A Traveler’s Haven

Unique Discoveries give this condo a personal touch

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The dining room’s Waterford crystal chandelier is like a cascading waterfall.
Photographed by Joseph St.Pierre
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The dramatic warhorse wall hanging was painted by the Prince of Romania.

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Sometimes a lovely home is more than just a blend of beautifully coordinating pieces. Sometimes it is a gift—a space so suited to a loved one’s tastes that every day is a gentle reminder of the designer’s personal touch.

Such was the gift Pat Forma gave her husband, John. Every color, every item in their downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, condo was selected by Pat to complement their life together and capture their mutual tastes. Pat passed away two years ago, but the beauty she created lives on in their home. “I feel like she designed all this for me, and then she left,” John says. “I miss her every day, but I sense her in these rooms. I see her handiwork everywhere.”

When Pat and John met, it was at a disco in November 1973. It was not love at first sight, but there was interest. “We started going out and then fell in love,” recalled John. “We wound up being together 35 years. She was my partner in life and in work.” When they met, Pat worked for Pan Am, but she later got a degree in accounting and went to work for John as his company’s forensic accountant. John owns O’Brien Energy Resources Corporation, a company that deals in oil and gas exploration. The company takes its name from Pat’s maiden name, and together the Formas traveled extensively, from the oil fields of the American West to Italy, Saudi Arabia, and other parts of the Middle East.

As the company grew, the Formas lived in a range of places, from a New York City townhouse to an estate in Scarborough–Briar Cliff Manor,

New York, and finally, to a larger residence in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In later years, health issues made Pat consider a condo. “She liked the idea of living all on one floor,” John says. “When this property opened up, we jumped on it, buying two units in order to have a larger floor plan. My offices are also just one floor below.”

In John’s words, Pat was a “classy lady, always perfectly dressed and groomed,” and the residential condo bears that out. She designed a decor that is elegant yet comfortable. Pat also loved to shop (“Her favorite thing to do!” according to John), and the rooms are filled with her unique finds.

Upon entering, you see one of Pat’s stunning discoveries—a massive mahogany chest topped by an antique mirror, which doubles as a hat rack and repository for gloves, keys, and mail.

The hallway opens up into an open concept floor plan featuring the kitchen, dining area, and living room. Hardwood floors run throughout, and the walls are done in pale sand with white trim, providing a clean, cool ambiance. Large windows flood the space with natural light.

At the far end of the room is the living area, set off by a large, comfortable couch custom-made by Cabot House, upholstered in deep navy, and splashed with brocade pillows. Off to one side is an antique wooden chair with graceful lines and elegant brocade cushions, another of Pat’s happy finds. Opposite the couch, most of one wall is lined with bookshelves, also done in crisp white. Adjacent to them, a flat screen television hangs over the fireplace with its white mantle and a surround of dramatic black tiles. A wing chair in pale blue offers a cozy seat for reading by the fire. Against the far wall, a tan couch, piled with pillows, provides additional seating. Some of the pillows show classic scenes of jockeys and thoroughbreds, a nod to John’s former career as an owner and breeder of thoroughbred horses. The wall above the couch is nearly filled with an eye-catching wall hanging of a stylized horse, wearing ornamental tack and war armor. The hanging, painted by the Prince of Romania, is a favorite of John’s. Throughout the living space, there are little treasures—an antique flat iron on a windowsill, china spaniel figurines, and on the mantle, a charming Richard Ward Winchester clock—examples of Pat’s deft hand with selecting finishing touches.

“Pat didn’t like glitz,” John says. “She was conservative and refined in her tastes, and that’s why these rooms work so well. We liked to entertain, and the spaces suited that, but we also loved to be homebodies. You can be equally comfortable entertaining or just relaxing here. The way she designed the condo perfectly fit our lifestyle.”

The focal point of the dining area is the large baker’s table and matching chairs of dark cherry wood. The ends of the table are inlaid with bands of mahogany, and the table is set with Pat’s dark blue and white Royal Doulton china, which echoes the dark blues of the living area. Suspended overhead is a dramatic Waterford crystal chandelier that the Formas brought with them from New York City. Designed in tiers of flowing crystals, it resembles a cascading waterfall.

An island separates the dining area from the kitchen. The island’s granite top is an expanse of sand, brown and cream. Fitted around the island are solid cherry, lattice-backed chairs with ivory cushions, while hanging above it are light fixtures that are true works of art. Each features a triangular pendant light within a long, slim, silver-toned rectangular frame.  Suspended below the rectangular frame is another triangular light with a frosted shade of iridescent glass. 

“Pat found these at Rockingham Electric in Portsmouth,” John says. “She would hunt everywhere until she found just the right thing.”

Extensive cabinetry wraps around the back wall of the kitchen, with pale tan cabinets below and dark cherry versions mounted above. The granite countertops echo the shades of the granite island countertop, and the same tones are picked up in the backsplash above the stove. Within the backsplash, an ivory frame sets off inlaid tiles featuring raised designs of birds and deer. “Pat went right to the quarries to pick out all the granite herself,” John says. 

Pat had a keen eye for function: a large sink is located within the wraparound counters, and additional double sinks are set within the island. Each end of the island provides storage.

Off the main entry hallway is John’s den, a room his friend Adam christened his “man cave.” The room is filled with man cave essentials—large screen television, DVR, sound system, and rich leather sofa with a matching recliner. Anchoring the room is a large Persian rug in bold red with pale gray flowers. “All of our rugs are original,” he says. “We have them from Persia—now called Iran, India, all different countries from around the world.”

Pat continued the neutral color scheme of the main living area in the master bedroom and bath. Both the soaking tub and walk-in shower are lined in Italian marble tiles with a pale sand and cream design, colors that are repeated on the walls. His-and-hers mirrored medicine cabinets hang above dual sinks set into coordinating marble countertops.

In the bedroom, walls of Pat’s favorite pale sand hue are set off by white woodwork, and a taupe carpet makes walking lush underfoot. Flanking the bed are antique Asian bureaus with curved-line fronts; each is painted with a pattern of green vines and red flowers against an ivory backdrop and fitted with a red lacquer top with a gold overlay. Atop the bedside tables, gold and glass lamps with crisp white shades cast a soft glow. Across the room, a more modern armoire commissioned by John features the same vine design. In one corner of the room, Pat’s vanity table is the essence of femininity with its graceful lines outlined in gold and cream, marbled top, and gold framed mirror. A small crystal clock graces the table. At one end of the room, a deep tan screen conceals a massage table, so that John can have regular massages at home.

“Pat thought of everything,” he says. “These personal gestures always amazed me.”

Throughout the condo are various paintings, most by local artists, whom Pat and John loved to support. But there is one painting, selected after Pat’s death, which has special meaning for John. Created by Robin Whitaker of Eliot, Maine, it depicts fanciful butterflies in vivid yellows, oranges, and reds; a gauze netting overlays the painting, giving it a dreamlike quality. “A spiritual person told me that butterflies capture the essence of a person’s spirit, so I had to have it,” John says. “This is my tribute to Pat, right here.”

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