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Historic Boston Home Dressed for the Holidays

A Beacon Hill gentleman’s retreat welcomes the holiday season with a dash of red, a shimmer of ribbon, and informally fine style 

Written by Mara Boo
  • Michael Partenio

    First there’s the Santa-red door. Then the identically ribboned wreaths bedecking each street-side window where boughs spill from boxes beneath. And, of course, the golden glow of lamplight within, beckoning hurried, cobblestone-sidewalk-goers to peek inside as snowflakes fall. “We really try to bring the house into the Christmas season,” says Kevin Sharer. “We’re complete traditionalists in that sense.”

    Indeed, it’s difficult to conjure a more classic holiday setting than the historic Beacon Hill row house owned by Kevin and his wife, Carol. A retired corporate executive and current Harvard Business School faculty member, Kevin calls the house home during the school term, joining Carol on weekends and when he’s not teaching. “I’m nourished and comforted in this house,” he says. “It’s a sanctuary for me.”

    The charming Beacon Hill home evokes a traditional Christmas mood.

    Photography: Michael Partenio 
    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

    Architect: Douglas DeChant, Shepherd Resources Inc., 105 Edwards Village Blvd., Suite C103, Edwards, CO 81632; 970/949-3302,
    Interior designer: John Cialone, Tom Stringer Design Partners, 314 W. Superior St., Suite 502, Chicago, IL 60654; 312/664-0644,  

  • Michael Partenio

    Quaint Living Room

    It’s no wonder. Built in the 1880s and only steps from Boston Common, the six-story home exudes the charms of a bygone era. Measuring a mere 18 feet wide, it features just two rooms per floor—each with its own fireplace. “It oozes coziness,” says interior designer John Cialone, partner at Tom Stringer Design Partners, “yet being in it is a little like being inside the White House or Monticello. You walk through the neighborhood and read the historic plaques on all the houses, and you feel like you’re part of the history of the United States.”

    This space feels as comfortable for one as for a group, thanks to a pair of chairs rather than a second sofa. 

    Wall paint (“Light Blue” #22): Farrow & Ball,
    Ceiling and trim paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Chandelier (custom “Karlin Hall Lantern” #6055): Dessin Fournir,
    Area rug: owner’s collection.
    Fireplace facing and mantel: by Aren Design Inc.,
    Fireplace surround and hearth (“Absolute Black Granite,” leathered): Century Stone Inc.,
    Mirror (Regency): owner’s collection.
    Sconces (“Harmon Sconce”/Light Antiqued 22K Gold Leaf #6080): Dessin Fournir,
    Console tables flanking mantel (“Stapleford Gilded Thin Console Table” #FTA58): Vaughan Designs,
    Art (by Jamie Wyeth); benches under consoles; sofa: owner’s collection.
    Bench fabric (“Sasparilla”/Currant #1140-07, by ClassicCloth): Dessin Fournir,
    Sofa fabric (“Japanese Velvet”/Bronze #JW 7510, by Jasper): Michael S Smith Inc.,
    Floor lamp: Phoenix Day,
    Pair of chairs (“Gentleman’s Chair” #DL-CH 17): Dennis & Leen,
    Chair fabric: Dedar,
    Ottoman (custom): Tom Stringer Design Group,
    Ottoman leather (“Dream Cow”/Chocolate Pudding): Edelman Leather,
    Tray on ottoman (“Killian Tray”): Made Goods,

  • Michael Partenio

    Gracious Stairs

    Still, despite its age and its gracious architecture, “The first thing this house said to me when I saw it was, ‘Let’s have fun,’ ” Cialone says. Renovated multiple times in the past, “It had great bones and had been updated well, but wasn’t so inviting,” he adds. “Our goal was to respect the architecture but make everything feel younger and fresher—and make the house work for entertaining.”

    Enlarged by jettisoning a wall that separated the living room from the foyer, the hall’s floating staircase announces the home’s holiday style. 

    Wall paint (“Light Blue” #22): Farrow & Ball,
    Trim paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Credenza (antique, Italian Baroque-style, walnut, c.1890): John J. Gredler Works of Art Inc.,
    Table lamp: owner’s collection.
    Mirror (antique English): 1st Dibs,
    Carpet on stairs (“Berrydown”/Endive, with ribbed border): Mark Inc. Fine Carpets,

  • Michael Partenio

    Family Room 

    A substantial redesign helmed by architect Doug DeChant celebrated original architectural gifts such as mahogany beamed ceilings and richly detailed millwork, even as a wall came down in the entry hall to create an expansive sense of welcome. The dining room moved down a floor. The new location, next to the kitchen, flows seamlessly into the upstairs living room, encouraging guests to mix and mingle. Even the master bedroom was reconceived to create a suite of spaces dedicated to sleeping, bathing, dressing, and lounging. “My favorite London hotel room just happens to be in my own house,” Kevin jokes.

