By Alexandra Hall
Photography by Andy Ryan | February 23, 2015 | Home & Real Estate
How the former North Shore home of Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Updike started a new chapter.
“Every novelist becomes, to a degree, an architect,” wrote the revered John Updike in 1985. “A novel itself is, of course, a kind of dwelling, whose spaces open and constrict, foster display or concealment, and resonate from room to room.”
It’s a telling analogy from a man who viewed both his writings and his homes as such personal endeavors. And when design consultant Suzanne Eliastam was approached by the new owners of one of the late author’s most beloved abodes—a grand Georgian home on the North Shore named Haven Hill, where Updike lived for years—she took that sentiment to heart in redecorating it.
“Above all, the homeowners were interested in creating something that respected the heritage of the home but was also inviting and very livable,” says Eliastam, who has known the new owners socially for years. “They had been remodeling the house for four years and had fired two other designers when they asked me to help. They were trying to keep the home as intact as possible while still modernizing it.”
Maintaining the dignity and refinement of a residence while making it so congenial that everyone feels relaxed in every room is no small challenge. How do you take a proud historic house and turn it into a home—a place where you’d want to kick back and hang out?
The first answer came from within the house itself. One of its most impressive pieces is something Updike left behind: a huge mirror, almost 10 feet tall, framed in wood with gold leaf. It shared space in the living room with the original fireplace, both of which were left untouched while the room was renovated. “Our objective was to create light to the other side of the room,” Eliastam explains. The living room’s two expansive new windows don’t just offer stupendous views of the ocean; they also provide a flood of sunlight, which the space had lacked. The mirror now reflects both the views and the light, which brightens the furnishings, such as a large round table in front of the mirror, flanked by two club chairs reupholstered in a cut chenille.
“We were aiming for gravitas, but also to lighten things up,” says Joseph Gordon Cleveland, who partnered with Eliastam on the home’s interior redesign. To that end, out went the dark, heavy rugs and in came a gold and pale-blue Oriental carpet. It was the perfect complement to the recently refinished honeyed floor. As the homeowners and design consultants dove deeper into the spirit of the home, they allowed themselves to take liberties that dovetailed with its original design aesthetic. Exhibit A: a rare, massive stone horse sculpture from China’s Tang Dynasty, added by Eliastam. She had noticed that it was coming up for auction (Eliastam is widely known as a wiz at finding treasures at Sotheby’s, Skinner, and other auction houses) and snapped it up for a song. “They were so delighted to see it in person, in the house,” she says. “You could see that their reaction was immediate.” Cleveland agrees. “It was visceral,” he says, “and once we knew they loved it and they were comfortable living with it every day, it was a done deal.”
To both the design team and the homeowners, combining that kind of fearless style choice with comfort was always the point. “I like to think of how people move in the space first and foremost,” says Eliastam, who herself lives in a townhouse, perched at the top of Beacon Hill, that manages to be both stunning and cozy. “I always aim for every room to be elegant but very real-life. Every single corner has to be a place you want to live in, not just a showroom.”
That philosophy melded perfectly with the goal of the homeowners, who were searching for a way to gracefully nudge history into the present, to honor both the home’s formal character and its highly personal contemporary details. The beautiful moldings and high ceilings, for example, were punctuated with starkly contrasting trims, while antiquities were mixed with bold objets d’art and sleek furniture—both modern items and striking period pieces.
“I love to give the mundane its beautiful due,” says Eliastam. “That’s actually a quote from John Updike,” she adds with a chuckle. “I read it while working on the house and immediately identified with it and knew it was unexpected but real inspiration. And I just thought, Could anything be more perfect?”
“Orangerie” is the new Black
Turning a sunroom into a sanctuary.
The challenge: transform a sunroom into an indoor/ outdoor dining space. The solution: create a North Shore version of the Musée de l’Orangerie, an art gallery in Paris’s Tuileries Gardens.
“Usually a garden is a separate building from the house,” says interior designer Suzanne Eliastam, “but this one was attached with two spectacular French glass doors. I knew the owners wanted to eat out there in the summer, and so I thought, Why on earth not make it something very different?” So she did. Having spotted a faded sofa in the attic, she reupholstered it with apple-green velvet. Then she scouted for antiques (bookshelves, birdcages, and such), painted some in high-gloss black, and flled the space with palm trees and hibiscus flowers. “I look at a room,” Eliastam says, “and see it as a painting.”
December 3, 2018