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This “New” Old House

This month I want to tell a story that we see repeated often among our New England client base: A family falls in love with a stately, historic New England home. They love it for its charm, its heritage, its period detail, but they can’t quite imagine how it can be renovated to work for their modern, active lifestyles. The house is too dark in places. The rooms are too small. There’s no usable mudroom. The kitchen is cramped, awkward, and there is no family room. What about flow from room to room? Indoor/outdoor connection? Master suite? Closets and storage? Mechanical systems? An unused, unfinished attic with antique framing often completes the obvious problems list.

We recently completed a renovation on just such a project in Wakefield, MA, working with a professional couple with two young kids to renovate their 1865 house to meet their current needs. From the moment the couple saw this National Historic Registry house, they adored its character and beauty. They also knew they wanted to maintain the house’s design integrity, while creating new spaces to accommodate their growing family and lifestyle.

New kitchen and mudroom designed to echo historic architectural details.

Working closely with our clients, JSD’s design included a spacious new kitchen and mudroom that echo the original craftsmanship and architectural details of the house. We also transformed and expanded, with new dormers, dark, unused attic space into a sumptuous third-floor master suite with a walk-in closet and bath, featuring a marble shower and clawfoot soaking tub.

Now that our clients are living in their newly redesigned home, they are absolutely thrilled. And we’ve had an opportunity to reflect on a highly collaborative process that helped to create such a successful outcome:

  • In designing the new kitchen and mudroom space, which is now the hearth of the home, we talked about daily cooking, about holiday meals and visitors. We counted shoes, and even thought about how the kids would most likely hang (or not) their backpacks and coats. We considered washing machine vibrations and a host of other things.

    A clawfoot tub and walk-in marble shower are features of the new master bath.

  • In claiming the unused attic for the master suite, we determined where the light comes in, during times of the day and throughout the seasons of the year, which direction the bed should face, how high the windows above the tub should be (so one can see the sky, but never feel exposed), who wakes up first and who wakes up last.
  • We designed and planned around a realistic budget target. It is our job as architects to work closely with our clients to provide them with the information they need to not only make informed aesthetic decisions, but also informed financial decisions. We worked closely with both our clients and the builder to make this happen.

    Natural light floods the new master bedroom.

  • We worked to understand the bones of this historic house and those elements we wished to maintain. We discussed balloon-framing and tree-trunk posts in the basement, and admired 150-year-old quarter-sawn yellow pine floor boards.

Most importantly, we all kept falling in love with this old house over and over again. And that guided every design choice we made. This new old house, a custom-tailored space for a family and their lifestyle, honors the context and history of their house and its neighborhood. Happy clients are our reward.






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