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A Complete Renovation of a South End Brownstone Blends Traditional Charm With Contemporary Touches

By Michael McCarthy | November 19, 2020 | Home & Real Estate

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When Nicole Cassidy designs a home, her mind goes cinematic. “I like to create little vignettes or moments in my mind of how the homeowner would occupy the space,” says Cassidy, an interior designer for Embarc (embarcstudio.com), a Boston- based team of architects, designers and interior designers. “For example, when entertaining in the parlor, are you drinking a glass of merlot? Is the fireplace lit? What music is playing in the background, and what are you wearing? The built space is just the backdrop for all the moments to happen within.”

It’s even easier to ponder the years ahead when the clients are newlyweds with a new baby on the way—and an adorable pooch bounding around the home. Cassidy and the team from Embarc, including lead architect Mark Van Brocklin, had their work cut out for them: The 1869 brownstone in South End purchased by the newlyweds would require gutting everything and starting fresh with a new vision for living in the 5,000-square-foot space. Cassidy notes the team successfully achieved the approval of a rear two-story addition, resulting in the oriel windows (in the form of rear bays) on three sides of the building that ensured abundant natural light.


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A soaking tub in the master bath.

Cassidy’s aesthetic, refined traditional, aligned with the couple’s, and she says her team’s approach to every project is the same: constant client interaction. “We let the clients have fun and guide our design process,” she says. “What they love is integrated into the space while ensuring that there’s cohesiveness throughout. We’re intently focused on the details, but don’t let the details overwhelm the process.”

Since the couple had been living in the husband’s bachelor pad, the new home was a literal joining of two lives with a shared approach to design. Cassidy says the couple’s desire was to create a warm and inviting home to entertain and enjoy with family and friends. “They loved the traditional architecture and layouts of brownstones or vertical living, but knew they needed an elevator with a family coming,” she says. “The parlor and dining room were kept formal, while repurposing some square footage for modern amenities like a home theater, indoor- outdoor mudroom, [along with a] wet bar for summer barbecues and a family room-art studio on the top floor.”

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The playful room for the couple’s newborn.

Cassidy and the couple didn’t want to abandon traditional brownstone motifs, so they added classic elements with playful, fresh twists. “For example, we used a tumbled stone mosaic in the elevator, but the pattern and brass inlays were much less traditional,” she says. “The spaces are cohesive but tell their own story. The parlor level was our saturated and moody level. This included the parlor with deep, saturated millwork, antiques and family heirlooms. The powder room, which we dubbed the Pollination Station, was outfitted with New Ravenna’s (newravenna.com) Napoleon Bonaparte floor tile—hexagonal Thassos marble tiles with 24K gold inlaid bees. The sink bowl in this space is from the London Basin Co. and resembles petals opening on a flower. Even the towel has a handembroidered white bee.” For the media room, which is bathed in blue, Cassidy employed the husband’s collection of New Orleans Jazz Festival posters.

Since so many living rooms in larger homes can feel abandoned, Cassidy and her team set out to create an intimate, inviting space. They worked with the homeowners to fill the square footage with an eclectic mix of curated treasures, including new pieces, antiques, family heirlooms and curios the couple had collected while traveling. A custom Alexander McQueen monarch rug from The Rug Company (therugcompany.com) is the room’s centerpiece and pairs wonderfully with the original mantel mirror, which Cassidy’s team refinished and moved from the original dining room.

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Cassidy didn’t abandon classic brownstone design motifs, but she employed playful twists like an orange banquette.

Sitting atop the room’s settees are a selection of accent pillows with Scalamandre (scalamandre.com) fabric and Samuel and Sons (samuelandsons.com) silk tassel trim. “We added millwork on either side of the fireplace and layered in the homeowners’ books, art and family heirlooms,” says Cassidy. “The bay window provided a unique opportunity for a cozy family game nook.”

The master suite is a calming sanctuary, as neutral warm tones and soft green enhance the serenity of the room. “The full-height upholstered channeled headboard was custom-designed by our team and executed by Lousso Designs (loussodesigns.com),” says Cassidy. “The design intent was to have the top of the headboard—and the mirrors flanking it— continue the datum around the room from the top of the window casing.”

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The elegant dining room features a table and chandelier from 1stDibs.

Embarc’s team employed every square inch of the kitchen to stunning effect. Van Brocklin and his architectural crew designed custom wood molding, which seamlessly integrates the cabinetry that reaches the ceiling—perfect for extra storage. Cumar Marble and Granite (cumar.com) fabricated and installed all of the project’s stone. “The matching waterfall marble on the island allowed us to conceal additional storage underneath the island’s overhang for lobster pots or crockpots,” says Cassidy. The bay window installation in the kitchen’s rear provided enough space for the team to create a banquette with an oval dining table from Dunes and Duchess (dunesandduchess.com); the lacquered mulberry finish adds a pop of color. Bonus storage: The banquette features a space for storing dog food and water bowls.

Cassidy’s client went into labor as Embarc was putting the finishing touches on the home. “When returning from the hospital with a new member of their family, she was overwhelmed and overjoyed,” says Cassidy. “From time to time, she’ll send me a picture saying, ‘I think this is actually my favorite thing,’ and it’s always something different—as it should be. Their home is a collection of their favorite things and absolutely beautiful and uniquely them. It’s a perfect place to create memories for years to come. As their little one grows up, we hope we’ll get the call to help design her big-girl room.”

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A custom-upholstered headboard in the master bedroom is by Lousso Designs.

Design Details

TYPE
Brownstone row house (1869)

LOCATION
South End, Boston

ARCHITECTURE
Embarc
embarcstudio.com

INTERIOR DESIGN
Nicole Cassidy, Embarc
embarcstudio.com

Resources

AMY SOMERVILLE
Dining room chairs
amysomerville.com

CUMAR MARBLE AND GRANITE
Stone finishes, kitchen
cumar.com

1STDIBS
Chandelier and dining room table
1stdibs.com

HOLLAND & SHERRY
Sofa and desk chair fabric
hollandandsherry.com

LOUSSO DESIGNS
Custom-upholstered headboard, master bedroom
loussodesigns.com

THE MARTIN GROUP
Accent pillows, living room
martinshomecenter.com

MITCHELL GOLD + BOB WILLIAMS
Sofa, living room
mgbwhome.com

THE RUG COMPANY
Alexander McQueen monarch rug, living room
therugcompany.com



Photography by: Michael J. Lee