The way Maddy Krauss tells it, her husband, Paul Friedberg, had more than a few sleepless nights worrying about the house they were about to buy. It wasn't the physical distance of the move that bothered him (a mere two blocks away from their current location), or the size of the house (three floors, many rooms). It was the yard that kept him up.
"Our old house had a large yard out back, and with a bunch of boys in the house, you can imagine how much use that got," she says, referring to her 10- and 7-year-old sons as well as her husband. "Paul hated the yard at the new house because it just slopes straight down and there isn't room for the boys to run around. He almost stopped the deal a couple of times."
But the house itself, an 1897 Shingle-style in Newton, Massachusetts, that will be the subject of This Old House TV's upcoming season, was too perfect to pass up. With its spacious entryway, numerous bedrooms, wide front porch, and potential for expanding the kitchen and master bedroom suite, it was the home they knew they couldn't make out of the center-hall Colonial Revival they were giving up.
For a long time, the couple had contemplated adding on to their old house to make it a place for entertaining and family. "With all our friends and their kids over, we couldn't get all the people in the house anymore," says Maddy. They even enlisted the services of a former neighbor, architect Treff LaFleche, to think about how to reconfigure the awkward layout and add more room in the back. But one day it occurred to them that they should check out what else might be on the market in the area. That's when the classic Victorian-era house, a scaled-back version of the grand Shingle-style mansions that dot the New England coast, landed in their laps.
It may have been the beauty of the interior, what LaFleche calls "a classic example of turn-of-the-century construction," that sold Paul and Maddy on the house. Most of the original wood paneling and exquisite carving remains intact, as do some classic late-19th-century stained-glass windows. The staircase is the centerpiece of the entry hall, just as the ornate wood mantel and cast-bronze-and-painted-slate fireplace surround are the focal point of the old dining room (soon to become a family room). And there's enough room to enlarge the kitchen and the master bedroom suite without bumping out or losing valuable interior rooms. "It will be pretty surgical renovation, not dramatic," says LaFleche. "We're not blowing things apart."
Maddy even saw potential in the top floor, with its original billiard room (complete with pool table), kitchenette, and guest suite. "We envisioned that this house would be really great as the kids get older and want to gravitate away from us," she says. "They can just move up to the third floor to get away."
LaFleche brought in landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard, a veteran of TOH renovations, to help the couple adjust their attitude toward the back yard. Hubbard suggested creating a terraced yard, building a new porch off the kitchen (which is a full floor above grade in the back), then letting it step down to a bluestone patio that continues down to a level yard held back by a retaining wall. That ought to satisfy Paul's desire for room to play, which LaFleche notes exists inside the house as well. "The Shingle Style is very gracious," he says. "With such active kids, this is a better house for them—more open, spacious, and free-flowing."
And that, it seems, is what has made this the house Paul and Maddy hope will be their last. Or, as Maddy jokes, "After this, it's the assisted living facility."