This article appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
With a vintage Beatles LP playing in the background and dinner simmering on the stove, Megan and Lincoln Pasquina relax with their two young sons in their new great room, its floor-to-ceiling windows inviting in views of the rolling meadow, woods, and pond on their three-acre property in Concord, Massachusetts.
The family moved in just a couple of weeks before, and “the tree-house room,” as Megan has dubbed it, is already their favorite hangout space. The couple’s renovated Cape, built in 1880, wasn’t always so in tune with the land: When they purchased the place, it was a jumble of small rooms with an awkward flow and lackluster additions from the 1950s and 1960s.
“We loved the coziness of the old house, but it felt a little claustrophobic,” Megan says. “And it didn’t open up at all to the property, which is spectacular and the main reason we bought the house.”
Changing With the Times
The street-facing facade of the 1880 house retains its classic Cape Cod appearance. But stroll around the back, and the striking new addition gradually reveals itself.
The Pasquinas called on architect Andrew Sidford to update the existing 2,523-square-foot home with an open-concept living/dining area, a new primary suite, and two home offices to support the couple’s work-from-home lifestyle. Sidford drew up plans for a bold renovation that juxtaposes modern and traditional elements. The project, which kicked off last June and took eight months, is part of TOH’s 43rd television season.
The plan mostly preserved the house’s existing footprint and its 19th-century spaces, while replacing the previous additions. From the street, the facade remains largely unchanged. Inside the original front entry, the staircase is now flanked by graceful, period-appropriate newel posts that Megan crafted with TOH general contractor Tom Silva in his workshop, conjuring fond memories of the wood-turning classes she attended years ago at Boston’s North Bennet Street School.
“It was fun to rediscover something I love with an expert who’s amazing at it,” she says of the experience. Nearby, Lincoln’s office is tucked into a quiet corner with a bay window, located between a full bath and a bedroom-turned music room. The house’s transformation begins to reveal itself as you head left off the entry, past a butler’s pantry that backs up to a new powder room and into the kitchen.
Once the living room, the cook space is a warm mix of old and new, with neutral-colored cabinets anchored by a massive island painted a vibrant blue and topped with dramatically veined blue quartzite that has thick white swirls that remind Lincoln of ocean waves. The stone is framed on three sides by beefy bleached-oak countertops that appear to float, thanks to hidden steel brackets. The Pasquinas kept the existing corner fireplace, adding a built-in seating area alongside it with views out to the front garden.
“By taking out the back wall of the living room and reorienting the kitchen, we were able to take advantage of the morning light that comes in from the old front of the house,” Sidford explains. The new layout also helps link the original and modern parts of the house. “The built-in breakfast area feels like it’s in the old house, contained by the existing fireplace, while the kitchen feels like a bridge between the old and new,” he says.
Just around the corner lies that addition’s great room, the most dramatic part of the house. With high shed roofs and 14-foot-tall windows, it stretches more than 20 feet into the sloping backyard, adding a large, lofty space that maximizes the views. Roof forms pitched in different directions connect it to the existing Cape, requiring complicated framing and flashing intersections, but the end result looks good from every angle.
“There’s an elegance to the space that masks the complexity of the construction,” says TOH host Kevin O’Connor. Off the great room, a modern staircase with an elevated landing anchors the center of the renovated house. “But because it uses stainless steel cable rail, there’s no obstruction of the views,” says Tom of the uninterrupted sight lines through the great room to the outdoors.
At the top of those stairs, to the right, are two bedrooms and baths for the children to grow into, with a built-in reading nook in the hall for story time. To the left of the stairs, past the secondfloor laundry room, is Megan and Lincoln’s primary-suite retreat over the new garage. To construct it, TOH home builder Charlie Silva and his crew demolished the existing single-story garage foundation and promptly discovered that the main part of the house had no footing. “Issues like these come up a lot—but my time frame doesn’t change,” says Charlie of the extra work involved. To connect the old foundation, now properly supported, to the new, his crew pinned them together by drilling holes and joining the two structures with epoxy and rebar. This type of problem-solving, he says, “is one of my favorite parts of the job.”
Despite construction delays—the house sits near wetlands, so the work was subject to environmental restrictions—Charlie met his deadlines and delivered a new two-car garage with a large finished basement below that holds a gym, a family room, and plenty of finished storage. Above the garage, Megan and Lincoln’s bedroom has a sloped ceiling like the two bedrooms in the original part of the house, but a higher ridge makes the space feel airy and modern. “I like that there’s a lot of privacy and plenty of space, but that it’s also very cozy,” says Lincoln.
In their bathroom, everything is about taking in the property. One tall dormer frames the open shower, with windows facing up the hill into the woods. A soaking tub is set into a lower dormer, which enjoys broad views down the hill and across the fields behind the house. A waterproof plaster wall finish called tadelakt—a mixture of troweled on lime plaster and natural oil soap—covers the room from baseboard to ridge, adding a warm, handcrafted element.
Another detail that sets the bathroom apart: its radiant heating—not just in the floors, but in the shower walls as well. “There are times when radiant is worth every bit of expense and effort, and this is one of them,” says TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey. Hydronic tubing runs through the floors in all four bathrooms, throughout the first floor, and even underneath the concrete slab in the garage, keeping the cars warm in winter as well as the main suite above. Radiant was an especially apt choice for the great room.
“With all that glass, there was no obvious place to put ductwork and registers,” Richard says. “And radiant won’t create air movement in that big open space.” An ultra-efficient condensing gas boiler in the basement’s new mechanical room sends the correct water temperature to a mixing valve, which then feeds all the radiant manifolds throughout the building.
A nearly invisible mini-duct system complements the in-floor heating, acting as a second-stage heating system while also providing cool air in summer; together they keep every corner of the house comfortable year-round.
Outside, garden designers Maria Wheeler and Mary Kincaid, together with Megan’s mother, Cindy Barrett, added bluestone-edged vegetable beds with cedar obelisks and pea-stone paths to a neglected stone terrace outside the kitchen window. TOH landscape contractor Jenn Nawada and TOH carpenter Nathan Gilbert, along with his father, Bill, installed cedar-post-and-cable-rail trellises along one side. Jenn also convinced the Pasquinas that a large crab-apple tree was worth saving.
“It was at least seventy-five years old and just needed some heavy pruning to be healthy,” she says. “It adds lots of color, and wildlife love it—it’s the perfect tree for this natural setting.”
More than just an updated antique with a new modern addition, the home is a cohesive collection of unique spaces. “The different experiences you have as you move from room to room are what make the house special,” says Sidford, who varied the room proportions so that natural light pours in from every angle. The Pasquinas are simply in awe of the transformation. Says Megan, “I could never have imagined that a house could feel this way.”
See More Photos of the Concord Country Cape
All but the new great room, Megan’s office, and part of the basement occupies the same footprint as the existing house, but the layout has been reimagined. There’s a spacious new kitchen at the front, where the living room once was. It connects to the open-plan great room, which extends into the yard for dramatic views.
Putting the main suite over the two-car garage meant demolishing the previous addition; its foundation would not have supported a second story. The four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath house now holds 4,025 square feet of living space on two floors, plus a large finished basement (not shown).