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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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Six Common Home Design Mistakes

It’s never been more tempting to become a Do-It-Yourselfer when it comes to residential design. The internet has made so many tools available to help homeowners create floor plans, visualize different looks and products in a room, or find hundreds of images and design ideas in seconds. And we find that some homeowners – whether they own a house or an apartment – choose to take the lead on many aspects of a renovation or interior redesign. These folks are often gifted in their own fields, and they have specific ideas about how they want their homes to look and function, but somehow fail to get there on their own.  Why? Here are six mistakes we see DIYers too often make when renovating their homes:

  1. Not recognizing the important role planning plays in the design process

Too often, people focus on individual project elements that they think they want, and then get locked into one or more of them–almost like throwing stuff against the wall and assuming it will all stick. It won’t. Inevitably, one decision will impact another and then another and the next. It’s a game of dominoes. And the end result may not work when it comes to furniture placement, flow, visual sight lines, family activities, art display, the balance between public and private spaces.

  1. Not paying attention to natural light

    Natural light, open space and flow combine to make this room work.

Whatever the advances in artificial lighting technology in recent years, there is no substitute for natural light and the proper harnessing of that light in your home. Natural light is precious. They’re not making any more of it. It is ever-changing, throughout the seasons and the time of day. Natural light enters your home at angles that continuously shift—northeast to south to northwest and up and down on the horizon. The depth of its penetration into your home also shifts. The foliage outside your windows changes, and so does the light that reflects off it and filters through it. Once light penetrates into your home, it can create joy (illuminating a favorite reading nook, or kitchen banquette) or wreak havoc (your large screen TV as a landing point). Do your floors  and wall coverings absorb or reflect light, and how? All of these things must be considered.

  1. Creating too much open space

We often see clients who want lots of open space at the expense of small rooms that may enhance the way they live in a house. Do you have art you want to display? Where will that go if your new open plan rooms have no walls? Do you need private spaces or cozy nooks and crannies?  Often, open plans don’t consider how a space is actually used for various family activities. Sight lines, privacy and access all have to be considered when opening up a space

  1. Little or no thought given to entry foyer

Does your entry welcome you and your guests into your home? In a house, your entry may start with the landscaping, the front porch and front door and continue into the home. Does it announce that you have arrived at an inviting place? Does it “tease” you in to find what further visual and comforting delights might be revealed? In an apartment, is the entry cozy and intimate, complete with art, objects and select furnishings, all properly lit? Or is it an uninviting dead end – an uninteresting bank of closets staring you in the face, perhaps?

  1. Designing a kitchen for aesthetics only

Too often, kitchens are designed with only aesthetics in mind. A kitchen should be, first and foremost, functional for you, your family and guests. Everything else is secondary and will fall into place. Beautiful cabinetry, countertops, tile work, high-end appliances are all useless if your kitchen has not been properly located and programmed for how you live, cook, entertain, store things and clean up. However, if all of these things are taken into account, your kitchen will be a joy for years to come.

  1. Putting look and style ahead of how you live

All of us are unique. All design challenges are unique. All design solutions are unique. If you go into a renovation or interior redesign with a particular “look” in mind and are slavish to that, you may come out being disappointed, because you will have worshipped at the altar of “the look” but have given short shrift to your own needs and how you live in the space—the center around which all successful home environments are planned, built and furnished.

If you’re thinking about tackling a design project on your own, make sure you avoid these six mistakes. You’ll be happy you did!



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