Anyone who’s renovated an old house knows that surprises sometimes await when demolition begins; you never know what you’ll find once walls and ceilings come down. The same applies to commercial renovation projects.
A delightful surprise awaited the Boston architecture firm Touloukian Touloukian when it began rehabbing the third floor of 38 Newbury Street, an eight-story brick building built in the early 1900s.
The original ceiling had been covered by plaster, concealing what was above. After cutting holes in the material and peering in with flashlights and cameras, the architects had a hunch about what they’d discover. Their suspicion was confirmed when the plaster was removed, revealing an unusual architectural feature: a vaulted concrete ceiling that runs like a series of inverted canals across the length of the room.
“It’s rare that you see a ceiling like that,” said Ted Touloukian, the firm’s founder. “It was just there for utilitarian purposes, as part of the structure of the building. But as times change people appreciate these things.”
He and his colleagues were so intrigued by the discovery that they decided not just to incorporate it into the redesign, but to make it the focal point of the renovated space. Now scrubbed and power-washed, the gray domed brutalist ceiling is the star of the show, giving the whole floor a chic industrial feel.
The space, which won top prize in this year’s Boston Society of Architects Design Awards, was previously a Brooks Brothers storage area (old photos show racks of men’s suits lining the floor) and is now an office suite for Broder Properties, a real estate company.
In another unusual design feature, the office walls stop almost two feet short of the ceiling, with glass partitions filling the gaps. That creates a sense of connectivity throughout the space and floods it with natural light. If you stretch your imagination, the glass panels even make the ceiling “appear to float and hover above the freestanding walls,” Touloukian said.
One more playful touch: each office has “peek-a-boo windows” so occupants can see from one room to the next with nothing blocking their view, allowing “visual communication between the spaces,” he added, while still preserving some privacy.