Who says the suburbs can't be artsy? A Newton family injects their 19th-century house with a modern vibe.
In the early eighties, newlyweds Carol and Clif Stoltze had settled into a small starter house in the sometimes-gritty neighborhood of East Somerville. Theyâ€™d met as art majors at Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth), and gone on to work in creative fields, she as a visual merchandiser for Jordan Marsh and he as principal of then-upstart graphic design firm Stoltze Design in Fort Point Channel. The area suited their bohemian sensibility, but in the early â€™90s, as their daughter, Fiona, neared school age, they began looking at the location differently. Though they say they werenâ€™t â€śsuburban people,â€ť moving to the suburbs seemed to make sense.
The house they found was in Newton Corner, a tiny sliver of town bordering Brighton and Watertown, one block from the Charles River and close to the Pike. It was a simple Queen Anneâ€“style home built around 1866 and converted, somewhat sloppily, into a two-family in the 1940s. At $242,000, Clif says, â€śIt was a real fixer-upper, but the most house we could get for the money in Newton.â€ť Almost immediately, the Stoltzes turned the second floor â€” originally a three-bedroom residence â€” into a two-bedroom suite for their family and a one-bedroom apartment, which they rented out for extra cash. Downstairs, they reconfigured the first floor to its original single-family setup, creating a foyer, 200-square-foot front living room, and dining room.
â€śFor years, we went back and forth: Do we renovate, or sell the place as a two-family and just move on?â€ť Clif says. â€śBut every time we looked at options, it seemed more economically feasible to stay and work on it.â€ť Economics also played a part in their midcentury-modern interior design approach, which came together slowly, deliberately, and practically. â€śUnlike some of the other stuff weâ€™d bought â€” in the mid-â€™80s we went through an Adesso phaseâ€”I realized I not only liked retro furniture, but that it was retaining, even increasing, its value,â€ť Clif says. The style suited the homeâ€™s small, boxy rooms, as well. â€śEven though itâ€™s an old house, there arenâ€™t a lot of decorative architectural elements,â€ť Carol points out. â€śThe â€™50s pieces make a statement without taking up a lot of space.â€ť
By 2001, they had two kids who needed their own rooms. After much deliberation, Clif and Carol decided to renovate rather than move again. Through a friend, they connected with Newton architect Adolfo Perez, who sketched up plans for the Stoltzes to take to their Plymouth contractor, John Dâ€™Angelo. By knocking down a few walls downstairs, they could stitch the house together and create a breakfast nook, TV room, and new kitchen.
The former rental unit became Fionaâ€™s room, a guest room, and a studio with a skylight for Carol, who makes pearl and stone jewelry sold at art fairs, shops, and open-studio events around Boston. â€śSince the original structure of the house had been altered so much by the previous owners, we didnâ€™t have to worry about whether we were ruining anything,â€ť Clif says. â€śIt was pretty liberating.â€ť A few details were left intact, including a stained-glass window in the master bedroom and the claw-foot tub and black tiles in the master bath. To the exterior, they added a half-wrap porch, a front bay window, and a circular window in the front spiral stairwell â€śfor light,â€ť Clif says, noting that Perezâ€™s team was against the idea, favoring a square one that was more true to the exterior style of the house.
Though theyâ€™ve run out of wall space for their ever-growing art collection, the Stoltzes say Newton is most certainly home for the long term. â€śMoving here worked out how we wanted, and while some parts of Newton are very samey, Newton Corner is surprisingly diverse,â€ť says Clif, who sidelines as the keyboardist for Exit 17, a rock/jazz/R&B band he formed with some neighbors. And theyâ€™ve come to appreciate the intimacy the house has afforded their family. â€śYou get a sort of seclusion from one part of the house to the other, and at the same time a togetherness,â€ť Clif says. â€śYou can have the TV going in the back and the piano in the living room wonâ€™t interrupt. Thereâ€™s a definite continuity, yet every space is its own.â€ť
Architecture: Adolfo Perez Architects, Newton. Contractor: John Dâ€™Angelo, Plymout.
Clif and Carol prepare for brunch in their kitchen, which features semicustom maple veneer cabinets, IKEA cabinets, and Pietra Cardosa countertops. An island from Crate & Barrel provides extra counter space, while a Ron Rezek ceiling fan lends a retro, yet functional, touch.
Felted pillows and throws made by daughter Fiona â€” a junior at MassArt â€” are featured prominently alongside works by artist friends like Dorothea Van Camp and Martin Sorger. â€śThereâ€™s very little artwork for which we know little about the person who made it,â€ť says Clif.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/06/eclectic-avenue/