House Proud: A Georgian Revival in West Newton, Massachusetts
October 23, 2013
Two additions to an historic suburban-Boston home introduce a lighthearted, family-friendly vibe but don’t diminish its inherent dignity a bit.
Text by “De” Schofield Photography by Richard Mandelkorn Produced by Kyle Hoepner
Stately old homes are hardly rare in the suburban Boston neighborhood of West Newton Hill. People seem to agree, however, that Jennifer Palumbo’s house—a Georgian Revival built in 1917 by John Wingate Weeks, a Navy admiral who served as Newton mayor, United States senator, and Secretary of War under President Warren G. Harding—enjoys special regard. “It’s the iconic house of the neighborhood,” says architect John Meyer, “not only in provenance and architectural distinction, but its hilltop site lends elevated status literally and figuratively.”
When the two-story, redbrick house came on the market, its attributes proved irresistible to Palumbo, an interior designer who had long admired it. Thrilled as she was to make it her own, however, she felt it needed significant renovation and expansion to render it suitable for her, her husband, Keith, and their three children. “My ambition was to update in a manner that captured the inherent character of the house, but with a new, less serious attitude that felt fresh, fun, and lively,” she says.
Palumbo turned to Boston-based Meyer for help in fulfilling her vision. She was familiar with Meyer’s work on another landmark Georgian Revival in nearby Chestnut Hill. “I’d been driving past that house for about a year, and was impressed with John’s ability to add to an existing composition in an imaginative, creative manner,” the designer recalls.
Meyer’s renovation plan included gutting and reconfiguring many interior rooms, repairing the original oak flooring throughout the house, and building additions on the north and south sides, increasing the living space from about 7,500 square feet to almost 12,000 square feet. The addition on the south elevation holds a ground-floor office for Keith and a spacious second-floor master suite. At the opposite end of the house, Meyer devised a two-story, L-shaped addition that consists of a voluminous family room, a mudroom, a new side entry, and a three-car garage.
The almost-two-acre site offered ample room for expanding, but its variable grades prompted Meyer’s special attention to ensuring that the additions interact seamlessly with both the land and the old part of the house.
Contractor Grant Rhode’s painstaking efforts to match details and finishes went a long way toward making the additions look like they’d always been there. “Getting the texture of the new exterior materials to match the aged fabric of the existing house was crucial,” he says. “The color of the mortar and slate and the character of the brickwork and the copper work had to conform to the appearance of the existing materials.”
The landscaping, too, enhances the sense that the house has stood unchanged since its construction. “Our charge was to create a narrative that tells the story of how the house used to be, married with how the spaces now serve in new ways,” explains landscape architect Gregory Lombardi.
Using the property’s existing, mature landscaping as backdrop, Lombardi amplified focus areas with flowering plants and shrubs. A stone wall along the north edge, built for privacy, is integrated into the plan as the border for an entertaining terrace, complete with built-in grill and cooking area, that opens to a large lawn. An existing porch was expanded to hold another area for entertaining, defined by a bluestone terrace that opens to yet another broad expanse of child-friendly lawn.
Palumbo’s respectful redecorating plan begins in the foyer, where she highlighted the meticulous original moldings, the rich oak floors, and the front door’s host of exquisite leaded-glass windows by keeping the color scheme simple, quiet, and organic. “Using colors from nature felt right and afforded maximum flexibility,” the designer says.
The foyer opens to an airy living room large enough to support two seating arrangements. To the pacific palette of whites and beiges with pastel hints, Palumbo injected excitement with multiple textures, patterns, and shapes. A transitional-style sofa in a waffle-patterned Pollack fabric joins a rounded-back loveseat in watery blue, a wing chair is clad in a geometric print, and vintage ottomans wear sassy zebra stripes. A secondary grouping is grounded by a grasshopper-green settee that’s become the kids’ favorite reading spot, with Palumbo’s custom-designed zebrawood chest placed nearby to provide handy storage for games and books. Linen-raffia roman shades and a cocoa-colored sisal area rug lend extra texture and add a casual note. “My objective was for the living room to feel approachable and welcoming for all manner of family use,” Palumbo says.
In the dining room, a glamorous tri-pendant chandelier sets the stage for an opulent yet welcoming setting that accommodates casual dinner parties and festive holiday gatherings with equal ease. Once again juxtaposing disparate textures for impact, Palumbo dressed the room’s original horsehair-plastered walls in a wash of pleated linen, lending dimension that is further underscored by a new, silvery metallic finish on the room’s ceiling. A clean-lined rosewood dining table surrounded by sleek chairs sits on a Kyle Bunting cowhide rug that punctuates the setting with a relaxed, informal note.
Palumbo enlisted the talents of Boston-based kitchen designer Donna Venegas to enlarge and modernize the kitchen, which now includes a breakfast room. “From the outset, Jen gravitated to the more contemporary vignettes,” Venegas recalls. “She appreciated the beauty of a purely modern kitchen—high-gloss finishes, slab doors, sharp lines—but it wasn’t appropriate for this project. Instead, we developed a softer palette, one that incorporated both modern and tailored traditional elements.”
The breakfast room opens to the new family room, a two-story space featuring a ceiling detailed with horizontal wood banding, a nautical reference in homage to the naval background of the home’s original owner. Again deftly blending contemporary and traditional, Palumbo chose a tawny leather wall covering by Ralph Lauren as a backdrop to the stone fireplace with its dramatic soaring chimney breast, and outfitted the room with highly textured, oversize furniture for maximum comfort. An upholstered banquette tucked into a corner beckons the kids for game-playing and homework.
Both Meyer and Palumbo feel satisfied that they achieved their goal to honor the unique beauty and history of the house. “For me,” says Palumbo, “it’s all about balancing character and integrity with a personalized feel that is all our own.”
Admiral Weeks would feel right at home.
Architecture: John I. Meyer, Jr., Meyer & Meyer Architecture and Interiors
Interior Design: Jennifer Palumbo
Landscape design: Gregory Lombardi Design
Builder: Grant Rhode, GF Rhode Construction