Metropolitan Home, September/October 2003
Produced by Donna Paul. Photographs by Maura McEvoy.
Written by Fred A. Bernstein.
Retailers may try to convince you that autumn is back-to-school season,
but dedicated home lovers know that falling leaves signal a primal urge
to refeather the closest available nest. Face it, redecoration is in
the air—either heavy (a whole-house transformation) or light (a quick
coat of paint and a new frame on a favorite family photo). Popular TV
shows suggest that most of us greedily seek easy solutions and instant
gratification when upgrading and updating. But the stories on the following
pages suggest that some dedicated homeowners are willing to put up with
the time, expense and inconvenience of invasive alterations in order
to create environments that best express their unique personalities.
The homes we feature have been heavily altered, but each one of these
renovations is made up of a series of light changes, many of which we
can all do in our own homes. So get ready, get set, go reno!—The Editors
2nd Act: Met Home of the Month
Back in the early 1990s, when Jon Platt, a jet-setting theater producer,
was offered a chance to help bring Angels in America to Broadway,
it took him about a minute to say yes. Ten years later, after an early
run-through of Wicked, a musical that reveals the untold back
story of the notorious witches of OZ, Platt signed on just as quickly
(Wicked is scheduled to open on Broadway in October).
"When you find the right property," says Platt, "you know it." The same
principal applied to his beach home, about 50 miles south of Boston,
where Platt has an apartment. He was looking for a place to dock his
sailboat. The property he found had stunning views of Martha's Vineyard
and the Atlantic Ocean and a lawn expansive enough for a pool as well
as tennis and basketball courts. Platt made and offer.
The house itself, Platt says, was dark and failed to take
advantage of the views. Windows were small, which was typical
for New England in the days when glass was taxed by
the size and number of the panes. And the original 18th-century
saltbox was flanked by—in the words of interior designer
Shelley Benjamin—"hideous additions from the 1920s and
1970s." In fact, Platt says, most of the potential buyers for the
house had considered it a teardown.
Platt hired Benjamin, who had designed his apartment in
Boston, and architects Brigid Williams and Patrick Hickox
(of Hickox Williams Architects in Boston) to oversee the renovation.
(Benjamin's husband, John, served as contractor.) Later,
John Powell, a Boston-based lighting designer, was called in
to design the fixtures, and Brown Cranna of New York's Studio
Luxe created custom paint colors. "My job," Platt says, true
to his calling, "was to keep the creative team focused."
Downstairs, window openings were enlarged, and the
center stairway moved to the side, so "when you walk in the
front door," Platt says, "you see the light and the views." For
the sake of surprise, he kept the windows on the front of the
house small. "You don't even know the ocean's out back until
you open the front door." With the front door open, the view
takes in an open entry with large glass doors that open onto
the beach. "The challenge," says Hickox, "was to retain
fundamental character of a colonial house but to address
the need for light."
As for decor, the producer, who is currently represented on
Broadway by Man of La Mancha, says he wanted "a look that
was fresh but wouldn't undercut the history of the house."
Benjamin reinforced the colonial architecture with antiques,
but—to avoid a too-literal evocation of the past—helped Platt
select new pieces from future-forward furniture retailers like
Pucci in New York City and Repertoire in Boston. "She introduced
me to the idea that everything doesn't need to match."
The one thing Platt insisted on was that the house have a
soft look. The shiniest things in the house, he jokes, are his
three Tony awards-two for Angels in America and one for
"To me," says Platt, "shiny means glitz. And when I want
glitz, I put it on the stage."
Kitchens are invariably the most difficult rooms to rework, and
Platt's was no exception. His goal was to slip 21st-century appliances
into an 18th-century room—without letting it read too
"period" or too modern. The formula involved having counters
fabricated of stainless steel, but with a brushed surface that gives
them a soft look (and, as a bonus, doesn't show scratches as
readily). The edge of the countertops has a slight cantilevered lip,
a detail that Shelley Benjamin designed but which, her husband
says, was tricky to fabricate. "Bending sheet metal in one direction
is easy," says John Benjamin. "But to bend it in two
directions involves cutting, welding and grinding out the welds."
