SOMETIMES YOU just have to have faith. Such was the case for Richard Cook, 37, a psychiatrist who lives in the South End. When he decided to buy a condo in the neighborhood, after having lived in four rentals over 10 years, he asked his best friend, interior designer Josh E. Linder of Evolve Residential, to make the rounds with him. While Cook wasn’t sold on anything they saw, there was one place that stuck in Linder’s mind. When Linder brought it up for the umpteenth time, Cook asked, “You feel that strongly about it?” To which Linder replied, “I already have the entire place designed in my head!”
A self-described lowbrow guy who wears gray pocket T’s by Fruit of the Loom, Cook admits he wasn’t able to see past the space’s dreariness. Neither could others. Linder recalls: “Everyone else at the open house left within 10 seconds.” The unit, a 900-square-foot two-bedroom in a distinctive late-19th-century building, had been stripped of its charm in the 1980s, but its bones were intact. Graced with tall windows, and even taller ceilings (13½ feet), the place is airy, and the layout needed only minimal tweaking.
Custom trim and a carefully considered palette were perhaps the most important aspects of bringing the condo back to its sophisticated beginnings. Linder and his business partner, Thomas H. Egan III, fitted the entire space with period-appropriate trim, including floor-to-ceiling paneling in the living room. Because the condo is small, they went with a unified color scheme, adjusting the hue from misty gray in the living room, where light is abundant, to deep charcoal in the library. “People often try to fight a small, dark space by painting it white, but that ends up being boring,” Linder says. “We went with what the architecture was telling us, to dramatic effect.”
To establish a sense of elegant formality, Linder and Egan reconfigured the condo’s entry into a more distinctive space. By removing a secondary coat closet, they were able to accommodate an antique chest of drawers, which Linder dressed up with a pair of glass lamps and a charcoal drawing by Martha Lloyd, an artist with local ties. On the surrounding walls, Linder persuaded Cook to let him hang a gallery of black-and-white photographs that Cook took in college.
Contemporary touches pop up everywhere. In the living room, the designers paired a crushed-velvet settee with a quilted black-leather sofa and sleek lacquer coffee table. A fiercely on-trend chandelier by Flos, about which Cook was initially apprehensive, hangs above. “I almost vetoed the light with all the wires,” Cook says. “But then I told Josh, ‘I went along with you on everything else. I’m not going to say no at this point.’ ”
Now that it’s hung, Cook appreciates the juxtaposition.
The play on the unexpected is perhaps most dramatic with the pair of French armchairs: Their fronts and backs are plastered with portraits snapped by famous photographers, which Linder had digitally printed on the upholstery. “We aim for one piece in every living room to be conversational,” he says. It’s also personal, since the portraits were chosen from art books found in Cook’s library. The friends had great fun leafing through the pages, laughing at potential pairings.
Whereas the living room is for entertaining, the library is Cook’s retreat, inspired by the dark wood library in his childhood home. The cozy room envelops you, with walls that read almost black, custom bookshelves by Kidder Blaisdell Woodworks (which also did the kitchen cabinetry), and a comfy sofa bed. Gold candle sconces flanking another work by Martha Lloyd that Egan endearingly dubbed “the coffee stain” echo similar sconces in the bathroom, where dark gray tiles line the walls and an Afghan war rug takes the place of a bathmat.
Finally, the master bedroom is a tailored and masculine cocoon, with lush fabrics, bold lighting, and elegant, unfussy furniture. Here, Cook offered specific input, requesting total darkness for sleep. Linder responded by mounting three thick, blackout-lined, floor-to-ceiling custom panels to the underside of the soffit. Thrilled with the result, Cook says, “It could be a brilliantly sunny day, and I’d never know it.”
Although Cook admits he never would have hired a designer if Linder hadn’t been such a close pal, he is enamored of his new home. “Josh and Tom created a place that perfectly suits my style, though I never could have even articulated what that style was.” He adds, “I’m so happy with the location and the design, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
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