After standing vacant for three years, and having served as a rooming house for many years prior, this stately Victorian was balanced precariously on the tipping point between being a great fixer-upper and something perhaps too far gone. Its salvation came in the form of a young couple who saw its potential to accommodate their distinctly 21st century lives and knew that the next balancing act would be the most important one in the house’s long life – how to rework functions and reenergize finishes without destroying the patina, scale and detail that makes old houses so attractive.
Architecturally, the principal entertaining rooms required only modest changes. The kitchen, baths and connecting spaces, however, where spatial requirements are substantially different than they were in the 1880s, were remade by capturing and reorganizing other rooms. A secondary bedroom became a new master bath, and a series of service rooms, back stairs and porches were combined to make a large open kitchen and lounge space. Pantries and closets were realigned to allow circulation from and between “front” and “back” rooms that would have been improper in the Victorian era. The kitchen was glazed floor-to-ceiling and nearly wall-to-wall in steel-framed glass opening onto a new urban garden that masterfully blocks out the unsightly parts of the city that had closed in around the house.
Interior millwork was assessed in three categories – ornamental work, including some fireplaces, was carefully restored; high quality mahogany doors were gently cleaned to retain their hand rubbed patina and unlaquered brass hardware; and lower quality gumwood filler panels and running trim was refinished in low-luster black enamel to remove the too-brown effect that gloomily permeated the first floor. The calming and unifying effect of those changes allowed for a more exuberant and joyful selection of luxurious furniture finishes and shapes punctuated by sometimes moody and challenging artwork. The end result is an old house not so much reborn as coaxed confidently into a third century of providing physical and emotional shelter to its inhabitants.
Photography: Jane Messinger
Landscape Design: Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC
Contractors: Cambridgeport Construction Gillman Guidelli & Bellow Custom Builders B P Donoghue Carpenters LLC