Mix and Match: A Classic Craftsman with a Modern Addition
Text by Louis Postel Photography by Exterior photography by Richard Mandelkorn | Interior photography by Shelly Harrison
What if we lived in a world of and instead of but?
That’s the world in which Adolfo Perez, architect, and Nathalie Ducrest, designer, created this Brookline, Massachusetts, addition.
What is essentially a large new living room called for these two professionals to resolve any number of seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. Though they had never worked together before, they found themselves flowing with the ands while moving right past the buts that can trip up others.
For example, the 1,200-square-foot addition has a fresh, optimistic, modern exterior that is in sync with the stucco-clad Craftsman-style main house and the zealously guarded historic district in which it finds itself. The interior has minimalistic lines, making it easy to maintain, and organic shapes and rhythmic patterns animating it throughout.
The new space has custom foosball, billiards, and ping-pong tables for action-packed fun and a quiet spot given to reflection. It’s inviting for a teen sleepover, and it’s an easy place for adults to entertain. “Ultimately, it feels both intimate and large, which is what the owners wanted perhaps most of all,” says Ducrest.
The clients asked for a modern look inside and out. European in background, they were comfortable with the idea of a contemporary addition side by side with their traditional house. Not so the local preservation committee, which gave Perez a list of historically appropriate materials. Two of those materials caught his eye: steel windows and copper siding. He pushed both toward more oxidation rather than less, for an eventual rich, rust-proof patina.
Cladding the flat roof in copper, however, would have been exorbitant, he says. His solution was a green roof, on which a grid of twelve-by-twelve-inch trays grows carpets of sedum and other plants.
To stay consistent with the industrial look of the outside, Perez’s clients wanted concrete interior walls. That gave the architect pause. Concrete must be thick—about ten inches—and is hard to detail and prone to cracking. But the clients remained firm. It was up to Perez to find the and: the sturdy, industrial look of concrete, attractively detailed, and easy to maintain. High-tech came to the rescue in the form of Neolith, half-inch-thick, five-by-ten-foot sheets of manmade stone. “We templated every sheet, sending them to the manufacturer in Spain. This took some time,” recalls Ducrest.
The steel-clad door to enter the addition (or what Ducrest amiably calls the “copper box”) from the outside sits to the right at the end of a J-shaped loop around the main house that terminates at the garage.
Just inside the door, framed by walls of Neolith, is a console Ducrest commissioned from the French sculptor Mathilde Penicaud. The console’s steel surface and concrete base complement Perez’s minimalist materials, while also breaking up the formal geometry of the entry with a kind of syncopated rhythm. Ducrest elaborated on this theme with Perez’s custom-made lighting circles that not only move up and down but dance from one area to the next, tying spaces together. Warmth comes from the wood-look ceramic floors Perez and Ducrest chose.
From the entry, veering left in a clockwise loop, you go through Perez’s 750-foot gut renovation of the main house basement: first the garage stairs and entry, proceeding to a new mudroom, laundry room, bath, and playroom. Down a step from the playroom, on a lower grade, is the living room, featuring a three-sided fireplace and an iconic bubble chair for meditation. In the center, Ducrest placed an On the Rocks chenille-covered sofa by Edra, chosen because she could “play around with the sections like a big puzzle” and create a spot to observe all the action in the round.
From the bubble chair and fireplace, the view looks out on an outdoor kitchen to the far left, the upper terrace straight in front, a fire pit to the right, and the lower terrace beyond the sliding doors of the sitting room, all skillfully arranged by landscape architecture firm Gregory Lombardi Design.
One more turn in this clockwise loop leads back to the entrance. This marks the end of the tour of a copper-clad world that feels both straight-lined and organic, modern and traditional, large and intimate.
Well designed and beautiful.