It was a time of new beginnings for Jan Moscowitz. After the death of her husband, she’d found love again with Ed Schnurr, who’d also lost his spouse. The couple married in 2009, and Moscowitz moved from Brookline into Schnurr’s 1930s Needham bungalow.
“I loved the integrity of the house; very little had been done to update it,” says Moscowitz. While the home’s charm was intact, the place wasn’t well suited to modern lifestyles. The kitchen stove was a 1940s GE range that Schnurr, a high-end auto mechanic, had restored. Old windows made the home drafty, rooms were closed off from one another, and there was no heat on the unfinished second floor.
By 2012, Moscowitz and Schnurr were ready to renovate the 1,600-square-foot home to suit their new life together. Comfort was key, as was making spaces airy, bright, and convenient for contemporary living — cute as it looked, the vintage stove had to go.
The couple hired Arlington-based architect Dan Hisel to draft plans for a renovation that included creating an open plan on the main level and transforming the second story into a spa-like master suite. Early on, Hisel brought in Eric Adams of Adams + Beasley Custom Builders to handle the construction.
“The house is a classic bungalow of a certain scale and character,” says Hisel. “All along, everyone’s intention was to work with that character, treat it with respect, while also asking it to do more.” The house was closed off and dark, with tight turns. Removing walls dividing the kitchen and dining room meant light could move through the house all day. A piece of vintage stained glass discovered on eBay became a window by the stairwell that illuminates the entry beautifully. For a smoother flow between rooms, curved archways were widened to a square shape.
In the kitchen, gray and white lacquer IKEA cabinetry was combined with custom walnut panels around built-in appliances. “You can mix IKEA with other materials to create a really unusual effect,” says Moscowitz. The island was topped with granite and an heirloom piece of butcher block. Schnurr, an avid cook, loves the new Viking range; Moscowitz appreciates the design sensibility of the 30-inch Liebherr refrigerator.
Most furnishings are mid-century, and the color scheme is olives, golds, and neutrals — except in the TV room, where the walls are a dark, sultry gray. “I’ve always hated the look of a flat-screen television on the wall,” says Moscowitz. “With this color, the black TV disappears.”
The home’s native fir flooring was preserved, but the original brick fireplace got a significant overhaul. “We removed the projecting mantel and created a floor-to-ceiling monolithic plane of interlocking pieces of natural stone cut in irregular shapes,” says Adams.
The mechanicals got a big upgrade, too. The original boiler was replaced with a tankless on-demand hot water heater. The inefficient oil-fired furnace that Schnurr had been tinkering with for years was upgraded to a modulating gas furnace, and the whole house got new windows.
Removing two walls in the second-floor space allowed for an open master suite. Hisel found creative uses for its nooks and crannies: An alcove now contains a bureau; custom built-ins provide linen storage; the bathtub was tucked into the roofline. Tongue-and-groove red cedar ceiling planks create an appealing design element, and a new skylight over the tub emphasizes the airiness.
Moscowitz, a graphic designer, enjoys the house so much that she now works out of her home office. While she and Schnurr briefly considered an addition, she’s glad that they didn’t go through with it and is equally happy that they were able to preserve the home in this age of tear-downs. Adds Hisel: “The house is a great example of living small and reusing what you have in creative ways.”
PAST AND PRESENT
Merging two households when you’re middle-aged can be tricky. “It’s a small house; Ed and I did a lot of curating of our things,” Jan Moscowitz says of husband Ed Schnurr. While the couple purchased most of the large furniture together, accents from their previous lives abound. Next to the fireplace, new shelves display small Buddhas that Moscowitz and her first husband bought on a trip through Asia. The Eva Zeisel dishes and the Design Within Reach headboard in the master bedroom also were hers. Vibrant handmade quilts throughout the house belonged to Schnurr’s first wife, and the Restoration Hardware pendant over the kitchen island had been purchased by Schnurr and his first wife. “I found it in the original box; it had never been used,” recalls Moscowitz, who was happy to give it a place of prominence.
Jaci Conry is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.