Change of Space

Four years ago, architect Judy Gleysteen came across an online listing for a tired Brady Bunch-era home in Lincoln. “I told my husband it was the ugliest house I had ever seen,” she laughs. Unlike most home-hunters, though, she wasn’t all that interested in the building itself. It was the spectacular 4.5-acre lot overlooking former farm meadows and abutting the DeCordova Museum’s Sculpture Park that piqued her curiosity. Judy asked her husband, Marcus, also an architect, to investigate while she went on a college-scouting trip with their eldest daughter.


Once on the site (just a five-minute drive from their old house), Marcus agreed with his wife’s assessment. He saw a sad home on a fantastic hilltop location. But the structure’s unpretentious scale appealed to his design sensibility. On the spot, he made an offer that was accepted the following day.

Judy and Marcus, principals at Cambridge-based Gleysteen Design, set out to radically transform the home while barely touching its original foundation. By building up rather than out, the duo preserved a balance between house and land. They reconfigured the roofline, replacing its low, twin gables with a single high gable to create a lofty main living area. They added a third story to accommodate rooms for their daughters, Katie and Lucy. Over the front door and along the side of the house, they attached large pergolas—a Gleysteen Design trademark.

After 10 months of construction—and almost daily site visits—the Gleysteens moved into their new home. Once gloomy and dated, the abode is now light and sun-drenched, at once traditional, modern, and playful. From the street, it looks like a typical New England home clad in linen-white shingles; from the rear it is a contemporary interpretation of a Massachusetts barn. “I could show you houses we’ve designed in which you’d have to put on an evening dress to fit in,” Marcus says. “But this is the way we like to live. Judy and I are not very formal people.”

“It was definitely a challenging project,” adds Judy. “Some spaces in the original house seemed too large, and others were too small, dark, and poky. Few rooms took advantage of the view.” These days, that bucolic vista is front and center, especially in the kitchen, where a wall of windows opens to a sunny field. “We combined the living space with the kitchen to serve multiple functions,” says Marcus. “It’s great for hanging out by the fire, cooking while watching TV, and entertaining at the same time.”

The Gleysteens’ relaxed design philosophy is also apparent in the home’s mix of furniture styles. Contemporary pieces—including coffee tables and shelving made by Marcus—commingle comfortably with family heirlooms. Upstairs in Katie’s bedroom, a French Rococo headboard, inherited from Marcus’ Swedish great-grandparents, is mere feet away from modern white shelves. In the kitchen, not far from a streamlined island, a highly vocal cat named Twinkie lounges on an antique chair, one of a set bought in Leningrad by Marcus’ foreign diplomat parents. “These chairs are Josef Hoffmann knockoffs made around 1915,” says Marcus. The chairs were restored at the Hermitage, Russia’s great museum—not too shabby for replicas. Adds Marcus, “My older brother [Wellesley-based architect Jan Gleysteen] inherited an actual Hoffmann set, but I like these better.”

The house is not only artful at every turn, it’s also seriously green—from its use of sustainable woods to the five heating and cooling zones that allow rooms to “hibernate” when not in use. All the wood flooring is reclaimed, and hardwoods are used sparingly in favor of faster-growing species like pine and cedar. The major indoor spaces are situated on the east and south sides to capture solar warmth throughout the day during winter months. The light that pours into the home warms the spirit of the place, as well—making the structure’s Brady Bunch beginnings nothing but a distant memory.