Boston — When Robert and Suzanne LeVine decided to join the back-to-the-city movement and leave their large gambrel-roofed colonial home in Wellesley, Mass., for a spacious condominum apartment at the foot of Beacon Hill in Boston, they were looking for a fresh living experience.
Their three teen-age children were growing up fast, says Suzanne LeVine, ''and I'd about had it with being the suburban housewife and with all the carpooling and transporting of children. My husband, a Boston businessman, had been suggesting for several years that we move into the city. Then one day I heard myself saying, 'OK, I think I'm ready.' ''
The fine old Bigelow mansion on picturesque Chestnut Street was just then being remodeled into condominiums. The couple fell in love with the building itself and with a three-bedroom unit on the second floor.
Before making a decision, they sought the advice of Don Hubbard, the interior designer who had helped them decorate their Wellesley home 16 years before. Could the new condo, they asked Mr. Hubbard, gracefully accommodate the entire family and their belongings, as well as all the furnishings of their house in Wellesley? Having surveyed the condo and its possibilities, the designer urged, ''Buy it.''
They explained to him that they wanted a whole new look and a completely different feeling. But they wanted it done with the things they already owned and loved, not with a bunch of new things. ''When we were decorating the Wellesley house, I told Mr. Hubbard to give us furniture with such quality that we would be proud to grow old with it,'' Mrs. LeVine explains, ''and he did.
''He had helped us find furniture of the very best quality. Over the years, we had added some few fine antiques and acquired a collection of modern paintings, African art, and American Indian pottery, all of which we treasured. Every piece we owned seemed to us like an old friend with which we were not yet willing to part company.''
When moving time came, however, the LeVines did yield to a mini-garage sale. They also disposed of one rug and traded a few paintings for others more appropriate to the new setting.
Mr. Hubbard managed the transition to Boston and the total transformation of furnishings through means of reupholstering, refinishing, repainting, and rearranging.
''As a young family in suburbia,'' says Mrs. LeVine, ''we had lived with masses of color - coral, spring green, and bright yellow. We had loved brightly colored lacquer finishes and lots of shiny silks and chintzes. Now we were ready for the calm and peace of an utterly new and subdued scheme consisting of camel, gray, and off-white.''
All seating pieces were reupholstered either in textured, nubby fabrics or wool plaids that blended wool and nylon. ''Because the couple had purchased such good upholstery 16 years before,'' Mr. Hubbard notes, ''the pieces had not only stood up to heavy family use but were well worth reupholstering.''
Subdued finishes were also chosen for all the wood pieces that were refinished or repainted. For instance, the long Parsons table that is now used behind the sofa in the living room was formerly finished with an acid green lacquer. Its new tortoise finish is a soft blend of beiges, grays, and whites. The designer chose a neutral, ribbed string-on-paper wallcovering for all walls except those in the bedrooms and bathrooms, for which he selected contemporary plaid wallpapers. Entrance hall and kitchen floors were covered with dark brown ceramic tile.
In contrast to the dark wood parquet floors in their former home, Mr. Hubbard recommended that the oak floors in the condominium be sanded, bleached, whitened , and given a glossy polyurethane finish. Rugs range from rag rugs for accent to textured broadlooms in neutral colors, bordered for decorative effect.
The heavy draperies used in the Wellesley house gave way in the new Boston residence to minimal balloon shades that lightly dressed the narrow recessed windows and blocked out very little light. Light blond kitchen cabinets were chosen for the city kitchen, which was much smaller - but perhaps more efficient - than the big country kitchen being left behind.
Mr. Hubbard then redistributed both furnishings and art to get an entirely new mix in the city condo. The African art collection, which had been clustered in the dining room in Wellesley, was judiciously spread out to all rooms of the Boston condo. The collections of American Indian pots and modern paintings were likewise rearranged in different rooms, so each piece could be viewed with a fresh eye.
The baby grand piano from the Wellesley living room took up residence in a corner of the huge new dining room.
''It actually works out better,'' Mrs. LeVine says. ''Our French Provincial dining furniture didn't begin to fill our new dining room, so we found it could well accommodate not only the piano but also the game-tea table and chairs, which were also in our old living room. Since we hire professional pianists to play during our larger parties, it works out fine to have the music coming from the dining room.''
Even the Waterford crystal chandelier that hung over the dining table in the suburban house has found a new location. It now brightens the entrance hall of the condominium.
In the end, Mr. Hubbard, who is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and of the Interior Images firm in Wellesley, accomplished exactly what he had been commissioned to do. He converted what had been a colorful country mix of furnishings into a sophisticated city mix with an entirely new and different look.
The LeVines not only took to their new city dwelling but to all aspects of city living.
''The move absolutely changed my life,'' says Suzanne LeVine. ''I decided to renew my license and go back to selling real estate. Now I'm telling other people about the many advantages of back-to-the-city condominium living.
''From being a real suburban housewife who played lots of golf and tennis and chauffeured children about, I am now a working woman who lives and works in the city.
''It's a whole new life.''