Driven by the clients' passion for gardening and art, this home is the dazzling synthesis of a big idea and a modest slice of mid-century architecture. At 3,000 square feet, the remodeled home at once conserves the original structure, echoing its materials, forms, and massing, and yet “the light and space completely transform it,” said one of the judges. “It complements the style of what had been there without mimicking or replicating it. That's remodeling at its best.”

Best of the Year: Whole-House Remodeling

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Driven by the clients' passion for gardening and art, this home is the dazzling synthesis of a big idea and a modest slice of mid-century architecture.

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No two judges had the same reaction, but all agreed that the project is a successful solution to the challenges inherent in modernizing a relatively small (1,800 square feet), poorly insulated split-level with a limited but cherished yard.

The project “engages the site in ways we haven't seen,” said one judge. In contrast to the bigger-is-better mentality, the judge added, “it's also a chance to say to people: ‘Here's what you can do with a relatively small house.'”

The home is on a narrow lot in a neighborhood developed as a cooperative between 1946 and 1960. Many of these homes remain largely unchanged, and “the last thing we wanted was for the addition to swallow the original form,” said principal architect Ralph Cunningham. To satisfy the owners' wish for more living space that embraces the rear garden, he and project architect Julie Pelletier conceived of a two-story “lever” that reaches back along the building line and provides views from, and privacy for, the new master suite.

“That goal really became the genesis of the idea: to have the master bedroom in the garden, as opposed to just looking into it,” Cunningham said.

“The form of the addition is brilliant,” said the judges. “It's a circulation spine that connects the existing to the new,” creating “an outdoor room and bringing structural elements into the landscape.” The spine's narrow but light-flooded gallery space — built to be absolutely airtight — also accommodates a master bath and two closets on the upper floor, and a powder room, mudroom, screened porch, and garden/utility area on the first.

Adjacent to the former front door, an “entry gallery” provides clear sight lines to the yard. Marking the addition is a chimney-like stair tower with a second-floor bridge offering more garden views.

Changes to the existing house include creating a spacious kitchen/family room and opening the space in general, achieved in part by relocating an awkwardly placed stair and moving the utility functions to the addition.