Honoring an Era

by admin | June 17, 2011 12:49 pm

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.

A dressing room off the master bedroom was added during the renovation, done by Needham’s Fallon Custom Homes. Caan, who wanted to “make the room a little funky,” put lavender wallpaper on the ceiling and had an old-world-inspired white-gold custom frame crafted for the full-length mirror in front of the antique ebonized dressing table. She paid homage to the original quatrefoil windows by repeating the pattern in the seatback of a chair upholstered in lavender. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have this room,” says Chafkin. “I’m done moving, but I told my husband that we’d never have a problem selling this house because of this room — there isn’t a woman in the world who wouldn’t love it.”

Most women would likely love the kitchen as well, where an aubergine Aga stove sits center stage. Chafkin was sorry to leave her Aga behind in California — she would have shipped it East, she says, “if it didn’t weigh as much as a Volkswagen” — and was delighted to find another one on sale when Domain’s Natick store went out of business. The kitchen was designed to feel warm and cozy — a sharp contrast to the room’s prior aesthetic, which Caan says was “very cold and stark, with huge stainless steel appliances.” The custom pale-turquoise cabinetry has a French patina and bronze hardware. A serendipitous discovery was that a worn Oriental rug from the Chafkins’ former home matched the room’s unique hues perfectly — and also softened the reclaimed chestnut floors. To enhance the relaxed vibe, Caan selected two comfortable sofas as kitchen-table seating, and they’ve proved to be a prime spot for Family lounging. “Every time I come over, they are all hanging out here with newspapers spread out and their laptops and iPods, laughing and joking with each other, with their two dogs happily lounging underfoot,” says Caan.

The family also spends a lot of time together in the living room, which is a change, says Chafkin. “I’ve lived in a lot of houses, and we never used the living rooms; they always seemed so formal.” Designed with comfort in mind, the room features plush couches, pops of color, and artsy — even irreverent — décor, such as the coffee table fashioned out of a huge clock, and a plastic statue of a naked man doing a handstand (Chafkin’s sons made her clothe it in running pants to avoid embarrassment in front of their friends).

When the kids need their own space, they simply head upstairs, where they have the run of the second floor. Up there, in addition to the bedrooms, there’s a big open area dubbed the “teen lounge” — and a new loft in Ike’s room devoted strictly to video-gaming. “The kids have friends over constantly. I wanted this to be the place where everyone gathered after school, and I’m happy to have created that,” says Chafkin. “This is a real family home.”  


All photographs by Eric Roth

Renovations, Fallon Custom Homes, Needham
Interiors, Liz Caan Interiors, Chestnut Hill
Architects, Janet Hurwitz Architects, Boston 

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/2011/06/17/honoring-an-era/