"John wanted to kill me," Shelley claims.
The kitchen cabinets (styled after the 18th-century cabinets
over the dining room fireplace) are painted linen white—the
same color, Benjamin says, "as all the woodwork in the house."
For backsplashes, she chose thick slabs of bluestone, which,
given their weight, posed installation problems. But they give
the place a sense of permanency, says Platt, who likes the material
so much, he turned part of his yard into "the world's
only bluestone basketball court."
The kitchen is really a suite of rooms in which Platt has a
choice of places to eat. Some nights, he pulls a wooden chair
up to an old French farm table (Shelley had the chairs faux
painted to pick up the colors of the walls and cabinets). The
nearby dining room is outfitted not for banquets but for intimate
dinners in front of the fireplace, with candles burning on
an antique Queen Anne dining table surrounded by linen-covered Philippe
During most of the eight-year renovation period, Platt was on
the road; Benjamin and the others e-mailed him photos for
approval. But each Memorial Day, the crew cleared out. That
way, Platt could spend the summer enjoying the house—and
coming up with even more ambitious plans for the next construction
"Jon's thinking was so dynamic," says his architect, "that
he got to know the house better, he would want to go in directions
we hadn't anticipated."
Platt says he has half a dozen favorite places in the house,
but "nothing beats taking a bath, with a roaring fire on one side
and the ocean on the other." With 200 square feet for the master
bathroom, Benjamin installed the tub on an angle and found a
graciously proportioned porcelain sink. Like Platt's best musicals, the
sink has legs, which lets light and air flow
through the room. A reproduction "satellite" mirror (originally
designed by Eileen Gray in the 1920s to be wall-mounted) is
installed here as a room divider. Benjamin realized that all it
needed was a new back and sleek metal supports. Husband
John rose to the challenge. He also built the columns in Platt's
bedroom, which double as a headboard, and the attached night
tables. "I didn't want some big, pompous bed overpowering the
architecture," says Shelley of her preference for built-ins.
But despite his many favorite places, Platt is rarely at home
these days. Phoning from San Francisco, he is ecstatic about
early reactions to Wicked. It took three years to bring his
show to Broadway, far less time than it took to complete his
house at the beach.
What the Pros Know About
Installing the faucets
in the wall, rather than
on the sink, saves
inches in a small bathroom.
It also means,
says Shelley Benjamin,
that the hot and cold
water pipes aren't visible
sinks. Best of all, "the
water falls in just the
right place," she says.
In a new house, wall-mounted
"no trouble at all,"
but, she says, in Platt's
getting the plumbing
into the wall in just the
right place was "very difficult"—for her husband! Benjamin
chose a wall-mounted sink in black enamel. But
when Platt saw it, he balked. Benjamin suggested
nickel-plating the sink, and Platt agreed.
1. Paintings of America's Cup yachts from the 1930s, which
Platt found at a gallery in Paris, hang on the billiard room
walls. To bring as much light as possible to the room, without
turning their back on the house's past, the architects created
a clerestory of small, square windows, which Benjamin says
"are very indicative of old New England architecture."
2. John Powell of the Boston firm Light Time in Space
designed the more than three dozen nickel-plated sconces for
the house; the armatures were custom fabricated in Canada.
Benjamin, who says she never paints ceilings white, chose
silver for the ceiling of the powder room, because "it picks
up on the nickel-plated sconce and sink." She avoided crown
moldings, which would have crowded the tiny space.
3. Every door in the house is mahogany, an extravagance now
that they're painted white. Benjamin said it took more than a
dozen tries to get the color of the new floorboards to match
the originals perfectly.
4. Platt's billiard room has two focal points: ocean views (the
building is Platt's guesthouse) and an 1880s Brunswick pool
table with ebony inlay. Benjamin had the rug made in Tibet.
The light fixtures, from Flos, were designed to hang on short
cords, but Benjamin had her husband suspend eight of them
from the cathedral ceiling in a perfect grid. "Luckily for me,"
she says, "he's an engineer."