much they love it,” Capaldo says with a laugh.

That playful improvisation owes something to Capaldo’s earliest interiors influence—her mother, an interior designer who also owned a china shop. “I remember she once hosted a dinner party using the spare, set-less plates from the shop,” Capaldo says. “Everyone had different china, but the table was linked by common white linens and a centerpiece of branches gathered from the backyard. Out of juxtaposition came cohesion.”

brownstone makeover

Near the casual seating area is a custom steel library ladder by South Kent, Connecticut, artist Peter Kirkiles. It marks the spot where the home’s stairs, since relocated, once stood. (Photograph by Eric Roth)

brownstone makeover

Capaldo, a former personal chef, created a French-inspired kitchen that dazzles with Mauviel copper cookware and honed Carrara marble countertops. (Photograph by Eric Roth)

Naturally, and as befitting her culinary background, Capaldo’s French-inspired kitchen is both highly utilitarian and warm: The honed Carrara marble countertops, handblown glass pendant lights, and Mauviel copper cookware complement the white tile and 48-inch stainless steel Wolf range. To make the space even more welcoming, Capaldo relocated a staircase to make room for a casual seating area with a TV, and added a “quote wall,” where guests have hung handwritten sayings by everyone from Gandhi to Oprah. The dinner plates and stemware are housed in glass-paneled cabinetry and on open shelving as an invitation to guests: Help yourself.

“I want guests to feel at home, like they can make themselves a drink without needing to ask for permission,” says Capaldo, not a stitch of dust in sight.

brownstone makeover

Clockwise from top, modern accents and a variety of textures figure prominently into Capaldo’s design choices, including the modernist George Nelson Eye Clock in the master bedroom suite; the ornate etchings of antique corbels; the curves of kitchen stemware; and the jagged lines of custom furniture by Paul Cusack. (Photographs by Eric Roth)

brownstone makeover

The home renovation yielded two elegant bathrooms. Here, sleek Akdo glass tiles and a custom vanity with Grohe fixtures harmonize with handprinted shagreen wallpaper from Anya Larkin. (Photograph by Eric Roth)

brownstone makeover

From left, Warhol’s Annie Oakley greets guest in the entryway; the guest bedroom boasts a graphic Schumacher accent wall and a piece from Andy Warhol’s Mick Jagger series, signed by both the pop artist and the rock icon. (Photographs by Eric Roth)

Builder Roberts Design & Construction
Custom Furniture Cusack Design
Interior Designer Tanya Capaldo Designs