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Your Home: New England Traditional

All the gilded rage

A Southerner settles in the Back Bay, then looks to Newport for inspiration.

A Moroccan fretwork ceiling, original quartersawn-oak paneling, and black marble fireplace are just a few of the living room’s dramatic features. Michael J. Lee/Michael J Lee

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY A DESIGNER gets the opportunity to bring on the bling. When designer Kristine Mullaney met with her client, a Southerner who had purchased a 1,900-square-foot condo on Commonwealth Avenue, he told her, “Think Newport mansions.” The inspiration made perfect sense: He had grown up admiring one Vanderbilt mansion, North Carolina’s Biltmore, and been captivated by a tour of another iconic Vanderbilt property, The Breakers in Newport. His own building dates from 1883.

Mullaney, of Boston-based Kristine Mullaney Design, won the homeowner’s heart when she, too, swooned over the original quartersawn-oak paneling in the living room. It’s an impressive space, with detailed woodwork and moldings and a ceiling adorned with a Moroccan fretwork design studded with gilded centers, a detail she believes to have been added during a previous renovation.


The woodwork around the original black marble fireplace, left in disrepair after prior owners ripped out a mirror and sconces, needed restoration. Mullaney replaced some panels and hired Paul Forde of Forde Finishing Co. to match the color and pattern of the wood grain with a faux paint treatment. A fanciful late-19th-century Venetian mirror etched with floral motifs and purchased at Trianon Antiques in the Boston Design Center hangs over the mantel, flanked by crystal sconces. The ornate brass andirons and fender, from Adams Fireplace Shop in Cambridge, are from the same era.

That Mullaney could bring investment-quality antiques to the project had huge appeal for the homeowner, a financier who looks for things that will endure — and rise in value — in his professional life and his personal one. This is certainly the case for the baby grand piano in the bay window (a last-minute purchase by the homeowner that had Mullaney scrambling to rethink the room’s layout) and the collection of antique porcelain and glass that fills the built-in china cabinets in the high-ceilinged entry.


Initially borrowed from Devonia Antiques on Beacon Hill to set the stage for photographs Mullaney wanted for her portfolio, the collection captivated the owner when he arrived home that day, not only for its beauty but also for its investment quality. The array includes English and American pieces dating as far back as 1800.

In the dining room, Mullaney transformed what was a narrow, dark, and “creepy” Victorian sitting room into an intimate yet grand formal eating area, with damask wallpaper, a hand-knotted antique Persian rug from Landry & Arcari, and an oversize over-the-top crystal chandelier. The homeowner, who enjoys walking home from work on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, wanted to be able to see it from the street. “If I had chosen the proper-size fixture, it wouldn’t have been visible, so the scale is insane,” Mullaney says. “We had the electrician running outside to make sure it was in full view.”

The bedroom is decorated in a more peaceful palette, though one no less stately. The centerpiece is a late-18th-century French fruitwood bed from A Room With a Vieux Antiques in Brookline, retrofitted for a modern-day mattress. It’s a solidly masculine piece, with inlaid wood marquetry and bronze swag on the footboard. The side tables have similarly exceptional bronze dore detailing. As in the living room, there’s a tall mirror over the fireplace, also from Trianon Antiques. This one, however, is gilded and in the style of Louis XVI.


It’s in the den that the homeowner kicks up his feet to watch football with his buddies. A sturdy plush sofa, upholstered in thick cotton velvet from Schumacher, sports a pullout bed for overnight guests. There’s a simple brass coffee table and sconces, tall claret-colored drapes in front of French doors, and an abstract oil painting by mystical expressionist painter Jamali, which the owner purchased in Charlotte. Here, Mullaney’s nod to the home’s opulence is a peacock-feathered throw that she knew he’d adore.

Although he derived his aesthetic sensibilities from the Gilded Age, the homeowner wanted to ensure his home didn’t look frilly. The secret to pulling that off, Mullaney says, is that the anchor pieces are tailored and the accessories relatively clean. That said, “I’ve never put so much crystal in this size space,” she says with a grin. “It was a lot of fun.”

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at Send comments to