A Queen Anne Victorian in Newton
November 9, 2020
Text by Lisa H. Speidel Photography by Michael J. Lee Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
Sometimes change can be good. Liberating even. For the owner of this storied Queen Anne Victorian in Newton, Massachusetts, it was time to shake things up a bit.
For some thirty years, the 9,000-square-foot, fifteen-room former all-girls Catholic school had been the family home. The mother of two raised her children here and flung open its grand doors to host all sorts of events, from kids’ parties and college reunions to a sorority sleepover for sixty of her daughter’s friends.
Given all those fond memories, even an impending divorce couldn’t shake her spirit—or her love for her home. “I never thought about leaving,” she says. “It’s such a special house.”
Now, it was time to make it her own.
Wanting a major refresh that would retain the circa-1895 home’s historic integrity, the owner knew she needed an expert hand. As luck would have it, an online search turned up Boston-based designer Tiffany LeBlanc, and the two women hit it off.
LeBlanc set out to strike a balance between the grandeur of architecture from a bygone era and the desire to make the house comfortable for today. “I call it threading the needle,” she says. “Make it livable and functional but still really considered, layered, and beautiful. You don’t want people to feel like they need a starched shirt to sit in your house.”
LeBlanc promised the admittedly skeptical owner that when the reno was complete, she would use every room in the house. Bringing in light was key—“we added a huge amount of lighting throughout,” says the designer—as was softening the interior with new wallcoverings or Farrow and Ball hues that nod to the historic, integrating new furnishings and fixtures, and meticulously repairing all floors and woodwork.
The latter was overseen by builder Fergal Moughan, who immediately impressed the owner. “There was water in a window well in the mezzanine,” she remembers. “And Fergal said to me, ‘I don’t care if you hire me or not, but I need to fix that now.’ ” LeBlanc echoes the owner’s high praise: “He’s like a house-whisperer to old homes,” says the designer.
That same mezzanine now sings, its stunning original ceiling and woodwork tempered by a Kerry Joyce textured blush wallpaper and modernized with a bold Larry Zox abstract.
In fact, the whole house sings, from the owner’s pretty first-floor office with bench seats and new built-ins (“it’s command central,” says LeBlanc), to the adjacent dining room, which was lightened and brightened while still wearing its dressed-for-the-holidays feel.
Phase two brought a new kitchen and main suite. D. Michael Collins Architects directed the heavy lifting, including removing a big, old chimney in the kitchen to create better flow and adding a coffered ceiling with real beams for support. Venegas and Company collaborated on the owner’s wish for a white kitchen. On the second floor, a rarely used sleeping porch became part of the main suite, which shines with a feminine aesthetic and a hint of sparkle.
True to LeBlanc’s assurance, the owner enjoys every room—and so does her family. She talks fondly of her granddaughter using the pull-chain toilets to potty train and sleeping in the same bed the toddler’s mom once did as a kid. And as for herself? There’s now lots of light, a new dog, and Diana Krall on the Sonos. “It’s my home, and it’s taken on a new life,” she says with joy.