It’s no secret that renovations can be stressful. And not just for the homeowner. “At one point, we were standing in the dirt basement looking up at the roof rafters,” says architect Jason LaGorga, describing the remains of a single-family in Somerville. “It’s nerve-racking when you’re looking at the house with your clients, and there’s nothing left of it.” The clients, a fortysomething couple who were living in a condo complex in Cambridge, had never owned a single-family nor experienced large-scale construction. Still, they were determined to put their stamp on the 1,850-square-foot house.
LaGorga, principal at DesignCrossover in West Roxbury, fused their modern tastes with the neighborhood’s no-nonsense feel to create a zippy exterior. Stained cedar shingles, metal rails with steel cables, and tricolored accents in two shades of blue plus chartreuse make it stand out while still fitting in. The wife chose chartreuse as an accent color for the kitchen before carrying the color outside to share it with the neighbors. She loves when bursts of color brighten streets, especially in the winter.
The biggest challenge inside was infusing airiness into the existing footprint. By replacing the traditional staircase with a contemporary floating steel staircase with open risers and steel cable rails, LaGorga established a sightline to the back of the house and visually bridged each of the home’s three floors. “They came from one level, so a vertical connection that draws you up through the house was important,” he says. The entry feels larger too, thanks to the living room’s new 5-foot-wide set of frosted-glass pocket doors, which remains open unless somebody’s watching TV. “There’s a lot more breathing space,” LaGorga says.
Before the current owners, the home went through several iterations. “The original back deck got turned into a screen porch that got turned into an unheated half bath,” LaGorga says. He extended the kitchen, topping it with a second story to accommodate an expanded master suite. Next, he tucked a tiny new half bath between the hall and the kitchen, and built a new deck off the side of the house. It’s accessed by a 12-foot-wide pair of bifold doors in the kitchen and is hidden from the street, complements of the new garage he designed for the adjacent lot.
A shopping trip to Longleaf Lumber in Cambridge helped establish the interior’s look and feel. “They wanted a white-on-white palette,” LaGorga says. “The warmth of the wood counterbalances that so it doesn’t feel sterile.” They used reclaimed hickory boards replete with knots and wormholes for the floors and stair risers and white oak for accents, including the island’s waterfall countertop. “The organic material will take on more character with age, which is important with all the machined elements,” LaGorga says. In the kitchen, the hand-glazed tile backsplash introduces another imperfect ingredient, while switching to porcelain tiles for the floor keeps the room from looking like a cabin in Maine.
The material change also helps delineate the space. Rather than institute a totally open floor plan, LaGorga preserved the original layout’s distinct rooms. The architect notes that clients are coming back to wanting definition between spaces. Instead of taking down walls, he redefined how the rooms interact with each other by widening or narrowing openings and tweaking rooms’ orientations. For instance, he shifted the kitchen’s focus to the outdoors. The couple, who didn’t want to stare at appliances while seated in the dining room, wholly appreciate the green view and easy access to their grill from the kitchen. At the same time, they appreciate how the the open view is balanced by the intimacy of the dining room.
LaGorga achieved the best of both worlds. “We opened up the house,” he says, “but you can still escape into your own space.”
Interior Design: DesignCrossover Architecture and Interiors, designcrossover.com
Contractor: Restoration Construction
Kitchen: The Kitchen Center of Framingham, magnificentkitchens.com
Millwork: DWT Woodworking, dwtwoodworking.com
Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.