Peace and Quiet
There aren't many places in the suburbs of Boston that impart a sense of utter calm and provide a complete retreat from the craziness of the world. Jayne Alfano, an international tax consultant with a hectic lifestyle, wanted a place like that in her Middleton home.
THERE AREN’T MANY PLACES in the suburbs of Boston that impart a sense of utter calm and provide a complete retreat from the craziness of the world. Jayne Alfano, an international tax consultant with a hectic lifestyle, wanted a place like that in her Middleton home.
It wasn’t a simple request—Alfano didn’t have any specific ideas about what the place should be. But she found, in Mary E. McKenna, president of Winchester-based Mary McKenna & Associates, an architect who simply “got it,” she says, even though Alfano herself wasn’t quite sure what “it” was.
“I started doing yoga five or six years ago, and I realized I wanted a special place to practice—a space that had good energy and was really peaceful,” Alfano says. Beyond that, she didn’t have a clear vision in mind. So McKenna started the project by asking Alfano to spend several weeks assembling a scrapbook filled with images, textures and words that evoked peace and relaxation to her.
On the surface, Alfano’s collection didn’t have much rhyme or reason to it. She included a photo of the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California. (“My partner and I have been going there for years,” Alfano says, “and there is an image of a staircase there that looks like it’s going nowhere into the fog—it’s soft, subtle and warm.”) She also included information about architect Philip Johnson’s famed Glass House (built in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut), images of simple Japanese architecture and Zen sayings. After looking at the scrapbook, McKenna came back with design ideas that “integrated all my visions in such a wonderful way,” says Alfano. “It was nothing we envisioned, but more than we hoped for.”
Before implementing the design plan, however, McKenna says she “spent quite a bit of time learning how the sun moves around the site, how the wind blows and when [Alfano’s] schedule would allow her to enjoy the space.” Because Alfano wanted to be able to sneak into the space in the middle of the night without disturbing her partner—and because the space needed to be on a side of the house where it could capture good light—McKenna placed it just off the master bedroom.
With that decision made, the building began. “We worked with a lot of glass so she could enjoy the light,” says McKenna. The space features a combination of clear glass through which to view the outdoors, and long, vertical pieces of glass that are translucent but not transparent, for privacy. “We controlled the views, and only used clear glass where no one can see in.”
The main structural material is steel. “Steel is the best material for this because you can do a lot of cantilevers and things you can’t do with wood,” McKenna says. And you can create a space, with glass, that feels like you’re in the sky.
To make the space quiet and warm, McKenna used wood for portions of the ceiling and installed wood floors and cabinetry. The cabinets—custom designed by McKenna (as is everything in the space, from millwork to furniture) and crafted by David Sullivan, president of David E. Sullivan Cabinetmakers in Winchester—are about more than sound insulation. Along with a closet and dressing room, the cabinets provide ample storage. “Everything is put away,”
McKenna says. “What’s out in the open is minimal.”
The space is divided into levels. Alfano enters through the dressing area (which, she says, has been remarkable—“It’s so well organized, and getting ready is no longer frantic”). The lower level is the yoga area; the upper loft section is where Alfano meditates; and a mid-landing between them is an outdoor spa terrace.
“I know [Alfano] loves the spa,” McKenna says. “It’s on a raised platform outside. In the morning the sun rises above the spa and penetrates the space and gives everything a sparkling
No matter what time of day Alfano is in the space—she practices yoga there four times a week and meditates as often as she can—she still experiences an element of disbelief every time she walks in. As she says, “I can’t believe this is mine.”