Designer Eric Haydel doesn’t mind telling you he is hardheaded. When he notices something—whether it’s a notion to take a different life path or an instinct that two disparate shades of blue absolutely belong together—the past (and youngest) president of the New England Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers calls it the way he sees it. And, at just 33 years old, the owner of Eric Haydel Design in the Boston Design Center is seeing a lot these days.
“Homes tell stories,” as Haydel likes to say, and he often opens a front door and sees the story—including the occasional plot twist—waiting to be told.
When Haydel stepped over the threshold of a 1980s North Andover house to assess a redesign of the first floor’s main rooms, he took in a lot, including its odd floor plan. “Like many 1980s homes, there were these weird measurements,” he recalls. Flow was interrupted by underused spaces, such as the dining room, which the architecture decreed would be a formal space. “The family didn’t want it so formal,” Haydel says. “This is a young family with kids. The dining room was becoming a place to dump things.” In the meantime, the formal living room “had turned into a gym” covered in blue tumbling mats in constant use by the couple’s three children. The furniture was oversized. “I remember cringing a bit, thinking, ‘You’ve got to do more,’” he says, with a light laugh.
But what really grabbed Haydel was the antique China Tang dynasty horse by the fireplace. “It was really interesting; that this started the conversation,” he says. “The homeowner said it should go to the basement.” But Haydel saw a lot of history and emotional value in the little horse. He decided they would build on it.
Today the house rings with a modern, easy mood threaded with historical perspective, using subtle designs sometimes repeated for cohesion. A lovely oriental lattice pattern, for instance, appears in the Nina Campbell wallpaper on the walls of the adjacent first-floor office and in the Clarence House pillows on the plush blue Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams living room sofa. “We pulled that reference again and again,” Haydel says of the lattice design.
The sleeper sofa, besides being a clear focal point, serves an important purpose, allowing the homeowners to accommodate an older family member who sometimes needs help. “We needed to have something that’s beautiful enough to anchor the room, but that will also function properly,” he says. “It made the space function really well.” (The tumbling mats disappeared into the basement, where the kids are quite happy with them.)
Blue, whether an organic ocean shade or an electric eye-popper, is a strong preference of Haydel and his staff. “I like to start with blue,” he says. “It’s a vast array of color.” The color adds spark throughout the living room, appearing in the carpet, the swivel chairs, and the blueberry blue coffee table. (The minute the coffee table was placed, Haydel says, the youngest child jumped on it.)
A rich navy blue appears in the foyer and is carried into the dining room, including being present in a striking modern abstract painting. When a guest is perched on the living room sofa, pastel blue can be glimpsed on the wall treatment in the office. In the dining room, a dome shape that the homeowners love is reflected in the wallpaper featuring gold circles as well as in the circular dining table and pendant light fixture above it. Through it all, shades of blue draw the eye. “Blue for me is a neutral color,” says the Louisiana-born designer. “It can become an anchor, in essence grounding your relationship to the space.” He explores extraordinary shades of blue and other colors in a custom collection of rugs he designed for Dover Rug & Home. He will introduce a new collection, Naturals by Eric Haydel, this summer.
Haydel’s innate sense of how people relate to their own unique space has taken him well beyond his design practice and onto community-minded paths. As a board member of Friends of Fort Point Channel, he advocates for the area between South Boston and downtown, where he lives. Also as a sideline labor of love, Haydel specializes in liturgical space design, and practices his talent at the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola at Boston College. “It’s my own journey,” he says, “my gift to give back.”