Your Home: Transformations

Back Bay renovation: The family unit

With lots of savvy reconfiguring, a condo carved from a mansion gets made over into the perfect nest for a couple with two kids.

A family room was relocated next to the dining area and kitchen.
Michael J. Lee
A family room was relocated next to the dining area and kitchen.

FINDING A FAMILY-FRIENDLY LIVING SPACE in the Back Bay is harder than it sounds, so when Annie Hall’s clients saw a three-bedroom condo on the top two floors of a historic mansion, they pounced, despite its somewhat tired state, disjointed layout, and mass of tricky attic angles. The Cambridge-based designer, who was introduced to the prospective homeowners by their realtor, knew that by re-imagining the floor plan, she could transform it into the ideal space for a working couple with two active children. That there were exposures on three sides, park-like and city views, and charming turn-of-the-last-century details, including slanted ceilings and Palladian windows, didn’t hurt. The condo’s proximity to the kids’ school sealed the deal.

Like most parents of young children, the homeowners wanted a centralized living space in which they could simultaneously cook, eat, and keep an eye on the kids. The dining room and kitchen were already side by side, but the family room was down a hall at the southern end of the 90-foot-long unit, with a small bedroom wedged between. Hall knocked out two of the bedroom walls to create one large, open space. On one side of the new space is the family room, furnished with a comfy sofa, oversize leopard-print ottoman, a pair of vintage Hans Wegner armchairs, and a sleek built-in that houses the TV. The other half is dominated by a dining table for eight, positioned under a grass cloth-covered sloping ceiling, the lower portion of which Hall sheathed in period wainscoting.

Beyond the dining area is a handsome formal living space and, finally, at the north end of the unit, one of the children’s bedrooms. As for the original family room, it’s now the master bedroom. The other child’s bedroom, and more family space, are on the much smaller floor above.


The kitchen got a full redo, too, with custom walnut cabinetry by John Wassink of Concord-based J.H. Klein Wassink & Co., the upper units boasting tempered-glass doors. There’s a hand-hammered nickel backsplash behind the range made by Wenham sculptor Richard Duca, calacatta marble tile behind the sink, and pale green cork flooring. Hall says,

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“While the kitchen didn’t gain much square footage, we made it a lot more efficient by adding quite a bit of storage, including two large pantry cabinets and a peninsula with storage and seating.”

Finding space for a powder room was a major challenge. The existing layout had a guest bathroom, but Hall absorbed that square footage into the master suite for additional closet space. In a stroke of genius, the homeowners came up with the idea of adding a small sink to the toilet room of the new master bath and separating the room from the main sink and shower area with a pocket door. When that door is closed, the inner sanctum remains private, and the toilet and smaller sink area function independently as a powder room for guests. With a floor of Ming green marble mosaic tile and a chunky white sink resting on a slab of teak, the tiny space is a jewel. A black-and-white patterned ceramic tile wall is bathed in light from a fixture concealed in a soffit.

Other challenges to the renovation included remedying what Dan McLaughlin, project supervisor at S+H Construction, the general contracting firm, calls “nasty work” — from a chopped-up heating and air conditioning system to missing structural elements, results of changes made over the 40 years since the mansion was divided into condominiums. It was Hall, says McLaughlin, who made sense of it all. “The apartment is a riot of angles, without flow or functional clarity,” he says. “Annie unified it, articulating each area. Now everything is called to order and snapped in place.”

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