Lover of antiques takes mixing to the max

Designer crams his condo with exotic objects

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By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / June 25, 2009
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Jeffrey Delvy’s Back Bay condo may be only 700 square feet, but it is jammed with enough objets d’art to fill a space twice as large. Nearly every surface is covered with his finds - a Chinese tomb object here, a French candlestick there. The architect who went into interior design full time nearly two years ago confesses that when it comes time to dust, he has his hands full.

“A friend of mine said ‘There’s minimalists, and then there’s you. You’re a maximalist’,’’ Delvy says. “But I love all my stuff. This is what I gravitate toward. I like over-the-top, and I like a lot of things.’’

Delvy, however, is quick to show that in his portfolio he can do more than create cozy condominiums loaded with Chinese antiques. His design work is eclectic, but when he’s home, he prefers to be surrounded by 19th-century antiques. Most of his decor came from antique shops in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Last week, Delvy gave us a tour of his petite pied-a-terre and some of his favorite pieces.

THE LIVING ROOM is a mix of French and Chinese antiques. Delvy, who possesses a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor, confesses that much of his interior design schemes shouldn’t work. He mixes eras and styles easily, and somehow the end result is cohesive. In the living room, a chair that would have sat at an altar table in a Chinese home flanks the fireplace. The statue behind the chair is a 19th - century Chinese temple guardian that stands on a Lucite stand from the 1970s. The nearby mantle is illuminated by 19th - century Japanese lanterns that were turned into electric lamps. There are more tomb objects, Victorian candle sticks, plastic dragons from Chinatown, a picture of Delvy’s Scottish Terrier. ‘‘The trick is to mix,’’ Delvy says. ‘‘If you love the objects enough, it will come together. Anyone can go to a store and buy a whole set of furniture.’’

DELVY’S SMALL CONDO is divided into two rooms, so each room must serve multiple functions. His bedroom is also his sitting room and home office, so he wanted a bed that felt like a separate room, settling on a mid-19th century Chinese marriage bed. The bed would have been given to a couple on their wedding night. Delvy’s marriage bed took four months to arrive from Shanghai. ‘‘When it came it was packed in wooden crates,’’ Delvy says. ‘‘So I ripped the crates apart and got the pieces out. The next day my arms were really itchy. Soon they swelled up and I had to go the doctor to see what was going on. The Chinese use sumac trees for their wood crates. They’re immune to poison sumac, but I’m not, so I was covered with poison sumac for three weeks. Decorating is not for the faint of heart.’’ He found the hanging lanterns and all the fabric for the bed in Chinatown. The painting behind the bed is from an artist in Beijing.

DELVY TOOK AN INTEREST in collecting Asian antiques shortly before moving into his condo 13 years ago. On his right is a turn-of-the-century Chinese lamp with a metal lantern hanging from the dragon’s mouth. On four of the eight sides of the lantern are phases of the moon, from crescent to full. The tea service is French Art Deco from the 1920s. The clock is turn-of-the-century French. Behind the clock is a large tomb figure of a woman from the Han dynasty, which ran from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. The Chinese wall hangings behind him represent the four seasons. Also behind him are two table lamps that he displays on wall shelves from Home Goods. All the frames in the room come from Marshalls. ‘‘They have good things if you’re willing to go on several occasions,’’ he says.

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