    Lounge chairs cozy up to a fireplace and an ottoman covered in a Lee Jofa crewel-embroidered velvet. The tree is simply decorated with color- themed ornaments and pinecones that echo garlands throughout the house.

    Wall treatment (““Shaker Beige” #HC-45, by Benjamin Moore, with specialty finish): custom.
    Area rug: owner’s collection.
    Drapery (“Paloma”/Moonstone Blue” #1002-01): Kerry Joyce Textiles,
    Drapery trim (“Riviera Les Unis Braid” #32188-9960): Houlès,
    Fireplace facing and mantel (original to house): refinished by Aren Design Inc.,
    Fireplace surround and hearth (“Absolute Black Granite,” leathered): Century Stone Inc.,
    Art over mantel (by Jamie Wyeth): owner’s collection.
    Sconces (“Louis XVI Wall Light” #WA0033.BR): Vaughan Designs,
    Lounge chairs: owner’s collection.
    Lounge-chair fabric (“Color Interrupted”/Natural Grey #4501-02, by Great Plains, discontinued): Holly Hunt,
    Trim (“1-inch Richmond Braid”/Rustic Taupe, Northern Blue #977-32882-10): Samuel & Sons,
    Pillow on left chair (vintage needlepoint): owner’s collection.
    Pillow on right chair (“Camberwell Vase Print”/Document #174552): Schumacher,
    Trim (“Ceylon”/Adriatic Blue #3348/19): Jim Thompson Fabrics,
    Side tables by lounge chairs (“Art Moderne Gueridon” #MP-75A): Matthews & Parker,
    Ottoman: owner’s collection.
    Ottoman fabric (“Bartholomew Crewel” #2005167, colorway discontinued): Lee Jofa.,
    Mirrored cabinet; chair in foreground; coffee table: owner’s collection.
    Chair fabric (“Belvedere Weave”/Berry #54030): Schumacher,

  • Michael Partenio

    Drinks Table

    The metaphor is apt since the narrow structure practically embraces with its small-scale rooms, all joined by a six-story staircase that unites each floor not only physically, but visually. Festooned with a lush garland of greens entwined with pinecones, ornaments, and shimmering satin ribbon, it sets the tone for holiday decorations that include greenery and ribbons winding around mirrors and trailing across fireplace mantels. 

    A petite side table is just the right size to hold seasonal treats.

  • Michael Partenio

    Historic Presence

    Though Kevin will be joining Carol and their children and grandchildren for Christmas in Colorado, he has a full agenda before departing Boston. There are friends, students, and colleagues to entertain, often in front of a crackling fire. “The scale of these rooms creates a kind of intimacy I prefer,” Kevin says, “where four to six people can engage in conversation.” Even so, he and Carol have entertained 25 people with ease. “The house really breathes now when people are in it,” he says.

    The design team initially considered painting the 19th-century mahogany beams white, but quickly deemed they lend irreplaceable character and texture. Leather-clad Rose Tarlow chairs circle a mid-19th-century English mahogany table. 

    Wall fabric (“Diamonds”/Imperial Jade #3288/13): Jim Thompson Fabrics,
    Wall paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Drapery (“Annapurna”/Amber, Teal #320807): Zoffany,
    Area rug; dining table; upholstered dining chairs (by Rose Tarlow): owner’s collection.
    Art above mantel (Look Out, by Forrest Rodts): Forrest Rodts Fine Art Prints,   

  • Michael Partenio

    Holiday Table

    The home's newly relaxed air is augmented by Cialone’s deft balancing of traditional colors, classic furnishings, and time-honored materials against clean lines, spare ornamentation, and judicious use of patterned fabrics. “There’s a sense of formality to how it’s furnished,” Cialone says, “but it isn’t actually formal. Kevin and Carol like to put their feet up and relax. Kevin wanted to be able to live casually.” 

    A mix of the homeowner's own china sits atop studded placemats on the dining room table.

