Dee Elms’ Cambridge Home was Worth the Wait
April 20, 2023
After years of designing homes for others, Dee Elms turns her attention to her family’s Cambridge residence.
Text by Fred Albert Photography by Michael J. Lee
“We waited a long time for our grown-up house,” says designer Dee Elms. Despite years of acclaim creating contemporary, cosmopolitan interiors for a host of Boston-area clients, the mother of three hadn’t had time to craft something similar for herself. Life, career, and kids always seemed to get in the way.
That began to change eleven years ago, when Elms and her husband purchased a tired home in Cambridge. They rented out the residence for several years and then spent five years living in it as is. “Sometimes you don’t get to move into the perfect house the moment you buy it,” Elms acknowledges. “We had to be patient and continue to plan for what we wanted.”
By 2019, they were ready to remodel. To maximize space for the kids, Elms had the house lifted off its foundation and temporarily relocated to the backyard, while excavators added three feet of height to the head-bruising basement.
The interior was gutted and rebuilt, its upgraded windows and doors paired with simple fumed white-oak flooring, and its hallways and stairs wrapped in lustrous Venetian plaster. “It’s a great surface for a very busy house,” notes Elms. “It’s very forgiving.” Durable, family-friendly materials like mohair and wool stand up to abuse, as does a vinyl banquette in the kitchen.
The exterior was reshingled and painted a blacky blue, while the addition in the rear was wrapped in standing-seam copper. “The goal was for the front of the house to be quite classic, so we chose to make the rear more contemporary,” Elms says.
She took a similar approach to the interior, which segues from a living room decorated in a curated mix of designer pieces rendered in soothing shades of gray and blue, to a sunny family room with a sectional so commodious you could swim in it. Between the two, Elms created a sultry dining room swathed in inky-colored wallpaper and matching cabinetry. “I love using color and texture to define spaces,” says the designer, who inserted steel-framed windows and doors between rooms to extend sight lines through the house.
Window seats beckon at every turn. “We often find one of our kids there, just curled up soaking in the sun,” Elms says. The family room feels like a window seat, too, with a gridded window wall drinking in the backyard view. “We used plants to soften the edges and buffer the perimeter so it felt private and textured and lush,” says landscape architect Matthew Cunningham, who collaborated on the project with Josh Bourgery. To minimize maintenance, the owners installed artificial turf instead of grass, so their kids can play in nearly any weather (without tracking in mud or dirt).
The family finally moved back in last year, giving Elms the kind of grown-up house her clients have long enjoyed. “We had to wait a little bit longer for ours,” she concedes. “But it was totally worth it.”
Interior design and interior architecture: Elms Interior Design
Architecture: Richard Bernstein Architect
Builder: Moughan Contracting
Landscape design: Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design