As a newlywed in the 1950s, Estelle Bond Guralnick traveled to Paris with her husband, Eugene Guralnick, then a surgeon with Boston’s Floating Hospital. In the romantic City of Light, they stayed in a well-appointed hotel where the walls of their bedroom suite were painted a warm, enveloping rose color.
“I just loved it,” says Guralnick. “It was restful to me. I’ve painted my bedrooms that color ever since.” That includes the master bedroom of her apartment in a high-rise co-op building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a location she picked for its views of the Charles River and proximity to Harvard Square. “A decorative painter did it in the style of Venetian plaster,” she says of the finish, which reminds her of that long-ago trip abroad.
Her move to Cambridge after 30 years in neighboring Belmont, Massachusetts, was not easy or impulsive. She left behind the sprawling Colonial-style house where she and Gene had raised their three children and that she had filled with antiques and collectibles that covered a lifetime of travel and memories.
As a longtime field editor for Meredith Corporation, publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and Traditional Home, a design writer and freelance editor for the Boston Globe Magazine, and, for the last 10 years, the Style & Interiors editor for Design New England, Guralnick has an unquestionable eye for good design. As a seasoned photo stylist, she also has a talent for mixing disparate elements into camera-ready moments that are equally compelling and disarming.
All that skill came to the fore when the Belmont nest became too big and too empty. Her children were grown and raising families of their own in far-flung places — Robbie, a movie executive, in Los Angeles; Jody, an artist, in Aspen, Colorado; and Margo, a writer and editor, in New York City. When Gene, who became a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, passed away, Guralnick says, “I waited 10 years to downsize.” When she was ready, she says, “I thought I should have an urban experience.”
To Guralnick, the Belmont house was the gold standard of homes. “I was besotted by that place,” she says, recalling how she first spied it while driving around the neighborhood where she lived with her young family. She penned a note to the owners. “Yours is the house I have fallen in love with,” she wrote, and asked them to let her know if they ever considered selling it. And so they did.
Now location, low maintenance, and conveniences (underground parking and concierge service) were the priorities. The co-op apartment on the sixth floor filled the bill on those counts, but the architecture and coziness she was used to in Belmont was nowhere to be found. And the two-bedroom unit was smaller; after all downsizing was the point, which meant that many of her Belmont treasures would not find their way to this cosmopolitan space. Still, she was confident she could create an intimacy and interest that speaks to her design sensibilities.
At the old homestead, “the kids went through the house and put Post-it notes on what they wanted,” says Guralnick. They sorted through furniture, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, and artwork. Professional downsizers were hired to help. “Their advice was to be ruthless,” says daughter Margo. “Now I think they were wrong. We regret everything we let go of, even though everything went to good homes,” including her dad’s bifocals (to a Third World country) and bed linens (to a homeless shelter).
Guralnick capitalized on what she did keep with an uncanny knack for reinvention. A coffee table with a base that adjusts to various heights got a marble top and became a small kitchen island. Her new rectangular living room is divided into two distinct sections by a hexagonal table, bought with its original paint for $25, that had been on Guralnick’s screened porch in Belmont. (“The porch was the most heavenly room in the house,” she says.) The living-room sofa, bought at an estate sale for the Belmont house, went to the upholsterer for a makeover, its velvet velour replaced by more casual striped ticking.
“This apartment feels like an encapsulation of our house,” says Margo. “It’s a sentence, not a paragraph.” Even the Monstera deliciosa, aka delicious monster plant, dates to the early days of the Guralnick marriage when Gene brought it home from the supermarket.
As for art, the walls are filled with Jody’s work, paintings with titles like Come on my Sweetheart and Fan Mail, each emulating a bit of family history.
Eclectic in her choices, Guralnick mixed her antiques with lighting from the mid-20th century and a classic black leather Eames chair and ottoman that she bought in the 1970s. “That was a splurge,” she says, noting the piece is graced with an afghan passed down from Gene’s grandmother.
There are some newly purchased pieces, too. The massive Empire sideboard in the living room was bought just for that space at a Maine antiques shop. “Empire is so graceful,” says Guralnick. “I’ve always loved it.” Above it is a mirror that belonged to her grandmother. In the dining room, a 1950s Empire-style table, bought for the new apartment, is surrounded by a diverse collection of chairs that had been in Gene’s waiting room. Against the wall is a colorful wallpaper-enhanced antique cupboard that she and Gene bought as newlyweds.
Guralnick acknowledges it took awhile to adjust from living in an old house rich with architectural details to making a home in a modern unadorned box. It helped that she was able to re-create one thing the old house had — an uplifting first impression. “The best design is when you come through the front door and your eye goes to the vista,” she says. At the Belmont house, “the foyer was beautiful and opened to the garden.” At the Cambridge apartment, the view from the front door, across the dining room, is to the leafy views of city rooftops.