Just What the Doctor Ordered in Cambridge

February 24, 2020

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Kritsada Panichgul

Gorgeous houses sprout up and down the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Victorian that caught this couple’s eye, however, was once home to a local physician. Numerous renovations to provide space for his work and students had left a warren of tiny rooms, but there was also a happy vibe—the evidence of a rich history.

In need of serious upgrading, the four-story structure might have scared the prospective homeowners off had they not known interior designer Jennifer Palumbo. Having worked with her before, they were certain she’d turn things round. And, icing on the cake: the change of address would put them within walking distance of everything they need day to day, even their workplaces. Done! They said goodbye to the suburbs where they’d raised their three children and gave Palumbo a shout.

Zoom ahead and the dust has cleared. In accordance with the Historical Commission’s restraints, the exterior has been thoughtfully preserved, while the interior has blossomed. Along with Palumbo, architects Stephen K. Hart and Jennifer Lyford have transformed the house without diminishing its antique charm.

To further a sense of openness, the skilled team nixed one of two existing staircases. Off came an awkward addition, too. The building’s handsome proportions remain intact, but apertures between rooms were widened. The light-filled living room, for instance, now flows seamlessly into the adjoining dining room. Visitors need only plunk themselves down in the former to feel how well past and present are balanced. A bevy of comfortable furniture (this is where the family watches television) gathers around a generous coffee table. The palette (as it is throughout) is pale with splashes of vibrant color. And from the original ceiling medallion dangles a cool Kelly Wearstler light fixture.

New trim work resembles that of yesterday, but there are also catchy architectural twists, like the exaggerated coffered ceiling in the dining room and the twin steel-framed glass doors separating the dining room and kitchen. Palumbo designed a dining table with a porcelain top. A pair of handcrafted wood-veneer lights hover purposely low over the table, anchoring the space and adding interest.

If the owners ever harbored concerns, it was primarily about functionality. “They wanted a home that would shrink and grow according to their needs,” Palumbo explains. In other words, a house that suited two when they were alone and expanded when numbers grew. The spacious kitchen with its adjoining family room does all that, affording a cozy fireside spot along with plenty of space for cooking and entertaining.

When a party does unfold, even the stairs descending to the basement-level wine cellar and media room are wide and welcoming. With a perfect vintage in hand, guests can stroll back up to the music room—a jewel box of a space with walls of rich, saturated blue—and listen to the husband play the piano.

Shots of blue surface in the couple’s private haven as well, adding a spark to the serene ambience.

No longer just a house with a pedigreed past, this old beauty has been revitalized in a respectful but spirited manner the good doctor would certainly approve.

Architecture: Hart Associates Architects
Interior design: Jennifer Palumbo
Builder: Brookes + Hill Custom Builders

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