A Charmed Life

"I’m not a Tudor person," says Liz Charm. In spite of that, after years of living in a West Newton Victorian, she and her family moved around the corner into a dark brown 1911 Tudor-style home. Though they had been ready for a change, the new masculine abode didn’t quite work for the bubbly, bohemian 48-year-old homemaker. And while her neighbors may have used the "standard Tudor recipe," Charm preferred to do things her way.

"They had already lived in a house with comparable character," says Treff LaFleche of LDA Architects, whom Charm hired to renovate and add on to the home. He wanted to make it "not quite so constipated and ponderous. We needed to create an environment that was less formal than it was 80 years ago, and give [the house] a new life without losing its origins."

Like most Tudors, the home lacked a family room and a mudroom, featured a "woefully outdated" kitchen, and had a detached garage. LaFleche had to grow the square footage to suit five children without losing the home’s turn-of-the-century character or making the space "gargantuan." By digging a new garage below ground level, he was able to minimize the expansion. Above the garage, he built a generously sized family room and a modern kitchen, replacing the original three-season porch.

No longer a hideaway for hired help, the new kitchen is outfitted with low oak cabinets (to accommodate Charm’s petite stature), reclaimed wood floors, soapstone countertops, and an army of barstools. LaFleche snuck in a formal powder room, hiding it behind wall paneling, and used some of Charm’s vintage stained glass to create an internal window. When he was finished, LaFleche had nearly doubled the original square footage; the new open floor plan delivers a traditional home with a 21st-century point of view.

Fittingly, Charm dressed the house in more-contemporary furnishings, and enlisted a professional to help. But Charm was discouraged when her interior designer wanted her to spend $30,000 on a rug. "You have five kids, two cats, and two dogs. You just can’t," said one of Charm’s friends. From that moment on, fine-arts teacher and painter Lindsay Bentis, who was establishing her own firm, Thread Art and Design, became the home’s designer.

Charm and Bentis hit the Brimfield markets and the streets of Soho, and scouted out local art studios. Taking a high-low approach allowed them to stay within budget without compromising style. Retailers like Ikea, West Elm, and Urban Outfitters helped Bentis find affordable, unexpected accents.

Keeping a mantra of "organic modern," every room is crafted with texture and function, while humorous winks and feminine nods are found throughout. In the family room, Bentis dressed up a neutral couch with colorful pillows, spray-painted stacking tables, and reupholstered an Asian-style ottoman to funk it up. Instead of a "stodgy painting" over the living room mantel, there’s a hot-pink feather headdress. "My artwork has always been inspired by nature, and I kept that idea for this house," says Bentis. "I tried to compose rooms as I would a drawing—line, composition, color, and texture."

Though highly polished, every room is a reminder that this is a family home. As Charm puts it: "There’s no silk, nothing precious; everything’s durable." Even the kids (and maybe the cats) use the wool "sea urchin" ottomans.

With the stuffy dark brown interior long gone, Charm is at home in her new surroundings. And working with a new friend turned out to be the best part of the experience. "I got a course in design and art history," she says. "I learned modern; I can’t believe I was ever anything but this."

  • Violetta

    This article is one of many examples why I cannot read Boston Magazine, even when it is free. This smug, childish, affected writing style pleases whom? Regardless of whether one likes or abhors Victorians, treating the building style as your parents and applying a teen-age rebellion writing style is childish. There are so many well written articles about Victorians after a modern face lift, I really wonder what your "writers" read. There would be no articles if these homes did not offer the grandeur of their palettes. Since when are huge windows, commanding staircases and soaring ceilings constipated? The current decor only masks the true beauty of the home, and remodelers know this or they would start with a modern house with 8 foot ceilings and clam shell molding. To say that the house is bright, vibrant, brainy and taking exceptional advantage of magnificent bones would be more like it.