Past Perfect: A Beacon Hill Townhouse Overlooking Boston Common
From the outside, the Beacon Hill townhouse overlooking Boston Common appears not at all unlike its landmark neighbors: red-brick façade with black shutters, grand bay windows, an undeniable rich air of history. And for many years, the inside followed suit, with traditional design that hewed to the building’s 19th-century roots.
Around the time the owners’ daughter got to high school, however, the couple felt ready to make a change—a pretty major one—and called on one of Boston’s most renowned contemporary architecture firms, Hacin + Associates, to update the 5,500-square-foot home’s functionality and upend the design. “It was a classic property with tons of potential and a lot of quirks, some good and some not so good,” says principal David Hacin, whose team was brought in to oversee both the architecture and the interior design of the home. His main charge: reorganize the layout in a way that makes sense for a modern family while preserving key features, such as the fireplaces, the spiral staircase, and the expansive bay windows.
The first step: some serious demo to open up the space. Hacin describes the existing home as a warren of rooms, while the staircase had been encased in closets. As he likes to say, his team “released the staircase from bondage.”
It now flows through five levels, from the penthouse bedroom, laundry room and craft room down to the street-level kitchen and living space. An elevator was installed both with the family’s elderly dog in mind and for future ease of use. The addition of a modern back stair, meanwhile, complements the classic front spiral in both function and aesthetics—“the story of the house, in two staircases,” Hacin says. “Everything was done with striking the balance between old and new, historic and modern, in mind.”
One of the biggest decisions was whether to remove the second-floor formal dining room—a typical feature of many townhouses of that era. Instead of devoting square footage to a room rarely used, Hacin proposed that the space adjacent to the kitchen be used as a casual seating area that could be transformed into something more formal the two or three times a year when the couple entertained large gatherings. Now a custom oak chevron table with extension leaves—designed in-house and executed by Kochman Reidt + Haigh, of Stoughton—can be pulled out from under the kitchen island and easily expanded and relocated.
In place of the formal dining room, Hacin created a media room and a formal parlor on the second floor. There’s also a bar area. The parlor, one of the home’s most striking homages to its past, features original curved wooden doors and a reinterpretation of the original trim. (“We didn’t re-create the original trim,” says Hacin, “but we studied and honored the scale, and then made it our own.”)
On the third floor, Hacin created a proper master suite, as well as a his-and-hers office. The spiral staircase serves to separate the front rooms of the house from those in back, so that someone can sleep undisturbed in the master bedroom while another person is working in the office. The fourth floor is made up of two children’s bedrooms, while the laundry lives on the fifth floor, alongside another bedroom and a craft room.
The entire process took about 18 months, though much of the interior design came together in concert with the build. An example of the benefits of that architect-contractor collaboration can be seen in the powder room: Early in the process, the interiors team opted to incorporate a traditional handpainted wallpaper into the design to juxtapose the room’s new, very modern skylight—“the sort of thing you can only do when you’re touching all of it,” says Hacin. In the media room, meanwhile, Hacin’s in-house architecture and interiors teams worked together to come up with a way to conceal the TV that satisfied their creative vision while paying homage to the house’s historical nature. “We’ve all seen TV cabinets,” he says. “Instead, we said, ‘Let’s bring in something handcrafted,’ which would have been a very 19th-century tradition, but in a way that’s ultimately modern.” The result: a TV cabinet covered in French handstitched fabric.
Finishing touches came together as Hacin incorporated modern pieces alongside the couple’s inherited neoclassical art and other family heirlooms. There were times that melding the two proved challenging, but in the end, he says, the older pieces became a great asset. “And like it does in so many cases, the modern design brought these traditional pieces to life,” he says. “Which was the goal: facilitating the ultimate conversation between the centuries.”