Architect Katie Flynn’s friends, a couple with two children who lived in a traditional Cape, never imagined living in a midcentury modern house — they were not fans. When they drove through Peacock Farm, the historic modernist neighborhood in Lexington where Flynn lives, they thought the homes were “interesting.”
Then, Flynn floated an idea. Pregnant with twins (children number three and four), Flynn and her husband were eyeing a larger house across the street. What if her friends, who she knew also needed more space, bought their house? They could be neighbors! Their bestie daughters would also be thrilled. Putting their architectural taste aside in favor of living in a leafy, close-knit community with Flynn’s family as neighbors, the couple made the move.
Two years later, Flynn’s neighbors became her clients. They hired her and business partner Dan Hisel, who lives in Peacock Farm as well, to update and expand the 1,725-square-foot home. “It’s a classic midcentury split-level with classic midcentury problems,” Flynn says. Inadequate insulation, leaky windows, and insufficient storage are among them. Other priorities? Turning the primary bedroom’s dinky half bath into a full bath, carving out a comfortable work-from-home spot, and making changes to accommodate large family gatherings. The challenge was to meet those needs without altering the character of the home.
“Remaining true to midcentury modern ideas was very important,” Flynn says. Architecturally, that meant exercising restraint in size and scale and sticking with clean, unfussy lines. Modernist principles that they embraced included creating strong indoor-outdoor connections and emphasizing function over frippery. As a result, the new spaces meld seamlessly with the original ones.
The team pushed through the back wall of the primary suite to make a larger, brighter bedroom — with a deep blue accent wall compliments of interior designer Rachel Dunham, who furnished the home — as well as a walk-in closet and an airy bath. A new guest bedroom occupies the area on the floor below it. The architects also enlarged the family room adjacent to the guest room, a one-story space with a deep green accent wall, skylights, and sliders to the backyard. “The addition is behind the house, so it doesn’t interfere with the modest scale and iconic design of the front facade,” Flynn says.
To fulfill the couple’s other big asks — a place to host holiday dinners and a desk for the husband — the architects reimagined the sunroom on the side of the house. What was a drafty, greenhouse-style playroom is now a fully insulated, multifunctional space for the whole family. (The children’s vast collection of Legos were relocated to a Lego workshop on the lower level that Dunham equipped with a project table, sorting bins, and display shelves.)
Rather than divide the living room and the sunroom with a solid wall, Flynn and Hisel designed a wall with an interior window that lets southern light into the home’s main living space and affords views to the wooded side yard. The window is outfitted with a five panel, folding glass partition that sits atop a walnut ledge (if the partition is closed) or bench (if the partition is open) on the living room side.
Take three steps down into the sunroom, and it becomes evident that the run of walnut is actually the top of a built-in desk. “When the partition and pocket door are closed, the room can serve as an office,” Flynn explains. The desktop doubles as a sideboard, too. Last Thanksgiving, the couple hosted dinner for 15 at a long table they set up in the sunroom.
Unless he’s on a work call, the homeowner welcomes company. The couple’s daughter often reads in the walnut-lined niche that Dunham cozied up with a velvety cushion, or daydreams looking up at the clouds through the skylight. The niche angles outward to capture a wide wooded vista, while the walnut back shields the room from the street. “The house is tuned to the views,” Flynn says.
Despite their initial misgivings, it didn’t take long for the family to fall in love with midcentury modern living. The large windows, light-filled rooms, and easily accessible outdoor spaces were a game-changer during the pandemic (plus, they formed a pod with Flynn’s family and another neighbor). With the renovations complete, home life is better than ever.
Architect: Hisel Flynn Architects, hiselflynn.com
Interior Designer: Rachel Dunham Design, racheldunhamdesign.com
Contractor: Design Plus Construction Corp., designpluscorp.com
Woodworker: Northe Woodworking, northewoodworking.com
Landscape Design and Construction: Planet Pascale, planetpascale.com