SoWa Art + Design District Transforms Boston Neighborhood Into Unrivaled Cultural Enclave

Natural and artificial light illuminate a contemporary living space where sleek functional design by by Giulio Marelli, Potocco, and Lee Broom is enlivened by adroitly curated artworks. The unpretentious elegance of the modern furniture complements the whimsical multi-media contemporary artworks, brought together to evoke a welcoming and dignified environment. 

The exquisite, inimitable collaboration between Zhanna Drogobetsky, owner of Casa Design Group, and Susan Lanoue, owner of Lanoue Gallery, underscores the radical transformation of Boston’s chicest neighborhood, SoWa, coined by the developer as a stylized abbreviation of “South of Washington.” The residential neighborhood, originally part of the South End, tightly sprawls from East Brookline Street to East Berkeley Street and from Shawmut Avenue to Albany Street. 

The two prominent businesses have been a cornerstone of the vibrant SoWa Art + Design District enclave. The first of Casa Design’s five SoWa showrooms opened in 2008, and Lanoue Gallery relocated to SoWa in 2014 after a decade in Boston’s Back Bay. 

“As a contemporary art gallery owner, the allure of a city district dedicated to promoting great art and design was just too enticing,” said Lanoue. “I was fortunate to get a lease for a space that was four times the size of my Back Bay location, which has allowed me to expand my programming in ways unimaginable before.”

Shifting Boston’s art world from Newbury Street, more than 20 contemporary art galleries, including Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, Samuel Owen Gallery, and Boston Sculptors Gallery, mostly situated on a tree-lined pedestrian walkway between 450 and 460 Harrison Ave., invite discerning collectors and passersby to explore a wide array of artists from blue chip masters to emerging talent. Exemplified by the innovative partnership of Drogobetsky and Lanoue, the galleries are intertwined with Boston’s premiere contemporary design showrooms, offering comprehensive wide-ranging appeal from world-leading furniture to custom cabinetry, lighting, and designers to cater to every client’s discerning taste. 

“My first visit to SoWa was on a First Friday arts evening, with the open galleries, shops, and showrooms,” said Drogobetsky. “The buzz of SoWa was incredibly different from anything else Boston had to offer. The next month we signed our first lease.”

The two women began working together shortly after Lanoue relocated. “We had an instant rapport,” said Lanoue. “I love working with Zhanna because there is a great symbiotic relationship between stunning contemporary art and design (because) each looks better in the company of the other.”

“Susan represents artists that not only appeal to our clients but also to me personally” said Drogobetsky. “Every birthday I treat myself to something from her gallery.”

It’s unsurprising that they met “organically, just by having our businesses in such close proximity,” as Lanoue put it. The mutual admiration is aesthetic, personal, and professional. “I wanted one of everything in her showrooms, and she became a collector of ours early on,” Lanoue added. “We are also very much on the same page when it comes to informing and educating our clients about an artist’s or designer’s background, inspiration, process, and value. Our shared sensibilities have definitely contributed to the growth of our relationship.”

“Very quickly, all of the art featured in our showrooms was curated by Lanoue Gallery,” said Drogobetsky. “Her collections of contemporary artists perfectly complement our displays and are loved by my clients.”

Their projects seem at once effortless and luxurious, every detail executed with precision to create a look and feel that celebrates the client’s desire while retaining a consistent, cohesive art and design character. 

“When it’s a collaboration with Zhanna, the design scheme is often underway by the time I enter the picture. My role then is to help the client find works of art that are not only in perfect harmony with the design, but speak to the client both emotionally and intellectually,” said Lanoue. “Your art choices can be a highly personal form of self expression that becomes inextricably linked with your family history and memories.”

The furniture and furnishings chosen by Drogobetsky are functional works of art. “Interior design is, itself, a form of art,” she explained. “In certain cases, the client may select a piece of art that becomes their inspiration and we design the interior around it. In other cases, a well-placed work of art gives an interior a focal point that transforms it, much like a piece of jewelry or an accessory accentuates an outfit.”

Besides the galleries and showrooms, the SoWa Art + Design District includes the SoWa Artists Guild, a non-profit association of professional artists whose studios are open at events such as the recent SoWa Winter Festival, SoWa First Fridays, and  the SoWa Art Walk, enabling folks to witness their creative process and connect with the creators as well as their work. 

Unique crafts, wares, and items by a wide range of makers drew crowds waiting patiently on line for the Winter Festival which took over SoWa Power Station, an architectural triumph in the form of the world’s largest power generation plant converted into a multi-purpose events space. Built in 1891, the building powered the West End Street Railway, and structural elements have been rescued and restored to retain late-industrial opulence in a contemporary setting. Standouts at the Winter Festival include scrumptious, ornate shortbread cookies infused with edible flowers by woman-owned business Sweet Botanical Bakes, and a Bites of Boston Black-Owned Business Box that indulges the senses with edible and personal care treats locally and lovingly crafted by Black women-owned businesses. Hold hands and touch heads, says Yanyi Weng of Yanyigraphy, putting sitters at ease with her disarming charm and playfulness during intimate, joyful portrait sessions.

Renaming and rebranding urban neighborhoods solely in an effort to profit from the momentum without a clear vision for rebuilding the community inevitably fails. SoWa is different. This isn’t a cosmetic revitalization or an empty marketing campaign. This is a marriage of creativity and commerce, where the aesthetic and the spirit of the creative world permeate every facet of daily life. It’s more than just repurposing old buildings and cultivating a trendy vibe. The art world is alive here, it breathes in these walls, on these streets, and through these inhabitants, and it’s invigorating to visit and enjoy the thriving culture. The locals are friendly, making art accessible even at the highest levels of a fierce global market.

Over the last two decades, GTI Properties and its owner Mario Nicosia have realized an ambitious mission to quickly elevate the community which boasts some 400 residential rental apartments in the South End and St. Botolph neighborhoods. They renamed the district and revitalized the area to become Boston’s most desirable location. 

“I immediately saw the vision behind SoWa and the importance of having an area so dedicated to the art/design community,” said Drogobetsky.

Stylish shops and upscale upscale eateries make this a destination for luxury living, and an unrivaled weekend or vacation destination replete with craft cocktails and ingenious cuisine. Don’t miss Jeff Gates’ Brasserie, which is the rising gem in an already world-class foodie scene. Start by sharing all the poisson cru before you embark on a Bostonian twist on classical French cuisine, and toast with magical mixology named after famous artworks. Gates is opening Roma 500 in the spring of 2022, another spot sure to delight. You’ll leave brunch sated and elated with any offering at Chef Colin Lynch’s coastal Italian restaurant, Bar Mezzana, like a decadent pairing of the singular creamy polenta marrying mushroom ragù and poached eggs while sipping on Everything But The Bloody, a novel take on the beloved classic made with tequila, cucumber, lime, bloody Mary seasoning. 

Don’t be intimidated. Unrivaled SoWa is eager to share its clever curiosity. Dogs are welcome, even encouraged, in this canine-coveting neighborhood that’s ideal for families. Centrally located AC Hotel by Marriott Boston Downtown is truly dog-friendly, has a 24-hour fitness center, a lounge, modern, spacious guest rooms, and convivial, attentive staff. The best restaurants feature mocktails that impress the most sophisticated younger palates.

“The success of SoWa has been the result of a lot of hard work from many committed people, from property developers to entrepreneurs and restaurant owners, to the individuals who simply call SoWa ‘home’,” said Lanoue.–design-district-transforms-boston-neighborhood-into-unrivaled-cultural-enclave/

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