  • Michael Partenio

    Dreamy Bedroom

    And so, against neutral backdrops of walls glazed in golden khaki or whispery blue, Cialone layered a mix of coral, aqua, and beige. Antique rugs provide pattern underfoot that contrasts with furnishings upholstered in solid colors. Although draperies and pillows, along with an ottoman here and a chair there, may wear selected patterns, they all speak more eloquently about texture than anything else. “For example, the paisley pillow on the living room sofa is embroidered,” Cialone says, “and the tone-on-tone draperies give a visual texture that adds depth. The key to making this house feel classic but young was to keep it clean. We did that by using a lot of traditional materials like mahogany and brass, but executing them without extraneous detail.”

    Diminutive antique bookcases flank the vintage bed and its leather-upholstered headboard. A simple wreath encircling a wall-mounted sconce infuses holiday cheer. 

    Bed (antique); bed fabric (leather); duvet (vintage paisley); nightstand (antique): owner’s collection.
    Bed linens: Matouk- Bespoke,
    Beige pillow shams (“Renfrew”/Flax #1158-04, by ClassicCloth, discontinued); floral pillow shams (“Lismore”/Multi #1159-01, by ClassicCloth): Dessin Fournir,

  • Michael Partenio

    Bedroom Sitting Area

    Equally memorable is the home’s collection of art, including paintings by Jamie Wyeth, and fine English antiques. “Kevin and Carol have an amazing furniture collection,” Cialone says. “When they sold their Los Angeles house, they told us to come pick whatever we wanted for Boston. It was like shopping at the Neiman Marcus of client storage!” A Regency mirror, for instance, hangs above a fireplace; the mirrored doors of a secretary reflect the tiny white lights on the tree.

    In the sitting area, an antique pedestal table tucks between custom wing chairs. 

    Wall paint (“Shaker Beige” #HC-45); cabinetry paint (“Ivory White” #925); ceiling paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Carpet (“Tatton Park”):  Mark Inc. Fine Carpets,
    Built-in cabinet; lounge chairs (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners,
    Lounge-chair fabric (“Whitewell”/Lake Blue #DP116-2): Carleton V Ltd.,
    Throw pillows (“Olema”/Songbird #L17641, Knoll Luxe Textiles): Knoll,
    Table between chairs; art (by Wolf Kahn): owner’s collection.
    Mantel: original to house.
    Sconces: Chameleon Fine Lighting,
    Ottoman (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners,
    Ottoman fabric (“Gainsborough Velvet”/Midnight” #42762): Schumacher,

  • Michael Partenio

    Master Bath

    An original fireplace adds charm to this airy reconfigured bath with twin vanities topped with Carrara marble. 

    Wall and cabinet paint (“Ivory White” #925): Benjamin Moore,
    Floor tile (“V-43 Basketweave Honed Carrera Bars with Blue Dots): Urban Archaeolgy,
    Vanity cabinet: custom.
    Countertop (Carrara marble slab): Stone Source,
    Cabinet hardware (“Hyde Park Pull”/Polished Nickel): Katonah Architectural Hardware,
    Faucets (#M1-1111 in Silver Nickel): Lefroy Brooks,
    Towels: Matouk- Bespoke,
    Mantel: original to home.
    Fire screen; artsconces; hanging light: owner’s collection.
    Lounge chair (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners,
    Chair pillow (“Olema”/Songbird): Knoll,
    Valance (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners,
    Sheers (“Colibri”/Ivoire #F2658002): Pierre Frey,   

  • Michael Partenio

    Master Bath

    The dreamy master suite includes a glass-enclosed rain shower. 

    Floor tile (“V-43 Basketweave Honed Carrera Bars with Blue Dots); wall tile on exterior of shower;  wall tile on interior of shower (“V-43  Carrara Honed  Running Board” with wall detail “V-43 Romano Carrara and Blue Macauba Tumbled and Honed Border”): Urban Archaeolgy,
    Rain shower (“M1-1015-NK in Silver Nickel); shower fixtures: Lefroy Brooks,
    Slab bench in shower (Carrara slab): Stone Source,
    Cabinet in dressing area: custom.
    Fabric inside door (“Colibri”/Ivoire #F2658002): Pierre Frey,

  • Michael Partenio

    Homeowner Portrait

    “This house is deeply personal in its design and decoration, and warm and welcoming in its environment,” Kevin says. “That’s a pretty good combination to make you thankful for what you have in life, and what your family means to you.” A gift, indeed.

    Homeowner Kevin Sharer returns from holiday shopping. “This house is a combination of welcoming, comfortable, and elegant—a hard triple to achieve,” he says. 

  • Gordon Beall