The Simple Life

A towering 12 -foot door of solid walnut marks the entrance to Lilli
Gordon's home, a reconstructed ranch on a quiet, gas-lit street in
Newton. It's a striking preview of the classic modernity laid out
behind it—one of the elements that belie the building's modest 1950s
beginnings and offer a compelling argument against the notion that all
ranch houses are alike.

As soon as Gordon first set foot inside the house five years ago,
she knew it was an unlikely fit. “It was hideous,” she says, “the
ugliest one on the street. But I loved that about it.” The foundation
was strong, she remembers, and the space was somehow welcoming. It had
good energy. She liked, too, that the house was being sold by a widow
who had spent more than 35 years raising a family there. While Gordon's
house at the time—a sprawling 1905 Arts and Crafts revival, also in
Newton—was certainly striking, she recalls, “I never saw the dining
room because it wasn't in my line of vision. I'd wave to the living
room.” Now, as a divorced mother of two (Ben, now 10, and Michael, 23),
she found that her priorities had changed. She was looking for a
comfort zone, not a showpiece. “Americans are crazed with bigness when
it comes to houses, and especially so in the suburbs,” she says. “It
can be hard to find a nice house on a nice street that's not a

Of course, Gordon—who by nature and profession has very good
taste—never intended to skimp on style. As president of retail ventures
for the high-end pen company Cross, she's the one responsible for
hipping up the stodgy old brand with, among other things,
state-of-the-art stores in Harvard Square and The Mall at Chestnut
Hill. Thanks to Gordon, Cross pens are no longer those dull silver
instruments your dad stashed in his briefcase; now they're pretty in
polka dots and Moroccan motifs. Also thanks to Gordon, the boutiques
today stock—and sell out of—cute canvas tote bags by Manhattan designer

There's a certain stigma to a ranch. By definition, the layout is
uncomplicated, which critics often interpret as lacking style. But it's
that very simplicity that drew interior architect David Hacin,
principal of South End firm Hacin+Associates, to the project. (Hacin
met Gordon in 1998 when he helped design the boutiques for Boston-based
beauty-product company Fresh, on whose board of directors Gordon
serves; he also worked with her on the Cross stores.) “The idea of
single-story living is totally modern,” he says. “With a ranch house,
you can be flexible with the design; you're not bound up in historical
style. You can make it completely your own.”

The first order of business: raising the roof. The original house
had structural ceilings that topped off at eight feet and walls that
divided it conventionally into a series of small rooms. Gordon
envisioned a more seamless, open space. “It was important that I be
able to experience all the public areas at once,” she says. “No matter
where I was, I never wanted to feel closed off.” With the help of
Marblehead-based contractor Christopher Monaco of the Monaco Johnson
Group, Hacin added vertical dimension wherever he could: The foyer,
sitting room, kitchen, and living room ceilings were raised in
variation from eight to 10 to as high as 20 feet. To open up the floor
space, the walls separating the foyer, living room, and kitchen were
removed and a Florida room was enclosed to expand the main house
without actually adding on. The former porch now serves as a dining
room, surrounded by three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that let in
streams of natural light as well as an unobstructed view of Gordon's
split-level backyard.

Fresh is known for its organic, no-fuss approach to beauty and skin
care. Its stores are nearly as calming as its products—an aesthetic
that appealed to Gordon for her personal space, as well. “I envisioned
something modern and clean, but not obvious,” she says. “I would never
wear obvious clothes, the outfit that's on the cover or in every ad. I
feel the same way about how my house looks.” And so the entire interior
blends effortlessly in a soothing display of rich browns, silvery
grays, and white. “I didn't want a lot of color,” Gordon says,
preferring instead to add accents later on to suit her changing tastes.
In the main foyer, the door and floors are made of walnut, which Hacin
has included throughout the house. “After the first few heel marks, I
came to peace with the fact that my walnut floors wouldn't be perfect
forever,” Gordon says, laughing. “People would pay to have
Manolo-heeled women come over and give it that distressed look!”

The view from the front entrance spans the entire public
space—living room, kitchen, dining room—straight through to the back
garden. A walnut-framed leather bench separates the foyer from the
living room, which is outfitted simply, in muted grays. It's both the
center of the house and the room that gets the most use, with a
welcoming ashy-gray custom-made sofa and a big-screen TV tucked
discreetly within the walnut shelving unit that serves to separate the
living room from the kitchen. “It's the perfect tool to transition
between the two areas,” says Hacin. “Lilli can talk to her family or
guests in the living and dining rooms, yet maintain a bit of privacy
while she preps in the kitchen.”

The airy kitchen is lined on one side with slate-gray European
cabinetry that holds the Dacor wall oven and stainless steel Sub-Zero
refrigerator, both of which complement the gray flecks in the terrazzo
tiled floor. Hacin created an exposed shelving system to house dishes
and glasses, which are stacked in small, neat piles. “Because the
kitchen isn't particularly wide, we chose to leave out the cabinets,”
says Hacin. “Lilli is naturally neat. Her dishes would be organized
precisely even if they weren't on display.” A simple walnut table abuts
the island, cutting down on what Gordon saw as unnecessary island
counter space and creating a kitchen centerpiece.

Hacin designed the house's private area to be just that. Branching
out from the main foyer, Gordon's study, walk-in closet, bedroom, and
bathroom are sealed off by a sliding frosted glass door. The result is
an expanded master suite, a self-contained area perfectly laid out to
accommodate the privacy needs of a single mom with two sons. Yet Hacin
was careful to stay true to Gordon's open-home vision. “If I want, I
can lie in my bed and still see the living room,” Gordon says. Above
the bed,

a 6-by-9-foot wood ceiling panel weaves in the walnut motif.

Construction took 10 months, and, beyond a new rug and ever growing
piles of books, Gordon hasn't changed a thing since. “I love this house
because it's beautiful but so easy,” she says. “Sometimes I think, Oh,
should I put curtains up? And I order swatches, but then—it's just not
a house that wants that.” Not long ago, the original owner called
Gordon to say that she'd driven by. “She said, 'You've made the house
so beautiful!'” Gordon remembers. “She didn't think that was possible!”


Visionary Lilli Gordon and interior architect David Hacin help revive a classic.

“It's difficult to express a brand without a store,” says Cross exec
Gordon, referring to the pen company's nearly 160 years without an
outpost of its own. And so Gordon, along with interior architect David
Hacin, set out to conceive Cross's flagship Boston-area boutiques,
which include pen-testing walls (“What good is a pretty pen if you hate
how it writes?” she says), a funky line of home and office accessories,
and cute totes created exclusively for Cross by New York designer Rafe.
Locations: Zero Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-868-7020; The Mall at
Chestnut Hill, 617-527-0530.