WHEN HOUSE HUNTING more than a decade ago, Brad Ashbrook took one look at the home he’d end up buying in Wellesley and kept driving. “The house had been on the market for a long time. It was such an ugly duckling,” he recalls. His wife, Maria, however, saw possibilities in the Cape Cod-style house, built in the 1950s. “It was on a great lot that bordered Boulder Brook Reservation,” she says.
The Ashbrooks bought the house, made small improvements, and lived in it with their two sons for six years. “By then we knew what worked and what didn’t,” says Brad, who notes that the home’s biggest flaws were its small, dark rooms and lack of curb appeal. They began thinking about a minimal renovation but soon realized, says Maria, “that we love our neighborhood and we were going to be here for the long haul. So we decided to do things right.”
With the twin goals of making the house look more attractive and feel more comfortable, the Ashbrooks’ wish list included a more functional kitchen, additional living space, a home office, a guest suite, a front porch, and a second garage bay. As important as the new elements were, they also wanted to hang on to the integrity of the small-scale house. “There are a lot of teardowns in Wellesley that are being replaced with larger homes,” says Maria. “We didn’t want to go there.”
The couple contracted with Medfield-based architect David Sharff, who drafted plans to enlarge the home while keeping its cozy appeal. To expand existing rooms, he found new ways to use nonessential spaces. A breezeway was enclosed to expand the kitchen, which now gleams with custom cabinetry, coast-green granite counters, and a Wolf range. Sharff also converted a 12-by-12-foot screened porch at the back of the house into interior space to add more square footage to the dining room, and removed a wall to integrate the new dining space with the kitchen. A peninsula in the kitchen provides casual mealtime seating, while a second peninsula borders the new family room.
Since the site abuts conservation land and hiking trails, the Ashbrooks couldn’t alter the home’s footprint at the back of the house, but they could expand slightly toward the front. “We brought the garage forward and took about 12 feet of the existing garage to make the family room,” says Sharff. Reconfiguring part of the garage as living space meant adding a steel ceiling beam for support. Sharff turned the structural necessity into an attractive design element by adding more beams to create a coffered ceiling.
Fans of cottage-style architecture, the Ashbrooks liked the idea of using built-ins with that aesthetic to define spaces and add character. In the family room, custom-made bookcases extend to the ceiling. The dining room now has wainscoted walls and two built-in china cabinets separated by a window seat.
While the house has expanded to a generous 3,500 square feet — roughly 1,000 square feet was added during the renovation — its beautified facade remains relatively modest. Gone is the old white aluminum siding, replaced with shingles. New, subtle details have classic appeal. “Since it was a smaller house, we were able to add copper gutters, and the chimney was refaced with stone,” says Sharff, who embraced the home’s original asymmetrical nature, including using two different garage doors and various rooflines. A new front porch is defined by graceful columns. A shed dormer with gambrel roof was added over the living room, accommodating a new second-story bedroom and bathroom. More windows were added throughout the house, offering multiple views of the tranquil wooded setting.
“It looks like a totally different house,” says Maria. “But it’s a lovely Shingle-style cottage that seems like it’s been there for years. We’re very pleased with how the house sits in the neighborhood. Our neighbors have given us a lot of compliments. They tell us that we’ve inspired them, and that makes us feel great.”
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