Honoring an Era

WHEN JENNIFER CHAFKIN FIRST SAW the place in Chestnut Hill, she knew right away that it was home. “I’d never seen anything like it,” the former Californian recalls. Relics of the structure’s original incarnation as a 1906 carriage house and stable, built for the estate of wealthy businessman Clement S. Houghton, were everywhere. The living areas boasted rich wood walls and floors, oversize multipaned windows with aged glass, and an authentic sliding barn door. Nearly 25-foot-high ceilings were accented with massive timber beams. A rope-and-pulley system with giant gears used to hoist carriages for servicing hung from the rafters.

On that first viewing four years ago, Chafkin was struck by how much the home felt like it belonged to another era; at the same time its large open spaces and informal aura seemed ideally suited to a modern family. Chafkin, who relocated from San Francisco with her husband, Jerry, and their children — Isabelle, 21; Ike, 17; and Joe, 15 — was also taken with the home’s exterior. Built in the Mission Revival style, which is unusual for New England, the structure has a stucco façade, roofs with scalloped cedar shingles, and original — and remarkably well-preserved — quatrefoil windows. “The house kind of felt like California to us,” Chafkin says.

The Chafkins are the third owners to use this building as a residence; it was in good shape structurally when the family moved in, but they wanted to update the place to suit their needs while also preserving its history. Chafkin sought to create a home “you don’t worry about making a mess in,” with areas that would accommodate the whole family along with separate domains for kids and parents.

While architect Janet Hurwitz designed an addition, Chafkin looked to Chestnut Hill–based interior designer Liz Caan, who infused the home with bright colors and bold furnishings while honoring its historical aspects. Chafkin was thrilled with Caan’s adventurous selections. “The homeowners are the antithesis of Boston ‘old school’ — they are ‘California cool,’” says Caan. “The house is so unique that it can handle quirky, artful, and vintage pieces, and I found so many interesting things.”

Among Caan’s discoveries are the light fixtures over the dining room table. Made from early-20th-century metal horse-and-buggy wheels, the massive spheres, suspended from the towering ceilings, recall the home’s carriage-house days. “The fact that the house was once a stable is important to us; the whole horse thing has personal meaning,” says Chafkin, whose daughter, Isabelle — a recent Yale graduate — is a talented equestrian. “We showcased original details and added others relative to the horse theme throughout the house.” In the first-floor master bedroom, for example, horse nameplates are affixed to the wall, and an original stall door defines a separate sitting area, which features both a spigot that was once used to hose the animals down and a clear Lucite trunk containing Isabelle’s old riding hats.