City Living

The Hartford Courant:
Designs on a Condo

From Blank Slate To Sophisticated Curves, Vivid Colors And Lustrous Lacquers

By Deborah Hornblow

It was 2005, and Barb and Art Spivak were ready for a change. The couple had lived for years in a five-bedroom home in Simsbury, the sort of residence that sits on a deeply wooded lot that is also home to squirrels, chipmunks and the occasional bear. The Spivaks raised four children there, but the kids were grown and had started families of their own.

Barb Spivak always dreamed of living in a city, but Boston and New York were out of the question. So when the couple heard about condominiums being built at Blue Back Square in West Hartford, they knew they’d found their new home.

Friends of the Spivaks warned the couple that highly anticipated new developments such as Blue Back can attract a lot of buyers and investors. “They told us to get there early,” Barb says. “People stand in line.”

With the agent’s office scheduled to open at 9 a.m., “I got there at 7,” Spivak laughs. She looked around, but no one else was there. She sat in her car outside the office, waiting and waiting. “I’m parked right across the street. Then it was like a ‘Seinfeld’ thing.” A bus pulled up, and three people got out. Suddenly, Spivak was fourth in line.

That day, the couple signed for a two-bedroom model on the building’s south side. They bought “sight unseen” on the basis of architects’ drawings. More waiting ensued as the Blue Back condos were built from the ground up. It was Feb. 29, 2008, when the Spivaks stepped into their unit for the first time, and they found themselves a little surprised. While the unit’s southern exposure fills the rooms with glorious light, the space was smaller than they had thought.

Creating A Sense Of Space

“From the plans, we thought it was one room larger,” Barb says. “We were so depressed.”

Enter Richard Ott, a designer and co-owner of DesignSourceCT in Hartford. The Spivaks hired Ott to make their new home their own, and his job became a dual mission: tailor the condo to the Spivaks’ tastes, and expand the feel of livable space.

Especially important to the Spivaks was the dining room area. Barb Spivak is the kind of cook who can whip up Julia Child’s Beef Wellington, and the couple frequently entertain their children, 11 grandchildren and friends. They wanted seating for at least 12.

Color was another key to the design. The unit’s off-white walls had to go. “I’ve always loved color,” Barb says. “When somebody walked in, we wanted them to say, ‘Wow.'”

Ott got to work. The starting point for the design was a beloved Victorian sofa that had belonged to Barb Spivak’s grandmother. With its curving spine and petite proportions, it is a perfect fit for the Spivaks’ new living room. When Ott and the Spivaks selected the fabric to upholster the sofa (using Bouchardon by Designer Guild), “that was the beginning,” Ott says.

“Everything” — paint colors, fabrics and finishes — “was picked from that fabric.”

The fabric’s bright pink, lime green and black became the palette for the entire condo. (It should be noted that Bouchardon in its original form contains an orange stripe, but Ott instructed his upholsterers to cut it out, avoiding the color entirely in his design.)

The other inspirational furniture piece was the Spivaks’ black lacquer cabinet — an Asian-style chest of drawers with ornamental brass hardware. From that piece, Ott borrowed the Asian style, the color black and brass, repeating them in details around the condo.

Colors And Curves

The completed space “has a lot of color,” as one visiting contractor noted, and the rooms flow into one another in a happy, color-wheeling contrast of purple-y pinks and greens. The wall colors — all paints by Benjamin Moore — include Gypsy Love in the living room (a name that still makes the Spivaks laugh) and Split Pea in the den. The bedroom is a soothing Pale Avocado, a perfect complement to the Asian fan-patterned fabric, Fenton by G.P. Baker, on the pillows and curtains. (The Fenton was originally intended for the living room but got moved to the bedroom when Bouchardon made its splash.) The paint on the master bathroom walls is the stunning magenta-like Pre-Dawn Sky.

The colors, aside from creating a vibrant backdrop for the couple in their new, more urban life, serve to unify the condo in a way that enhances the feeling of space. “Your eye tends to be able to pass over,” Ott says.

Other space enhancers are the furniture pieces that were designed or purchased for the condo. In each room, Ott eschewed anything with hard corners. The custom-made dining table, which expands with two leaves to seat 12, is curved at the corners. The custom living room carpet, its shape and colors taken from a flower in the Bouchardon, is rounded to reinforce the circularity of motion. The serpentine Hollywood-style chaise and chairs — all by Swaim — have rounded edges.

“I didn’t want a boxy sofa with boxy arms,” Ott says. “With softer lines adjacent to the sliding glass window, your eye gets to travel outdoors.”

He says the chairs also act as a visual radius: “The curvature of the lines moves your eye.”

Built-In Cupboards

Other pieces were selected for increased storage and functionality. The sofa in the den is a sleeper. The black grass-cloth cabinet piece in the dining room holds Barb’s tableware. A fold-down Murphy bed will be added to the bonus room.

In the bedroom, which also functions as Art’s office space, Ott recommended built-in cupboards and bureaus. The formerly blank walls near the window now boast a fold-down desk and cabinets. Files are stowed away in deep drawers under the Spivaks’ custom-built platform bed.

The final key elements in Ott’s design are the finishing details. The condo’s Asian elements are echoed by the living room’s brass sconces, the Fenton bedroom fabric with its Oriental fans, and the antique Asian stockade gate hanging over the couple’s bed.

A glimmer of Hollywood glamour and sophistication is literally heightened by the chandelier over the Spivaks’ dining room table — its eye-catching shower of glass beads playing with the light.

Drawer pulls on the bedroom built-ins are Lucite, which means they don’t create any sense of visual clutter.

“Richard has created an atmosphere that makes us feel we’re on vacation all the time,” Barb says. “It’s like staying in a really elegant hotel suite. That’s how we feel.”

The cost of the job is private, but Art Spivak points to the dining room table and jokes, “We’re eating as much as we can on this table. I want to amortize each meal.”

The Spivaks also got the taste of city living Barb Spivak had so longed for. The couple walks everywhere — from Blue Back Square to Prospect Avenue and, closer at hand, to the library, movies, bookstore, restaurants and even the dentist’s office.

“We have not missed our house — not one iota,” Barb says.