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At Home With Fashion Designer
Menswear designer Joseph Abboud’s new pied-à-terre in a 19th-century Boston landmark proves you can go home again.
Written by Candace Ord Manroe
Photography by Eric Roth
Styled by Kelly McGuill
Even after three decades of high-profile living and award winning in New York, menswear designer Joseph Abboud remains a Boston boy at heart. The first clue is how he describes his suburban home in Bedford, just north of Manhattan. Forget the leafy town’s easy commute to the city, or how its residents (including his own two daughters, both now students at Boston College) start riding horsesyoung. For Joseph, the most relevant fact is that it’s “a two-hour-and-47-minute drive to Fenway Park.” Not to put too fine a point on it. When talk runs to the Red Sox or anything else Boston-based, Joseph’s in deep.
Make that deeper, and for keeps. Back home to visit family in 2011, he stumbled upon the perfect property for a pied-à-terre. With the chance to replant roots after so many years away, he wasted no time sealing the deal.
“I can’t tell you how many thousands of times I’d passed by this building as a boy and admired its strength,” says Joseph, referring to the 1887 Waterworks Building on Beacon Street in Chestnut Hill. This time, however, was different. A “for sale” sign was a heads-up that the stately Richardsonian Romanesque structure was going multiuse with a museum and a few tony condominiums. The residential pièce de résistance—the center apartment with a whopping 8,800 square feet of living space—includes a five-story tower that imbues the hand-hewn stone facade with castle-like romance. It also affords stunning views overlooking glassy Bradlee Reservoir from a private rooftop deck.
For Joseph, the tower apartment really was love at first sight. With the blessing of his wife, Lynn, and a Ulysses-like sense of a past-due return, he was home again.
And what a home. “I live in a tower,” he says with a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming awe that’s unflagging two years in. “Pretty cool.” So cool he gives in to gushing—itself uncool according to the New York social code of which he has pitch-perfect command. But he’s not in New York now, and any faux-jaded veneer melts to expose real joy. “All these years, I’ve still had my emotional compass set for home. This was meant to be. This place is pure magic. Listen! Can you hear it? Even the sounds here are romantic. That’s the trolley running just outside.”
Inside the apartment, a foyer leads to the main living areas, which are open, large, and loft-like. On the foyer’s opposite side, mysteriously veiled behind a drapery, a narrow iron staircase spirals up to the five tower levels.
“Basically we staked out the two main floors for family living and turned the tower over to Joe for his man cave,” explains Lynn. Joe agrees, recalling conversations with daughters Lila and Ari. “The girls say things to me like, ‘Dad, the tower is yours. Go there and brood.’ ”
Brooding is what creatives do best. On good days, it brings brilliance. That’s what occurred when Joseph contemplated his new home’s interior design. Known in fashion circles for his all-neutral palettes and mix of sumptuous textures, Joseph’s taste in interiors is the same. Undyed raw cashmere throws and plaid wool pillows crafted in Scotland—fabrics from his menswear collections—warm his rooms, and not a trace of color is to be found. Anywhere. Little wonder he named the home “Sepia.”
But how to furnish the Boston home without depleting the family’s primary residence in Bedford remained a problem. And then there was that prickly matter of how to physically convey furniture and custom features to the tower rooms, which have cramped, limited access.
Enter brooding and brilliance. “I’m usually pretty good at this sort of thing, but I was stuck,” says Joseph. His a-ha moment came when he decided to seek a collaboration with the furniture manufacturer that best embodies his own style. “I realized my aesthetic in colors and fabrics exactly mirrors that of Restoration Hardware. My clothes fit beautifully in their environments, and their color schemes are easy for me to live with.”
Happily, Restoration Hardware, recently rebranded as RH, was on board, naming two of its senior designers from San Francisco as project coordinators. The design team puzzled out space planning and, with the exception of the Abbouds’ antique accessories and original art, furnished the apartment with RH.
The prevailing style is neoclassical, Joseph’s favorite. “I love pieces with substance and heritage. If you told me I had to live with midcentury modern, I would rather live in a tent. I like richness and romance,” he insists. Organic fabrics in pale natural hues combine with light paneling and wall paint or Venetian plaster to show the style at its best. Only in the tower do rooms grow darker and moodier upon ascent. The top-floor winery, Joseph’s favorite, “is pure dark romance,” he says.
What made Joseph’s collaboration especially timely was RH’s opening of a design gallery in one of Boston’s most notable architectural landmarks. Situated in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, the building was formerly the city’s historic Museum of Natural History and home to clothing emporium LouisBoston, where Joseph first worked in fashion (and met his wife).
Joseph is back in Boston as often as work permits, savoring precious time in the mini-castle he regards as his “sanctuary” and “strong, safe retreat.” Unless, that is, there’s a Red Sox home game. Fenway is a mere 12-minute drive. Either way, he’s home.