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This Townhouse's Renovation Perfectly Marries Historic and Contemporary Design

Michael McCarthy | February 19, 2021 | Home & Real Estate

Architect Catherine Truman reimagines a gorgeous brownstone for a young Boston family.

Moooi (moooi.com) lighting sets the tone in the main living area.  PHOTOGRAPHED BY NAT REA
Moooi (moooi.com) lighting sets the tone in the main living area.

Catherine Truman makes no secret about her love for renovating old townhouses. Part of this reason, the Boston architect says, is they’re all so radically different. She was tapped by a English family—who are new to Boston with three school-age kids—to tackle a five-level, 3,875-square-foot brownstone in the South End. The house had been renovated a couple of times, most recently in the early 1990s, “but the main formal floor hadn’t been touched, and other elements, like the classic staircase, remained unchanged,” says Truman, who launched her eponymous firm (catherinetrumanarchitects.com) in 2013 after 15 years with Ann Beha Architects.

“My design aesthetic is really about finding the right solution for each project, each client, each home,” says Truman. “I also think design isn’t simply about what the thing looks like but how it works. So part of my design aesthetic is finding the right functional solution as well as aesthetic expression. Ultimately, when something looks so simple that it looks like it couldn’t have been any other way, that’s when the design is right.”

The kitchen features stools from DWR Cherner (dwr.com) and Silestone Eternal Statuario (silestoneusa.com) countertops PHOTOGRAPHED BY NAT REA
The kitchen features stools from DWR Cherner (dwr.com) and Silestone Eternal Statuario (silestoneusa.com) countertops.

When Truman worked with her clients to map out the new spaces, she noted the home had a beautiful, nearly perfectly preserved parlor, complete with plaster moldings, ceiling medallions and pocket doors. Other floors had been far more altered, she says, although all of the mantels survived.

The architect’s process for working with clients is collaborative, not prescriptive, says Truman. “I bring options to the table, and we talk through what they mean—how the client would live in different layouts, or how much different options may cost—and work through the dialogue. It’s the same for details and materials; it’s about finessing the possibilities.”

The clients were interested in creating a home that merged the historic character of the house with clean, contemporary design. “They wanted to make them blend together, which is totally what I love to do,” says Truman.

The master bath is lined with Neolith Calacatta marble (neolith.com). PHOTOGRAPHED BY NAT REA
An outdoor space expands the home’s living area significantly.

Since the house was missing some original detail, Truman decided to replicate detail where it was missing in order to tie the entire house back together. “On the ground floor, there wasn’t any original detail—except for the mantel. We replicated the original crown molding to tie it back to the rest of the house,” she says. “We opened up the basement stair and replicated the newel post and balusters, which ties the whole house together with the staircase. The master bedroom was missing its original ceiling medallion, and I unexpectedly found a plasterer who had a mold of the rosette from another house on the street. So we had that installed and hung a great modern light fixture.”

For the main living area, Truman wanted to create an open, light-filled family living space, so she removed non-load-bearing walls that divided the space and opened up the bearing wall with columns. She also understands the importance of utility to a bustling home with kids, so she added front and rear garden entries with mudrooms and storage cubbies. “There also weren’t many bathrooms in the house, so we added 2 ½ baths, including one on the kitchen level, one on the third level, and we split a Jack and Jill on the top floor to create two separate en suite baths,” she says. “We needed to make the space respond better to the way families live now.”

The home’s exterior PHOTOGRAPHED BY NAT REA
The home’s exterior

The family has many beloved furniture pieces, including a large dining table, which Truman’s team took into consideration when designing the space. Throughout the rest of the home, Molly Jonak, who led the charge for Truman on furnishings, sourced most of the pieces from Boston suppliers. Standouts include Cherner stools from Design Within Reach (dwr.com) in the kitchen, a sofa from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (mgbwhome.com) in the sitting room and a statement-making custom rug from The Rug Company (therugcompany.com) in the master bedroom.

Naturally, the new Boston family loves the home and their neighborhood. Truman credits her clients, team members Jonak and Emily Spain, and builder Cambridge Construction. “Good design isn’t a solo act—it’s a collaboration and team effort,” she says.

DESIGN DETAILS

Location

South End

Architect + Interior Design

Catherine Truman Architects

catherinetrumanarchitects.com

Resources

Arteriors Osgood pendant, front entry

arteriorshome.com

DWR

Cherner stools, kitchen

dwr.com

The Martin Group

Drapes, Kravet Basics by Elliot Wright Workroom, master bedroom

martingroupinc.com

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams

Living room sofa and parlor furniture

mgbwhome.com

Moooi

Meshmatics pendant, parlor

moooi.com

The Rug Company

Custom rug, master bedroom

therugcompany.com

Studio 534

Bambois wallpaper by Fromental, master bedroom

s5boston.com



Photography by: Nat Rea