Builder's Notebook: One Year, One House

After bouncing around the country for nearly a decade, Sundar Srinivasan and Lara Bodie bought their first house, a five-bedroom English cottage in Brookline. Embarking on their maiden renovation project, the couple enlisted the help of construction consultant Bruce Irving (a former This Old House producer), Lexington architect Gerry Frank of Bechtel Frank Erickson, and general contractor Marc Rogovin of Roslindale’s Rock Steady Builders.


The house had retained its 1912 layout consisting of small rooms, an outdated kitchen, and an underused back staircase. Bodie wanted to improve the “upstairs, downstairs” plan, which would require an ambitious, yearlong gut rehab. “With weddings, funerals, and home renovation, you’re almost always going to be a newbie,” says Srinivasan. “We knew we had a lot to do, but there was a lot we didn’t know.”

Because zoning discouraged building bigger, “we needed to squeeze modern living space out of every available square inch,” says Irving. The team removed the back staircase and a chimney that divided the kitchen from the dining room. “People don’t want to spend the 40 grand to demolish [a chimney], but we would have lost 40-grand-plus worth of space,” says Bodie.


No self-respecting gut rehab comes without a midcourse change of direction. During demolition, Srinivasan and Bodie seized the opportunity to more fully rework the home’s attic. They extended the staircase and raised the ceilings to just over nine feet. It required some additional plastering and ductwork, but it also made room for larger skylights to brighten the new guest bedroom and Srinivasan’s office.


When the third-floor skylights began to leak during construction, Srinivasan panicked. “I thought, This is going to cause permanent damage,” he recalls. “I needed to hear several times that it was part of the process. Marc [Rogovin] had to calm me down.” As promised, they haven’t leaked since.

Irving notes that homeowners can make an astounding 15,000 decisions during a midsize renovation like this one. (“I remember a point during our first visit to Tile Showcase when Lara’s eyes were as glazed as the tiles,” Frank says.) “But the truth is, you never go into someone’s home and say, Wow, they could have chosen four other fixtures there,” says Srinivasan.

The couple strategically chose to invest in focal points. They splurged on granite countertops in the kitchen and handmade “Zen weave” tiles in the powder room. They then saved money by buying discounted dining room chairs from Crate & Barrel.

The result was worth it, says Bodie. “There was that never-ending aspect, but I love my house so I can’t complain!”