Row House Revival
Thirtysomethings Peter and Elizabeth Georgantas are serious—and serial—renovators. A developer and a designer, respectively, at PEG Properties & Design of Boston, the pair has rehabbed more than a dozen local residences, living in half of them along the way. Four years ago, they were finishing a project on Beacon Street when a nearby brownstone became available.
Time had not been kind to the 1828 property, created by famed architect Asher Benjamin, who designed the neighborhood’s Charles Street Meeting House. The building had been divided into four units, and there was little to no structural support left in the upper floors. (The boards were "like trampolines," says project architect Eben Kunz.) The top apartment’s faded green shag carpet and flocked wallpaper were a far cry from preserved period décor. But the Georgantases were smitten with the Public Garden view and saw the potential to make the historic residence function for a family of four.
Instead of replicating the house’s original layout, the couple created an open floor plan that would make sense for modern living—specifically for their two young daughters, Zoe, 2, and Isabelle, 10 months, and their black Lab, Monty. They envisioned wider halls, a bigger kitchen, and plenty of space for toys and strollers. But when it came to the scale and size of the rooms, Peter says they were careful not to make it seem too palatial. "We didn’t want you to feel like you were walking into 8,500 square feet," adds Elizabeth. "We wanted it to feel like a home." True to their words, even the "great rooms" are relaxed and welcoming, and the master bedroom is a relatively restrained 400 square feet.
Renovations done during the 1950s had stripped the building of most of its original details, so Peter enlisted Kunz, principal architect of Boston’s Kunz Associates, to add period-authentic moldings to the mantels, ceilings, and doorways. However, in contrast to traditional Federalist homes, the owners chose to carry the ornamental detailing through all six stories instead of limiting it to the lower levels. (Back in the day, only hired help lived on the upper floors.) More fine points of the restored home include marble baseboards, eight working fireplaces, and a new staircase inspired by the guesthouse at the Breakers mansion in Newport. They also brought a domed ceiling back to life with gold leaf, which required a worker to lie on his back "Michelangelo-style" on scaffolding for nearly two months, Peter recalls.
Having grown up in a seven-story London row house directly behind Kensington Palace, Elizabeth has an appreciation for vertical living and knows how to best separate public and private spaces. The Georgantases turned a small, upper-floor kitchen into a butler’s pantry and created a large, informal kitchen downstairs. A new back staircase lets caterers shuffle between the two, a very convenient feature since the couple often hosts parties and charity events for one hundred people or more.
Between a home gym, upstairs laundry, wine cellar, and au pair suite, the family uses all six floors, plus the roof deck with a recessed pool. Both Elizabeth and Peter have home offices; she gets a desk in the kitchen, he works in an oak-paneled, fourth-floor study. (On game days, the study area doubles as a sports-watching venue, as it’s outfitted with two TVs and a refrigerator, sink, dishwasher, ice maker, microwave, and outdoor deck with a grill.) Multi-level living has been easier since the Georgantases modernized the existing elevator—a luxury Elizabeth’s London home didn’t have. "Peter may try to tell you otherwise, but I use the stairs," she says with a smile. "Old habits die hard, I guess."
While renovating, the pair sought advice on everything from materials to mechanics from John Neale, a local real estate broker and historian for the South End Historical Society. Having seen a good share of Boston’s high-end row houses, Neale says the Georgantases’ finished house sets a new standard for living in the city. The home works "like an incredibly fine Swiss watch," he says.
Not all of that attention to detail is immediately visible, though. Behind the walls is four miles of Smart Technology wiring, which controls lighting, window shades, security cameras, air temperature, and an audio system that provides movie-theater-quality surround sound and customized playlists in every room (even the master bath). And every wall in the master bedroom is covered in custom-ordered sound-absorbing Italian silk, making it startlingly quiet.
Now, the Georgantases’ home, with its pool, interior elevator, and sumptuous details, undoubtedly boasts more grandeur than the original version. The couple agree it’s the most prominent historical home they’ve done—and luckily, it won’t need any major upgrades for a while. As Peter says, "It’s good for another 200 years."