Victorian Beauty

A gorgeous belle époque home in the Fenway gets a second chance.

fenway audubon circle house

Photos by Michael J. Lee

Matthew Considine and Alex Monreal weren’t planning to leave their condominium in Fenway’s Audubon Circle section, a small enclave designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Over a seven-year span, they’d renovated their place from top to bottom, even installing their dream Poggenpohl kitchen.

Then, one summer afternoon in 2011, the couple noticed a for-sale sign on a gracious brick row home—one of seven identical houses built in 1900—just down the street. It was the opportunity to own a piece of history. “We love our neighborhood, and restoring a gem in Audubon Circle was a big thrill for us,” says Considine, managing director of an international IT firm.

Because he was leaving on a business trip, he entrusted Monreal, a senior scientist at a pharmaceutical company, to check out the property. “The next day, Alex called me,” Considine recalls. “He said the house was in absolutely terrible condition, it smelled terrible, and people had done terrible things to the interior.”

Other potential buyers were interested in subdividing—the property had been used as a three-family home since the 1930s—but Considine and Monreal thought stitching the residence back together to match the adjacent houses would be the best option. Fortunately, much of the home’s integrity was still intact. “Alex said we had to buy it, and we shouldn’t wait, even though it cost more money than we could imagine spending,” Considine says. “Within five minutes of seeing it, I knew he was right.”

To finance the purchase, the couple had to make big sacrifices, including selling their beloved beach cottage in Mattapoisett. They also had to commit to living in a construction zone for several years. “It’s a far bigger space than we’re used to living in. We figured we could live on one floor at a time,” Considine says.

Their first priority was to “give a shot in the arm to the bones of the house so it could last another 100 years,” Considine says. That meant rewiring the electrical system, replacing the plumbing and heating systems, installing a new roof and windows, repointing the brick exterior, and replacing the overgrown landscaping with vibrant plantings. As a finishing touch, mason Tony Martin added new granite front steps that call to mind the original entryway. “It was important that we work on the outside of the home, because that’s what other people see,” Considine says.

Once the structural improvements had been made, Considine and Monreal worked directly with their contractor, Mike Hynes (of the Braintree-based Hynes Construction), to outfit the inside of the home for modern living while preserving its period details. The honed-marble flooring in the foyer was selected for its age and patina, and the front door’s leaded sidelights and transom were rebuilt with historical glass. Crown moldings, meanwhile, were added to complement the house’s formal wainscoting and thick window and doorway trim. And the first floor’s dropped ceilings were removed and restored to their original height. Many of the antique furnishings came from Considine’s family home in New Bedford. To add a modern touch, the couple hung an abundance of contemporary artwork on the horsehair-plaster walls, including a large silkscreen by the 1980s pop-art icon Keith Haring in the foyer. “I love that it sits in juxtaposition above a beautiful inlaid cabinet from my great-grandmother’s dining room,” Considine says. “You’ve got something very old New England paired with a hugely contemporary piece of art, and it works.”

Though both Considine and Monreal liked the idea of a modern kitchen, they agreed that the space around it should still have a period feel. That meant a prep area “with a stark, modern layout that fits with the historically appropriate moldings and trim,” says Poggenpohl Boston’s Rosemary Porto, who helped the couple design the space.

The kitchen’s lovely white marble countertops continue into the adjacent butler’s pantry, and the rest of the house is finished in the grand Victorian style. Distressed black cabinets have leaded-glass fronts that tie in with the front sidelights. A copper sink and Venetian-glass chandelier recall the past. “Matthew understands the balance of when to restore and when not to,” Porto says. “The home has a skilled blend of antique and modern.”

It turns out that many of the superficial updates made to the house through the decades actually protected its historical details. The garish shag carpets that covered the white oak floors kept them in perfect condition. A sealed archway between the living and dining room concealed exquisite mahogany-and-glass pocket doors.

After nearly two years, the house is still a work in progress. “But this is a passion for us,” says Considine, “an absolute labor of love.”

fenway audubon circle house

The living room features a carved-phoenix mirror from the West Groton–based Carvers’ Guild. Get that look.

fenway audubon circle house

Keith Haring’s Apocalypse V hangs over an antique mahogany desk, inherited from Considine’s great-grandmother, in the foyer.

fenway audubon circle house

Other heirlooms include a carved-mahogany desk and an antique porcelain bowl.

fenway audubon circle house

Monreal (left) and Considine enjoy a moment in their modern Poggenpohl kitchen, which is outfitted with Carrara marble countertops and antique miniature paintings that the couple purchased in Istanbul.

fenway audubon circle house

The dining room showcases the limited-edition silkscreen Red Kawsbob, by the artist KAWS; a 19th-century English cutlery urn, purchased from Marcoz Antiques; and a reproduction Victorian terrarium.

fenway audubon circle house

Inherited silver candlesticks and a filigree Tiffany & Co. bowl frame a serigraph of a self-portrait by Egon Schiele.

fenway audubon circle house

A porcelain lamp rests on a refined console.

fenway audubon circle house

Sunlight shines on a cupid sculpture.

fenway audubon circle house

Kate (Denim), by Mysterious Al, hangs below a Schonbek chandelier.

fenway audubon circle house

Additional art by KAWS on display, including the print Yellow Kawsbob, as well as figurines from the artist’s companion Resting Place series.

fenway audubon circle house

A handcarved gilded eagle by the artist Mary Phelan (Considine’s great-aunt and godmother) hangs above the living room fireplace. Pillows by Tricia Rose lend a nautical theme to Crate & Barrel’s “Oasis” sofa.


Contractor Mike Hynes, Hynes Construction, Braintree


GET THAT LOOK

Where to find décor inspired by the living room in this story.

fenway audubon circle house

Chippendale mirror, $1,995, Carvers’ Guild, West Groton, 978-448-3063, carversguild.com.

fenway audubon circle house

Vivienne Westwood “VW Flag Mini” woven tapestry, $1,935, the Rug Company, 88 Wooster St., New York, NY, 212-274-0444, therugcompany.com.

fenway audubon circle house

Schonbek Worldwide Lighting “Early American” 10-light chandelier, $1,868, Lucía Lighting & Design, 311 Western Ave., Lynn, 781-595-0026, lucialighting.com.

ADVERTISMENT

Correction:
In the print version of this story, the homeowners were incorrectly identified in the photo of them in their kitchen. Monreal is pictured on the left and Considine is on the right. We regret the error.

  • RestorationResources

    Love to see the passion and that this is a such a tasteful blend of modern and antique!….Also, must admit, for our sake, we’re glad to see it is still a work in progress! Psst…we’re just on the other side of Mass Ave, next time you need an antique mantel, stained glass window, mirror,statue, or chandelier with New England history, and don’t want to worry about shippiing…we’ll deliver to your door, and love a tour!