Return to Splendor
It takes a focused eye to detect a diamond in the rough. And at first glance, the Brookline home was truly “rough.” Oozing with dated decor and functioning on prehistoric heating and plumbing systems, the home needed help.
It takes a focused eye to detect a diamond in the rough. And at first glance, the Brookline home was truly “rough.” Oozing with dated decor and functioning on prehistoric heating and plumbing systems, the home needed help. But, when the homeowner took a tour of the failing property, a cozy inglenook framed by welcoming benches and an inviting fireplace told her a story of what the house once was, and what it could become again. “We fell in love with the inglenook,” she says. “It made the entrance feel spacious but warm at the same time.”
They would soon learn that this inglenook was typical of a Stanford White shingle-style design that was popular when the home was built in 1898. White, of the renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, didn’t design the home, but it did come out of the office of his mentor Henry Hobson Richardson, who was responsible for such local treasures as Trinity Church. This stamp of history fueled the home-owners to join forces with a handful of local artisans on a three-year journey to return the home—with its six bedrooms and nine fireplaces—to a state of comfortable elegance.
Old Meets New
When the homeowners moved in, they were greeted by a lot of unusable space and busted appliances. “Everything was really old,” says the homeowner. “The only thing that worked was the microwave, so we threw everything out.” To help with the restoration, the couple enlisted the help of The Classic Group in Lexington and John Meyer Jr., principal architect of Meyer & Meyer Architecture and Interiors in Boston.
The first goal of the project, according to Dennis Lawlor, a principal of The Classic Group, was to expand usable space by building a three-story addition. The new area consists of a gourmet kitchen with an informal dining and sitting area, a butler’s pantry and a home office on the first floor, and a guest suite on the second floor. The homeowners turned the attic into their master suite.
Blending new with the old proved to be the biggest challenge for everyone involved. “This home was built by one of the archangels of Boston architecture—they created lovable homes with a lot of soul,” says Meyer. “It was scary to have to put a large addition onto this, but I loved being able to use the same vocabulary while also using modern techniques.”
One of these modern touches was a new, heated, attached four-car garage with a rooftop garden. Five thousand tons (120 truckloads) of ledge were removed to level the hill for the new garage, which also serves as a pedestal for the home’s new bluestone terrace.
New plaster pillars in the kitchen addition were made to match the existing pillars in the living room to keep the look uniform. Outside, Meyer addressed the roofline. “Adding 40 feet of new roof would look clumsy,” says Meyer. “But letting the roof slope off within seven feet of the ground tells what is going on inside—it respects what was there before, but also makes a new shape.”
Outside proved to be equally challenging for Bob Harrison, owner of Harrison & Associates in Norfolk. Pudding stone, a ledge native to the Brookline area that looks like cement embedded with stone, dominated much of the outside area. “It was unusable space,” says Harrison, who excavated the side ledge and backyard to make it level. Now Norway spruce evergreens and river birch trees provide screening from the nearby street. Rhododendrons, mountain laurel and flowering shrubs such as lilac and blueberry bushes also help keep a new hot tub in the backyard private. “The landscape works quietly with the house,” says Harrison.
While structural changes and additions helped create the new house, it was color schemes, fabrics and treasured pieces of furniture that turned it into a home. Leslie Saul, president of Leslie Saul & Associates in Cambridge, helped the homeowner establish a series of cozy, livable spaces.
“The historic element of the home was our inspiration, so to get a feel for the era we flipped through old sourcebooks by McKim, Mead & White,” says Saul. One photo that included a red runner down a stairwell became the inspiration for the red paint (Turbo Red by Devoe Paint) used on the walls in the home’s main corridor. The inglenook that the homeowner fell in love with was restored to glory with blue and gold fabrics dressed over the built-in benches and topped with soft, blue silk pillows with gold fringe. Restored two-inch quartersawn oak flooring stretches throughout much of the home.
A powder room off the main corridor that was once an eyesore is now a showcase. “Gray, it was all gray,” says Saul. “It was completely dated and out of place.” A vaulted ceiling was created and marble slab with glass accents was added to the floor. Molded ceramic tile ribs with copper glaze were added to the ceiling and around the mirror.
Daylight also played an important role in Saul’s design plan. The way the house is positioned, the sun moves through the home during the course of the day, and Saul wanted to capitalize on that natural aspect.
“In the first-floor solarium, I wanted sweet little sofas where you could soak up the sun and curl up with a cup of tea,” she says. Saul knew she had done it right when one day she noticed one of the homeowner’s children curled up on one of the sofas reading a book.
Throughout the house are pieces gathered by the homeowners on various trips including an antique farmer’s table from Maine, a captain’s desk from Bath, England, and antique glass library doors from a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island that they used as cabinet doors in the kitchen. “I love that we’ve incorporated old pieces into the house,” says the homeowner. “We’re using memories from our trips.”
While the homeowners have relished delving into the home’s past and bringing it back to life with their approach to modern living, they’re also happy to look toward the home’s future. “We realize we’re just passing through here,” says the homeowner. “It will be here after we’re gone, and now we’ve made it good for another 100 years.”