It’s an ideal piece of property in a perfect neighborhood, but the house itself desperately needs an overhaul. The latest This Old House project was built in 1950 during a time of architectural experimentation that yielded styles with names such as Bauhaus and International. Some of these angular, unornamented buildings have become icons of modern design — think Philip Johnson’s Glass House of 1949. This Old House’s project is no such monument; it’s tired, it’s leaking, and it’s the dog on its street compared to the immaculate kept houses around it in historic Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Our new project house is a big change from last season’s Carlisle farmstead — and just about every other house we’ve worked on in New England. Its owner, George Mabry, a forty-something single guy who loves to entertain, has lived in the house for 13 years. He worked with several architects over the years, considering redesigns that variously celebrated or obliterated his house’s boxy appearance. Ultimately, he chose to stick with the contemporary look, selecting Will Ruhl, a young Yale-trained architect who has re-imagined George’s house in a style that he describes as “warm modern.” Assisting George in the many material and aesthetic choices ahead of him is designer Todd Tsiang, who has been working with George for the past four years as he focussed in on the modern style.
It will be an interesting journey for the TOH crew, as we learn a new stylistic language while dealing with the age-old constants of water damage, outdated systems (the house has a very early version of radiant floor heat), insufficient insulation, and inefficient windows. The plans call for expanding the house from two stories to three, almost doubling its size — from 2400 square feet to 4000 square feet — and going from an exterior with vertical groove siding to one of stucco and natural wood.
The landscape design, by landscape architect Greg Lombardi, will keep the best of the old — a beautiful private woodland setting — and add the best of the new — trees, walls, and a water feature. This will be an extensive renovation, although, interestingly, the kitchen will not be touched, as George redid it 13 years ago when he couldn’t stand the old one anymore.
The new season starts this fall, but the work is already underway. Follow the crew’s — and the houses’s —progress on our webcams. It’s going to be a mod experience.