Enticed by the beautifully inventive — and very contemporary — plans that Back Bay-based architect Tom Murdough proposed for the renovation and expansion of their 2,145-square-foot 1950s Colonial, Kristina and John Alessi did a bit of what they call soul-searching. More than a bit: The design process evolved slowly over two years.
Ultimately the couple, who live in Wellesley with their son, Julian, now 10, and daughter, Anastasiya, 6, embraced the contemporary look and the benefits it would bring, such as abundant sunlight and an open layout. What gave them pause was imposing an avant-garde aesthetic on their conventional suburban neighborhood.
Murdough, along with project manager Jenny Tjia, masterfully satisfied the Alessis’ tastes and put their concerns to rest with a Western red cedar-clad addition on the back of the house. From the front, cedar stairs and landing with a bent-steel handrail are the only hint of the update. It’s as though the addition is peeking through. “The entry is a preview to what happens around back,” Murdough says, “a tease, so to speak.”
The project, which pushed the garage to the side and added 1,287 square feet, gave the family a renovated kitchen, an airy family room with master suite above, and a well-integrated patio. “Tom allowed us to stay true to what we had,” Kristina says, “then bring in what we wanted, marrying the two.”
Like many families, the Alessis spend most of their time in the kitchen, now situated in the center of the house. Entertaining was a priority, so it made sense to counter the chopped-up nature of the home’s existing layout with an open floor plan that guaranteed an easy flow.
Rosemary Porto of Poggenpohl worked with the couple to design the kitchen, starting with counters of Imperial Danby white marble from Vermont, which is more durable and less expensive than Italian marble, paired with high-gloss lacquer cabinets in Polar White.
It’s a light-filled space, thanks to the swath of minimally framed windows. The expanse of glass “puts the view right in front of you,” Murdough says, “diminishing the boundaries of indoors and out.” The reflective surface of the cabinetry heightens the effect, showcasing a subtle projection of the trees in daytime.
The kitchen steps down to a family room with high ceilings made possible by a butterfly roof, a mid-century modern style formed when two roof surfaces slope to a valley. While it creates an interesting, contemporary volume for the family room interior, from the street the house maintains the lines of a traditional New England saltbox.
Murdough specified an array of windows on the addition, sticking to standard shapes and sizes to rein in costs. Side-by-side windows form continuous horizontal bands of glass on the first and second floors, while isolated long and skinny ones are set both vertically and horizontally. He conducted a sun study to determine the effect of the light in different areas of the room depending on the time of day and year. So although the playful composition seems random, it is absolutely intentional. “The light is so well incorporated into the design it’s as though it’s part of the architecture itself,” Kristina says.
For outside entertaining, the new patio, which opens off the family room, sits in the space where the original house and the addition intersect. The cedar siding serves as a modern backdrop and lends the feel of an outdoor room.
The couple love to sit on the patio with coffee on the weekends, and they recently hosted their daughter’s birthday party there. But it’s the views from within that have most affected their lives. “In winter, branches cast shadows on the walls; in fall, leaves cascade down with the wind; in spring, we see butterflies,” Kristina says. “Every day the drama is different and beautiful.”
STICKING TO A BUDGET
The Alessis implemented cost-saving strategies so that they could add a family room and master bedroom suite as well as enlarge and renovate their kitchen.
Kristina Alessi in her new kitchen. They splurged on European cabinetry in the kitchen (1) but chose a lacquer finish in Polar White, one of Poggenpohl’s more economical options. By efficiently using the Vermont marble slab on kitchen counters (2), they had enough left over for the stove backsplash (3).
They stuck with simple painted walls on the addition’s interior (4).
They chose interesting materials, such as Western red cedar siding (5), for key places on the exterior. Simple bluestone pavers define the patio (6), but they are laid out in an irregular pattern for visual interest.
Anastasiya and Mom in the kitchen, with Julian on the steps. The desk top in the kitchen is actually a painted door (7). Kitchen storage cabinets have standard doors that were painted and hung with pivot hinges to resemble built-in cabinetry (8).
Correction: An earler version of this story misstated the name of John Alessi.
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