A New History
Once upon a time, it seemed to someone a good idea to install the interior of a cheap 1960s rambler into a 1908 cottage. This resulted in removal of all interior millwork, built-ins, art glass windows and the staircase. It included the addition of acoustic tile dropped ceilings, gold and mauve plastic window inserts, asbestos tile and other modern marvels. What kitchen modernization wouldn’t be complete without a short-order-kitchen serving window?
This area of the city is both an old neighborhood, and a new and vibrant one as younger families move in bringing enthusiastic changes. Having purchased the affordable property as grad students, our clients ended up falling in love with the neighborhood and stayed 20 years. Now a family of four, they needed better space, an improved kitchen, and relief from the ugly aesthetic. As engineers well-versed in the value of efficiency, they were also quick to acknowledge that it might not be more space they needed, but better space. They were also committed to reconnecting the age of their home with quality craftsmanship that will stand the test of time.
By creating a comprehensive plan addressing functional and aesthetic improvements, we took the house simultaneously back to 1908 and forward to 2019. Working within the footprint of the original building, we designed the remodeling, the historic detailing, custom lighting and interior furnishings. Programmatically, the awkward layout and lack of useful storage space combined with a dysfunctional kitchen defined the project. The walk-through second floor bathroom, treacherous basement stair and lack of character rounded out this list.
Combining several small spaces allowed for a larger kitchen with ample storage. The new basement stair location provides access to the new walk-out basement mudroom. Two new shed dormers create space for a proper dual-use family bathroom and upstairs laundry. Our clients expressed their desire to reintroduce a 1908 aesthetic. Given little to go on other than a few clues, the design is spot on for the period, but not specific to the house. New defining elements in the living room, a fireplace and bookshelves face a new colonnade. Serving the dual purpose of defining the entry, the colonnade addresses the need for a fourth wall in a living room of openings and windows. It creates a sense of place and helps with furniture arrangement.
As environmental stewards, our clients knew there was plenty worth saving in their urban home. Painstakingly pulling nails from millwork, flooring, and lumber for reuse, they took on these tasks themselves to reduce waste from the project. The same holds true for the furnishings. “Reclaim, repair and reupholster” defined the approach to interior design. New carpets anchor the rooms, chairs sport new upholstery and antique store finds evoke another era. At the same time, the interiors remain light-filled, welcoming and comfortable. This project demonstrates that it’s not always about the checkbook; good design is about design, scale, proportion, aesthetic and sometimes love of the past.