Fine & Dandy

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

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.”

It's no wonder. Built in the 1880s and only steps from Boston Commons, 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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Its 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.”

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.”

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.

“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.

Architect: Doug DeChant
Interior designer: John Cialone