Gary McBournie took a big leap of faith when he purchased a loft apartment in Boston's Leather District, a former industrial area now part of the city's financial district. The idea of loft living was entirely foreign to him-especially considering that he had lived in a 180-year-old country house for the past 20 years.
What daunted him most, however, was the loft's lack of visual appeal. "Everything," he says, "was red, red, red, red-the brick walls, the tiled ceiling, the painted concrete floors, even the plantation shutters. I felt like King Tut in his tomb."
So why would Gary, an interior designer well-known for his refined and polished aesthetic, buy such a distasteful apartment? "What sold me was the huge roof terrace and the building's close proximity to the Boston Design Center, where I spend a lot of time. I was tired of making the long commute into the city and was ready for a change," he says.
What about dealing with the relentless all-red decor? "Actually, I found the prospect of tearing the loft apart quite appealing, because it would allow me to explore new design directions," Gary says.
Every bit as off-putting as the color scheme was the loft's floor plan. "A loft apartment is supposed to be open, airy, and filled with natural light, but this one was just the opposite," he points out about the loft. "Here, everything had been put in the wrong location. The kitchen in the loft was in the center of the main floor, deprived of light by a wall that blocked the entire back section of what had originally been a 20x65-foot open space. I knew I had to blow it out and bring it back to its lofty bones."
Now reconstructed and well designed, the 2,000-square-foot, two-story loft apartment is a feast for Gary's expert designer eyes and those of anyone who comes to visit. Gone are the walls that blocked both light and beautiful views of the city. Gone, too-and good riddance-is the infestation of red. The new color palette design is soft and creamy. "I knew I didn't want a wild primary-color experience, and I felt that dark, moody colors would have been inappropriate for the space," Gary says.
Effecting the color change required wielding a paintbrush and towel, not waving a magic wand. It took multiple coats of white paint to cover the red-brick walls. The red-tiled ceiling was skim-coated in plaster, then painted white, and the concrete floors were covered with new cream-colored quartzite and natural hemp rugs. "The difference is night and day," says the designer.
Not into "edginess" but always aiming to expand his design horizons, Gary furnished the loft with a mix of fine antiques, new seating pieces, and a fascinating array of atypical artwork and accessories, including large, stylized paintings and old gear parts displayed on bookshelves as art. Although he prefers comfort to a streamlined look, the designer has room in his repertoire for contemporary. Two examples are the high-tech flat-panel television hung above the loft's fireplace mantel and a pair of glass-and-iron coffee tables purchased from Crate and Barrel. The tables are among the few straight-lined objects that Gary owns; his shape of choice is, for the most part, circular.
And there are many circular sensations to be found in the loft, including wall-hung antique starbursts and mirrors, a pair of old architectural wooden balls displayed as sculptures in the entry hall, several magnificent tables, and numerous decorative objects. Other round shapes to rave about are the cutout backs of the bar stools in the kitchen and a unique light fixture in the dining area. Designed by Gary, it consists of a traditional crystal chandelier hung within a gauze cylinder.
Now that the interior walls have been removed, the main floor of the loft apartment is basically one long rectangular space, divided by function, not arbitrary partitions. At one end of the rectangle is the main living area, which adjoins the dining area that opens to the new kitchen. Unlike the original light-starved kitchen (once located in the spot of the current dining area), the new cooking quarters are flooded with light from big, old industrial windows that overlook the city. Centered on an island topped by creamy Vermont marble, the room features simple glass-paned cabinets, the interiors of which are painted chartreuse "to keep the space from looking like a big white industrial box," says Gary. On either side of the cooktop are drop-down window seats where guests and Winston, Gary's Welsh terrier, can perch and watch while Gary cooks.
The roof terrace above the apartment that sold Gary on the loft can only be reached via the spiral staircase in the main living area. Anyone who minds the winding climb is soon all smiles when settled outdoors. Originally just eight feet deep, the size of the loft's rooftop retreat was tripled, and it now invites with Alberta spruce trees, weather-resistant furnishings, and sublime views of the Boston skyline.
"All of this peace, privacy, and being right in the city, too. It's ideal," says Gary, who doesn't seem to miss his historic house and its bucolic setting a bit.