A Historic South End Townhouse
December 30, 2019
Text by Robert Kiener Photography by Greg Premru
Good news and bad news. That’s how a Boston couple described the result of their hunt for a townhouse in the city’s historic South End. After looking for months, they’d located a vintage five-story townhouse that could work for themselves and their two young children.
First the good news: the 3,220-square-foot Victorian backed onto a shared park, a sort of collective backyard for the neighborhood’s townhouses, an enviable rarity in the densely built South End. The bad news: the house had suffered from years of neglect. The roof leaked badly, and much of the original interior detail had been destroyed. The entire building would need to be gutted.
Happily, the couple found the experienced husband and wife architectural team of Jeffrey Klug and Pamela Butz, who had renovated other homes around the same park and, just as important, “enjoyed a challenge.” Says Klug, “We really liked the idea that the owners were excited about starting almost from scratch but also wanted to preserve as much of the historic characteristics of the home as possible.”
For example, they agreed to retain the classic Victorian front parlor layout but modernized it by opening it up to link with a rear parlor (now a family room) that offers light-filled, airy views of the park. Another nod to the past: for the new window wall at the back of the house, the architects designed custom-made wood windows with very thin profiles. They are a combination of both fixed and triple-hung windows, a type consistent with the front windows.
“Consistency was an important consideration in our design,” explains Butz. Adds Klug, “We may use more contemporary features in the design, but we wanted to make sure that the new envelope of the building still has some references to the original state of the building, that the ‘language’ is the same.”
The interior presented an unusual architectural challenge. It is only sixteen feet wide, some three or four feet narrower than most of the neighboring townhouses. “That made us think a lot about scale,” says Butz. Instead of using modern, larger furniture in the parlor, the owners and the design pros opted for smaller midcentury-modern pieces. Each floor also benefits from the back window wall that helps to enlarge the space and forge a connection to the outdoors.
The narrowness inspired some creative solutions. The second floor, for instance, features a guest room, a laundry room, a full bathroom, and two children’s rooms in less than 600 square feet. A sliding wall hides or reveals the laundry room as needed, and a pocket door separates the children’s bedrooms; when opened, the rooms become one larger play space.
As the owners entertain friends in their rear parlor-turned-family room and admire the expansive views onto their backyard park, the first time they saw this long-neglected, heavily damaged home seems like a distant memory. Today it’s all good news.
Architecture and interior design: Pamela Butz and Jeffrey Klug, Butz + Klug Architecture
Builder: Timberwolf Woodworking