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Downsizing empty nesters infuse their new home in the city with style

In Charlestown, vibrant color helps ease the transition from spacious Colonial to contemporary town house.

Empty nesters Dan and Barbara Graovac realized their old furnishings wouldn’t work in their new living room. “Since there was only one really lounge-y place in the whole house, the living room had to be comfortable,” says designer Ana Donohue. The Verellen sofa is upholstered in a plush Osborne & Little fabric. Mixing materials helped create dimension. “The oversize gold cocktail table contributes to the really layered design,” says Donohue. The animal-hide chair is from Cabot House.michael J. Lee

The time had come for Barbara and Dan Graovac to leave their 3,500-square-foot Colonial in Worcester. Her son from a previous marriage was on his own, and the couple set their sights on Boston. “We didn’t need all the space in the house anymore, and we were ready to live in the city for a while,” says Barbara Graovac. Still, “it was a big change.”

In 2016, they bought a town house in Charlestown that measures just under 2,000 square feet. They soon realized they would have a tough time reusing their furnishings. “Everything we had felt too big,” she says. The furniture’s style also seemed too traditional for the more contemporary town house.


The couple turned to designer Ana Donohue. “The home called for a more hip, urban look,” says Donohue. “To create a sophisticated, fresh vibe, I wanted to bring in an unusual color palette.”

The jumping-off point for the vivid scheme was the striped drapes in the living room, which feature lime and coral tones. Says Donohue, “We used a lot of tactile fabrics that have slight variations in texture” — a chair upholstered in cowhide, a velvet sofa, pink silk throw pillows.

Her clients were game for the distinctive hues, though Dan was hesitant at first. “He said, ‘Wow, those are pretty feminine colors,’ ” his wife recalls. “But Ana was very good at calming him down. She showed him the darker blue grass-cloth wallcovering for the downstairs sitting room, which has a more masculine feel, and he saw that it would all balance out.”

While the Graovacs were willing to let most of their old furnishings go, they brought along a few treasured pieces, including the living room rug. “It has a touch of coraly pink and lots of cream, so it worked with the drapes and added a soft touch to the room,” says Donohue.


They also kept their four-poster bed and dresser. Donohue updated the master bedroom by bringing in white-toned night stands with gold legs and a chic white Kate Spade desk emblazoned with black polka dots.

Since there were few large pieces of furniture in the home, Donohue wanted each one to make a statement while being highly functional. “Everything had to have its own presence,” she says. The long, striking console under the television in the living room is one example. There’s ample storage inside, while the exterior of the piece, made by John Strauss Furniture Design, has a white lacquer frame paired with bold painted pink doors. “It has an art element to it,” says Donohue.

Downsizing necessitated some other storage solutions. In the master bedroom, a long bench that serves as a perch for putting on shoes also contains space to stash Dan’s running gear. The new marble-topped vanity in the bathroom has hefty drawers that hold everything from toiletries to towels.

Elsewhere, “we had to find places for photo albums and files and other things you just want to keep,” says Barbara Graovac. The solution was a wall of new lacquered built-ins with mirrored doors, placed in the lower-level sitting room. “The reflective surfaces make the small area feel more spacious,” says Donohue.

The pair are enjoying life in the city. “We love having access to everything,” Graovac says. The one thing they missed was the abundant outdoor space they enjoyed at their former home. Their solution: They recently purchased a cottage on Plum Island, where they’ve spent weekends during the summer. Says Graovac: “It’s the absolute best of both worlds.”



The slim black Roche Bobois trestle table had the perfect silhouette for the narrow dining area; it also expands when needed for large gatherings. The benches are from Cabot House, and the upholstered host chairs are by Lee Industries. A mirror collage helps make the space feel bigger. michael J. Lee
The blue Phillip Jeffries grass-cloth wallcovering is embellished with gold accents that play off the glossy gilt Bernhardt side tables. The custom sofa is by Kravet, and the floral print ottomans, from Moss Studio, serve as both footrests and cocktail tables. michael J. Lee
A cabinet in the living room was one of the few pieces from the Graovacs’ former home that they wanted to incorporate into their new place. The Julian Chichester wood armchair (which has a matching ottoman) is sculptural as well as comfortable, says Donohue. michael J. Lee
In the master bedroom, the drapes feature a pink floral motif to liven up the space’s mostly gray and black scheme. The black four-poster bed pairs well with the neutral-toned Made Goods night stands, which have gold legs that add a little glam to the room. The storage ottoman was custom made by Kravet; the rug is by Stark. michael J. Lee

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