[caption id=”attachment_28563″ align=”alignleft” width=”350″] The townhome’s historic Federal-style facade on Beacon Hill, overlooking Boston Common.[/caption]
Presiding over the quaint alleys of Boston Common, the stately row houses of Beacon Hill line the streets in their brick and wrought-iron elegance, like ladies at a 19th century ball. With the facades virtually untouched by time, adapting these historic beauties to the realities of contemporary lifestyles is a sophisticated task, begetting thoughtful vision that strikes the perfect note between progressive and conservative. So when a Beacon Hill family decided to embark on a full renovation of their mid-1800s Federal townhouse, they turned to the experts on all things Boston – David Hacin and his team at Hacin + Associates, whose profound familiarity with the city meant a modernization that remained sensitive to the home’s architectural integrity.
“They wanted to maintain a relationship to the historic fabric of the townhouse but for it to feel fresh and young, and function intelligently,” says Hacin. To that end, getting a sense of the family’s unique needs was at the forefront.
“We spent a lot of time understanding how they live, even speaking to their kids and getting their input on the design,” comments Hacin, adding that this planning stage took over six months prior to even beginning construction. “It’s a very personal process that allows us to understand the dynamic of the relationship between the home and its owners.”
Tearing the interior down to its foundational bones, the architect gave the townhouse’s traditional floor plan an organizational overhaul by bringing the kitchen and family rooms down to the main level and adding a guest apartment in the former basement maid’s quarters. The formal parlor remained on its customary second floor, with its high ceilings helping to preserve the room’s scale.
“The idea was to contrast traditional elements with more contemporary ones, to emphasize the relationship of old and new,” explains Hacin, pointing out the black steel and glass panels that separate the foyer from the family room, unabashedly modern with a wink to antique wrought iron. In the foyer, with its original door and windows and a mix of novel and antique decor, it’s a first peek at the time-traveling juxtaposition that paints every room in the home.
“It’s about a back and forth registration of modernity and tradition,” Hacin remarks. Working with the few original elements that were preserved – windows, the restored stone fireplace and the curvilinear staircase – Hacin brought in a curated selection of contemporary furniture, the sharp silhouettes playing alongside gorgeous period pieces.
“The family had an extensive collection of 19th century art, sculpture, historic heirlooms and antiques,” Hacin tells us. “We introduced important 21st century furniture.” Larger-than-life paintings lend a classical patina to low-slung gray sofas, sleek leather loungers and mirrored coffee tables; gilt frames and ornate chandeliers cavort with futuristic spherical lamps and colorful poufs. In an updated take on 19th century European wallpaper, embroidered silk panels camouflage the television set and painted wall motifs recall period-specific technique in an otherwise pared-down powder room.
“We wanted to be inspired by the period of the house, but do it in a modern way,” Hacin states. His favorite part, he tells us, is the main level, with a stone staircase wall swooping dramatically down into the family room and glossy-white kitchen. “You see the old and the new, and a space that’s open and flexible out of a place that used to be a lot of little rooms.”
In keeping with the owners’ wishes, a formal dining room was forgone in favor of a more flexible space and an eat-in kitchen. When needed, a custom-made table tucked into the kitchen island slides out, with extension leaves unfolding to seat 10. In more modern conveniences, an elevator was put in, along with a second staircase and structural updates including new energy-efficient technologies.
“There are many technical challenges when you’re working with historic houses – old foundations, old walls,” notes Hacin. “Most of the issues arise when introducing new systems.”
For the architect, in with the new doesn’t mean out with the old. With his deep connection to Boston and the fabric that weaves its past, looking ahead without compromising a home’s character is a point of pride.
“Creating a house that feels like it belongs in Boston but still has 21st century expression, that’s what we do,” he states.
Photography Courtesy of Michael Stavardis.