Family Living in Boston’s South End
November 3, 2022
One couple vows to raise their family in the city—even if it takes a gut renovation to make it happen.
Text by Fred Albert Photography by Jared Kuzia Produced by Sean Williams
Surveying the scenery from their South End roof deck a decade ago, a Boston couple made a solemn vow to each other: no matter what happened, they would never move
to the suburbs.
Ten years and four children later, late nights and languid dinners have given way to preschools and playdates. But our intrepid couple still lives just two blocks from where they started.
“We love being able to walk to a restaurant, playgrounds, and our kids’ school,” explains the wife, a physician.
“There’s so much sense of community in the South End,” adds her husband, a finance executive. “It really does feel like a small, welcoming neighborhood.”
Although the 1870 Italianate brownstone they purchased three years ago offered more space
and a desirable corner lot, it looked like it hadn’t been updated since the Depression. “It was pretty tumbledown,” acknowledges architect Marcus Springer of OverUnder in Boston. The former rooming house featured a warren of bedrooms on its upper levels, along with sagging floors, a fire-damaged roof, and a treacherously steep staircase.
“These old buildings were not necessarily built very well,” confides contractor Josh Brandt of Stack + Co., who poked and prodded at the structure’s bones until it became obvious that the best course of action would be to gut the interior and rebuild it from scratch.
With the help of project architect Andrew Potter and construction project manager Matt D’Alessio, the team eliminated everything except three exterior walls, then excavated the basement an additional four feet to increase the ceiling height there and in the ground-floor kitchen—where the six-foot-five-inch husband often holds court.
With five narrow levels stacked like Jenga blocks, the owners feared feeling isolated from one another, so Springer cut away part of the floor between the first and second levels, creating a two-story light well linking the kitchen and living area above. On the fifth floor, the three daughters were assigned interconnected spaces in lieu of private bedrooms—much to the dismay of the nine-year-old eldest. (“You live in a 5,000-square-foot house in the city,” her mother responded with a laugh. “Deal with it!”)
Designer Lisa Kreiling of LTK Interiors scoured sites like 1stDibs and Chairish for a medley of durable, distinctive pieces imbued with a sense of history. “I didn’t want it to feel
‘decorated,’ ” Kreiling explains. “I wanted it to feel like this family has collected these pieces and lived here forever.”
The owners’ fearless embrace of color is evident the moment you step into the foyer, where an exuberant green wallpaper announces that this isn’t your typical Brahmin brownstone. Elsewhere, elephants parade across a bedroom wall, monkeys cavort in a playroom mural, and sardines swim around a powder room so compact, guests might feel like the fish themselves.
Landscape architect Michael D’Angelo cleared decades of debris from the backyard, lowered and leveled the soil, and installed a bluestone terrace that flows seamlessly from the kitchen. At the opposite end of the room, a curvaceous fireside banquette invites the children to lounge while their parents cook.
“We wanted everything to feel functional,” acknowledges the wife. “There’s no part of our house that we don’t use or don’t want our kids to be.”