Victorian Novel

November 8, 2012

An old home in the Boston suburbs shakes of its fusty past, lets in the light and dons a new look that's just right for a young family.

Text by Stacy Kunstel    Photography by Greg Premru

A century ago, at the height of the Victorian building boom, women in crinoline dresses bustled around rooms outfitted in dark wood paneling and colors of oxblood and evergreen. Both the fashion and interiors of that time now seem suffocating, but back then they were the epitome of good taste.

For a Boston family moving back to the area from California, respect ran high for the craftsman details of the Victorian architecture in the house they bought. The high ceilings and large windows were also a draw, but inside they yearned for the airiness that now defines the modern home.

Taking the old house from “typical” to “today” without stripping it of its charm fell to the professionals at LDa Architects and Kristen Rivoli Interior Design, who collaborated to blend the best of the past with the present.

From the street, the house looks much like the same stately, shuttered structure it was a hundred years ago. On the back, an addition gave the family a new master bedroom and bath on the second floor and a new kitchen, breakfast area and family room below. “They wanted something on the outside that wasn’t a slave to the original, but that wouldn’t stick out too much,” says Treff LaFleche, the principal architect on the project. “The transition is subtle, not abrupt, but with contemporary materials.”

Inside is a lightness and freedom no Victorian homeowner would recognize. The foyer still holds the original dark-stained staircase and tall, carved newel post, but now walls soar in Rivoli’s palette of soft blues and taupes. “Nobody today likes the darkness of an old house, so we tried to keep it light,” the designer says.

A custom stair runner, geometric sheer curtains and an eye-popping yellow console give the first hints of the contemporary twists that help the house make its shift from yesterday to today. Throughout the rooms on the first floor, Rivoli juxtaposed traditional with modern, abstract with classic. In the parlor, bookcases and moldings were repaired and painted over in cream, but it’s the Antoine Proulx table with its curved stainless base that places this house clearly in the present.

For the adjacent living room, now awash in blues, the designer re-covered an existing sofa and refinished the homeowner’s own coffee table to better suit the pair of modern upholstered armchairs and a bentwood occasional chair by the Italian brand Flexform.

Art played a substantial role in the mix of old and new. “I love the oil painting by Peter Brooks,” says Rivoli. “The dancers are an old art shown in a new perspective. I tried to take something very traditional in each room and make it more abstract or modern when I could.”

That idea of regarding the traditional through a modern lens continues in the dining room, where Rivoli commissioned a custom pendant fixture with hand-blown glass globes. She cleverly juxtaposed a hand-hewn trestle table with upholstered Flexform chairs, a Ralph Pucci console and a traditional landscape painting for a mix of styles that makes a flattering combination. “The clients aren’t super formal,” says the designer. “They loved the idea of having a weather-worn table with more modern pieces.”

Rivoli’s fresh take works with the original woodwork and trim because a cohesive thread runs through the fabrics and finishes. “The paint colors and Kristen’s furnishings give it a more contemporary flair,” says LaFleche. “Furnishings do a tremendous job making the house feel fresh and new.”

LaFleche and project architect Dean Hofelich had their own opportunity to bridge new with old in the home’s addition. The family room’s cleanly coffered ceiling and simplified moldings give lightness to the space, while a sectional sofa defines the room as modern and family-friendly.

In the kitchen, where LDa, Rivoli and Venegas and Company collaborated, craftsmanship details are on full display in the island, which looks as if one end grew from a giant walnut trunk. Traditional Carrara marble tile is given a modern spin in the backsplash, installed in horizontal blocks around a grouping of windows that surround the range hood, bringing in light from the mudroom.

The breakfast area opposite the kitchen island stands in the octagonal addition that LaFleche says ­recalls the Victorian towers of old. An iconic Knoll pedestal table, chairs from Blu Dot and the simple, lightly stained woodwork, however, make it clear that this isn’t your great aunt’s kitchen.

On the second floor, a modern version of a Japanese soaking tub by Wet fills the octagon in the master bath. A separate shower on one side and a glass partition on the other give the tub the feeling of being in a separate room from the double vanity flanked by tall storage cabinets. “It has a nice spa feeling to it,” says LaFleche. “The dark floors are a little gesture back to the Victorian. It’s softer to the foot and counterbalances the crisp quality of the glass.”

The master bedroom plays on the same oasis feeling, but in a darker color scheme. A custom headboard forms a half wall between the bath and bedroom and provides space for books, phones, a drawer and reading sconces. “The room is really soft and relaxing,” says Rivoli. “I didn’t want the bedroom to be a ‘look at me’ moment, but a space grounded in warmth and comfort.”

Velvety blue walls create a quiet atmosphere in the high-ceilinged room, where rich brown custom bedding echoes the soaring chocolate beams. Instead of protruding, shelving recedes into the walls and cabinet doors are flush.

The blending of old and new in the renovation and addition also took sustainability into mind, clearing a number of hurdles to earn LEED silver certification. “It was something we were able to achieve without tearing everything out,” says LaFleche.

The result is a house that honors its Victorian past but suits the activities and aesthetics of the modern young family calling it home today. Craft, from the original wood carvings to the modern take on a kitchen island, flows throughout.

What a difference a century can make.

Project Team 
Architecture: Treff LaFleche and Dean Hofelich, LDa Architecture & Interiors
Interior Design: Kristen Rivoli Interior Design
Builder: Russell Macomber, Macomber Carpentry & Construction
Find A Resource

Search from hundreds of home services, products, destinations, and real estate opportunities.

View All Resources