A New and Modern Family Home in Roslindale
Photographs by Tony Luong
Styling by LauraJean Pecci
For 10 years, Hansy Better Barraza and Anthony Piermarini lived in a 710-square-foot cottage on a long and narrow plot of land at the head of a Roslindale dead end. The pair met when they were architecture majors at Cornell University, married in 2000, and two years later formed their sustainability-minded Boston architecture practice, Studio Luz. Spending a lot of time together wasn’t anything new. But 710 square feet proved challenging. “When guests came to dinner, we literally had to remove furniture to make room,” Barraza says.
They’d bought the property in 2005—the house was tiny, but the adjacent 3,200-square-foot lot offered room to grow. For years they debated expanding the cottage versus building a new structure from scratch.
The birth of their first child, in 2011, was the push they needed. The couple decided to build, but that decision came with its own set of challenges. Because of the size and orientation of the lot, building a new home would require a zoning variance, which meant they needed city and neighbor approval. The modern, open, and fully sustainable house they envisioned would look different from the street’s Victorian-era cottages and two- and three-family homes. So they went door to door to talk about their ideas—how they wanted to build a green home, how they imagined it fitting into the neighborhood (and why they wanted to stay in Roslindale)—and ultimately collected 26 signatures to present to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “We had open conversations, and I think people appreciated that,” Piermarini says.
As far as hurdles went, the bureaucratic ones may have been the easiest. “In our practice, the goal is to balance a responsible, ecologically conscious way of making homes with a modern aesthetic,” Piermarini says. “When it came to our own home, those goals were the same—but we also needed affordability and to cater to an urban setting.”
They’d worked together before but never on their own house, and sometimes the pair had competing ideas. “Anthony would draw parts, and I would draw other parts, and it would come together very similarly to a typical project,” Barraza says. “Except for those times when I would do the kitchen and he would do it over again.”
However, they both agreed that openness and light were important, and that sustainability was paramount. And, yes, so was the budget. After a yearlong design process, construction began in November 2013 and was completed the following August, on the day Barraza gave birth to the couple’s second child. The contractor was Waltham- and Hingham-based Aedi Construction, a specialist in sustainable homes; detail work was done by a number of local craftsmen, including Dorchester metal fabricator Aaron Legg.
The boxy exterior “helped make the home more energy efficient by minimizing surface area,” Piermarini says. Exterior siding made of planks in varying wood widths offers both visual interest and privacy. Inside, openness and connection unite. The first-floor rooms are anchored by the kitchen, which features large windows overlooking a back garden. Perforated metal stairways between floors foster conversation as well as a convection effect: In warm weather, heat rises through the house and out of the skylights leading to a planned roof deck. There are still plenty of private spaces, too—from intimate coffee nooks to play corners made for assembling puzzles.
The couple relied heavily on Ikea, partly because they have two small children. “If there was an expensive element, it was the envelope: good wood, good insulation, good windows,” Barraza says. “We figured, let the interior mature with the family and adapt as it needs to. Everything else is temporal.”
In October 2015, the project won an American architecture award from the Chicago Athenaeum. Just as critically, it showed the couple that, some 15 years in, their marriage is as sustainable as ever. “As architects, we knew how important it was to keep the communication open, and that you have to speak up but also remain flexible and calm,” Barraza says. “And having been through this process ourselves as a couple, we can now say we have real empathy for our clients.”
Architect Studio Luz Architects
Contractor Aedi Construction
Landscape Architecture C2 Studio
Metalwork Trimount Ironworks