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Home design: Carving out room for a bathroom in the attic and more space for family dining

Moving a staircase and more fulfills a client’s wishes for extra family space in this Charlestown town house.

An eat-in kitchen under the stairs in a Charlestown town house.Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn/Styling by Leslie Francis

Tim Pingree and Lucas Robertson, cofounders of SHAKE Architecture: Construction, were able to spend months drawing iterations for the first floor of a circa 1848 Greek Revival town house, a home in Charlestown that Pingree’s friends had purchased upon relocating from Australia. “It was a luxuriously drawn-out design process that was discussed over many dinners there,” says Pingree, who first met the couple (and his own wife) at Williams College.

Pingree knew they would pull the kitchen out of the narrow back annex into the main part of the first floor, melding it with the living area at the front of the house. But where would the family eat? “They wanted a proper dining space with light and privacy without sacrificing the size of the kitchen and living area,” the architect says. The aha moment came in the middle of the night. Pingree realized that moving the secondary staircase to the annex at the back of house (now a mudroom) would make room for a cozy dining nook alongside the kitchen.


Moving the staircase freed up space underneath the sweeping primary staircase and a double-height space above it. It was an ideal spot in which to tuck a banquette and a dining table. The next question became how to shield it from the front entry hall while still letting light through. Pingree’s solution was to design a curved wall that elegantly grows out of the sculptural primary stairs. “We continued the existing form so it folds out like the petals of a flower,” he says. “It was a formal geometric solution to the problem.”

Organizing the kitchen also took finesse. To heed the couple’s desire for a furniture-like central island devoid of appliances, the industrial range had to be set against a wall — easier said than done given the massive chimney that ran up through the house. “The masons cut a 36-inch span of brick to create an alcove for the range, then rebuilt the columns on either side of it,” Pingree says.


They made the decision to leave the brick exposed during the construction process, then matched the adjacent wall to it by applying a reclaimed brick veneer. Pingree raised the bottom sill of the back left window so as not to interfere with the sink and replaced the back right window with a door that leads to a new mahogany deck. Honed Negresco granite countertops, an ode to the soapstone in the wife’s childhood home, match the windows' black frames in sharp contrast to all the white.

Up one flight, Pingree combined the couple’s bedroom with the bedroom behind it, turning the back portion into a walk-in closet and bath. The spaces connect via a wide passageway punctuated with an original 19th-century Italian marble mantelpiece that they meticulously restored. “We devoted a generous amount of square footage to the connection between the bedroom and bath to show off the fireplace,” Pingree says.

Floor-to-ceiling glass shower walls let sunlight from the tall back windows penetrate the space, which is the wife’s favorite part of the renovation. She often uses her laptop at the bleached ash makeup vanity in the bathroom while her young children play on the original pumpkin pine floor. Tall oval mirrors with black frames bounce even more light around the room.

Knowing it would be several years before they undertook this extensive renovation, the couple had asked Pingree to remodel an existing bath before they moved in so that they would have somewhere to bathe the kids. It remains the only tub in the house. For the recent renovation, the couple tasked Pingree with finding space for a bathroom in the attic. By removing a knee wall, Pingree was able to wedge a full height shower, a narrow sink, and a wall-hung toilet under an eave. What was an unfinished, uninsulated storage closet is now a snazzy black and white, subway-tiled bath.


The process is in sync with the language Pingree uses to detail the nitty-gritty of the architecture and construction. “It was about peeling things back and highlighting existing features with contemporary interventions,” he says. “It’s like surgery.”


Architect and contractor: SHAKE Architecture : Construction,


An Andrew Neyer chandelier hangs over the island, which has a walnut skirt frame and legs. The banquette is painted Benjamin Moore’s Cos Cob Stonewall. A Cedar & Moss pendant hangs from the second-story ceiling over an extension table from Circle Furniture.Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn/Styling by Leslie Francis
Walnut details, including the shelves flanking the range and the hood trim, tie to the island. White metal shelves over the sink add a contemporary touch. The cabinetry, made by SHAKE Architecture: Construction, is painted with Benjamin Moore Wind’s Breath to subtly contrast the bright white brick.Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn/Styling by Leslie Francis
The team was able to fit a shower under the eaves on the fourth floor.Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn/Styling by Leslie Francis
Axis Woodworking crafted the whitewashed ash makeup vanity and the main vanity in the couple’s en suite bath. The wife’s grandmother painted the watercolor landscape above the restored Portero marble mantelpiece.Photo by Sabrina Cole Quinn/Styling by Leslie Francis

Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to