Your Home: Relaxed Elegance

California comfortable

A sunny Back Bay condo gets a dose of West Coast chic.

Geometric prints throughout Joan O’Leary’s Back Bay condo add dimension and visual interest.
Michael J Lee
Geometric prints throughout Joan O’Leary’s Back Bay condo add dimension and visual interest.

WHEN INTERIOR DESIGNERPhoebe Lovejoy first visited this Back Bay condo, she knew she had her work cut out for her. The previous owner was a bachelor with a vast art collection, and the decor consisted of deep reds, strong yellows, and a lot of dark wood. “The place was really designed more to showcase artwork than for living,” says Lovejoy, who was hired by the unit’s new owner, Joan O’Leary, to redesign the space.

O’Leary, who also has a place in Southern California’s Rancho Santa Fe, wanted a comfortable home with a lighter and brighter feel and a “cool, California-type of tone to it,” she explains. The main selling point was location: O’Leary’s daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live in the unit next door. Yet she was also enchanted by the sweeping views of the city from every room.

“The huge windows let in a ton of light, so it’s very sunny,” says Lovejoy. “We capitalized on that and went with a cool color palette of yellows, grays, pale and navy blues, and touches of black.” The scheme suited O’Leary, who was tired of ultramodern interiors and bold, bright colors and was seeking a soothing space.


To lighten things up, Lovejoy replaced all the dark wood with quartersawn oak and other blond varieties. In several spots she chose lacquered furniture, and she wrapped some wood pieces with fabric or wallcovering to add softness and textural interest. These include the raffia-topped end tables in the living room and the linen-covered side tables in the den. “I really wanted to limit the use of woods, even the lighter varieties,” Lovejoy says.

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Distressed finishes like vintage silver and hand-rubbed brass keep the space from feeling sleek and too contemporary. The antique brass chandelier in the dining room was also selected for its reflective quality: Made of tiny circular mirrors, the fixture captures miniature views of the city skyline and bounces light all over the ceiling. Across from the marble pedestal Knoll dining table, the built-in banquette, formerly covered in bright red fabric, has been reupholstered in a charcoal wool menswear suiting fabric with a matte finish.

While the master bedroom’s tufted, winged headboard was custom made locally, Lovejoy re-imagined some of O’Leary’s existing furnishings to suit the new space. “Just like you can reupholster a chair, you can give a mirror a whole new life with fabric,” says Lovejoy, who revived several of O’Leary’s mirrors by wrapping them in materials like faux snakeskin and ostrich. Also in O’Leary’s repertoire was a massive painting that never seemed to work in her prior home. The 10-by-7-foot canvas was perfect for the condo’s living room wall, Lovejoy says. “The colors recall a chalkboard, and it really blended with the charcoals and grays in the room.”

Geometric prints throughout the home add dimension and visual interest: The living room’s custom tufted Tibetan rug, the wool mocha and white carpet in the master bedroom, and the David Hicks curtains in the guest bedroom are all patterned with shapes.

While most of the walls in the home are painted, Lovejoy was looking for dramatic impact in the entryway and found it in a black and white swirling Lee Jofa wallcovering. “It has a lot of movement to it,” she says. “It’s very in-your-face.” O’Leary had doubts about the “jazzy print,” but once she saw it up on the walls, paired with black curved-wire pendant lamps, she felt differently. “I love it,” O’Leary says. “It is exactly my style. That’s the amazing thing about Phoebe: She worked with my taste but made it look better.”

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