Stuart Lawson is a peripatetic British banker who has lived and worked in 11 countries in the past 31 years. For the last six he has been based in Moscow, where he is currently the executive chairman of Bank Soyuz, one of the largest banks in Russia. He rents an apartment in Moscow, but he went to Odessa, on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, to purchase a summer residence.
"Odessa is a vibrant and cosmopolitan port city that's only a three-hour flight from Moscow. It has a balmy climate, a ballet, museums, antiques shops, and outdoor restaurants that serve good food and are also good for people watching," he says.
Lawson says that it is easy for foreigners to buy and sell property in Odessa and that the city has many apartments "with beautiful bones." The one he chose is on the second floor of a four-story building that dates back to the early 1900s and overlooks one of the city's parks, named for the revered Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko. When Lawson first saw the 591-square-foot space, its walls and elegant moldings, arches and columns were covered with paint in hideous hues. "The hall and bedroom were a violent pink, the living room was mauve, the study was green, and the kitchen was paneled in light wood," he says.
Lawson hired one of the best contractors in Odessa, who provided skilled craftsmen to renovate the space. He also had the help of his girlfriend, The apartment was repainted a pale yellow and two shades of eggshell; the kitchen and dining room were stripped and painted gray.
Lawson bought much of the Italian and French furniture for the apartment from two design shops in Odessa, but he and Kokeeva couldn't find a bed that suited them there, so they took a day trip to Kiev and chose a bed they liked for its simplicity. "Our real find was a ceiling fixture that was perfect for the living room, one that was stark and modern but alive, and it filled the volume with its spindly arms," he says. The airy living room is furnished with a pair of contemporary sofas and armchairs, a sleek sideboard, a low table and assorted lamps. A 120-year-old carpet from Uzbekistan provides a touch of the antique.
A photo of Montauk by Tanya Malott, Lawson's ex-wife, a professional photographer who lives with their seven-year-old son, Alex, in Sag Harbor, New York, hangs on a wall underneath an arch between the living room and the study. "It had been filled in by a prior resident. I considered reopening it, but I couldn't justify losing the study, which serves as Alex's bedroom when he visits me," Lawson explains.
Lawson enjoys living with works of art by Malott and by his friends. In the entrance hall hangs Dress, a print depicting a young girl's nightdress, by Katya Rozkova, a friend from Moscow. Skyscraper, a gift from Dutch painter and sculptor Jeroen Henneman, hangs in the dining room. The abstract painting suits the room, which has a different look from the rest of the apartment. Its floor is gray-stained wood, and the tables are black, with glass tops. The chairs are a shade of blue "in the same range as the painting," says Lawson. Some of the furniture he has acquired over a quarter of a century is kept in a storage unit in New Jersey he refers to as "Aladdin's cave." The dining table and eight chairs had been in storage there before being shipped to Ukraine.
Says Lawson, "I have no formal design training but have developed an eye over years of decorating new apartments in different parts of the world. This apartment, with its mix of old and new, is one of the most beautiful."