Create New Classics Consider these tried and true design principles and practices when planning your North Shore home projects. By Nancy E. Berry
Timeless, sustainable, practical, healthy, comfortable—these are just some of the words used to describe trends in today’s home designs. Over the past few recession-filled years, we’ve had to scale down our building and design projects. But now that the economic storm cloud is slowly lifting, we’re redirecting our focus back to creating better living environments for our families and ourselves. We’ve had time to reflect on what’s important to us when it comes to the way our homes look, feel, and function. We’re steering away from the gigantic living room that no one ever uses, the formal dining room where no one dines, and the inoperable two-story Palladian window with no real views to enjoy.
Design today is about taking a more thoughtful, holistic approach to the way we live—creating spaces that are good for the mind, body, soul—and the environment. Rooms are becoming comfortable, intimate spaces that connect family—quality construction has replaced excessive square footage. And eco-conscious principles are put into practice more and more to protect our environment as well as our health.
Creating a house based on these ideas can sound like a tall order, but with care, good planning, and a strong team in place, homes can reflect all of these aspects. Whether you’re building new, renovating, or simply adding a screened porch, consider bringing these words to life to create a home that works for your 21st century lifestyle.
What makes a house timeless? The snap of a screen door, ocean cross breezes wafting through open windows on a summer day, the shadows created by deep molding profiles as the afternoon sun rakes across a room, and warm floor boards underfoot. These are just a few sensory reminders of what makes a home timeless. A timeless home has well-proportioned details; its scale and massing don’t overwhelm but rather exist in harmony with its inhabitants. Time-tested natural materials offer authenticity, while a level of superior craftsmanship lends integrity. A timeless house respects place and fits into its surroundings; it doesn’t compete with the landscape but rather complements it. A timeless house can be traditional or modern in form as long as it is well designed and well built to stand the test of time.
The North Shore has a rich and varied housing stock that spans across four centuries—from the medieval forms of Salem to the Georgian and Federal manses of Newburyport to the Shingle-style summer cottages of Manchester-by-the-Sea—these historical houses reflect a sense of place through their practical designs and local, long-lasting materials.
"Architects working in this area have an opportunity to create fresh, new designs based on past traditions," says Stephen Roberts Holt of Stephen Roberts Holt Architects. The 125-year-old firm has had an illustrious career designing holiday houses for the well-heeled in Manchester-by-the-Sea since the late 19th century, when the community was transformed from a quaint fishing village to a summer playground for the wealthy. "We are informed by our building history, but translate the sensibilities of the past into designs that work for contemporary lifestyles," says Holt. "We don’t want to merely make a carbon copy of what came before but learn from the past to create new."
"The North Shore has been settled for centuries, and people have long ties to the land and towns—most areas are well established, so you want your renovation or new home to meld with its neighbors or village setting," says Sandra Vitzthum of Sandra Vitzthum Architects. "It’s a real balancing act—for instance, you don’t want to build something that is going to obstruct water views for neighbors." Respecting the massing of adjacent houses and preserving the scale of a neighborhood is important for the overall aesthetic, she continues.
Vitzthum worked with builder Dave Peach of G. F. Peach, Inc. to create a new home in Marblehead on Peach’s Point for her client, Rita Shepard. Vitzthum drove around the neighboring North Shore towns, looking at historical farmhouses to set a precedent for the new house. Taking cues from the historical examples she studied, Vitzthum created a design that appeared as if it had sat on its site for a century. "I try to be as objective as possible when designing a house and learn how the family will use the spaces," she says. "I immerse myself in a place, study it, and learn it." A strong sense of place comes through in her designs. Vitzthum looks at how the new structure will interact with the street and other nearby houses to create a place that is right for its location. "It’s a matter of focusing on the place and the people—and putting the house in the context of its surroundings," she says. "Architecture is like poetry—pieces fit together in a certain way to create a timeless beauty."
G. F. Peach, Inc., a family-run restoration and new construction business that has been passed down through seven generations of builders, is a company of true housewrights and offered a real sense of integrity to the building. "The Peaches are awe-inspiring craftsman," says Vitzthum.
"Rita had dreamed of living in Marblehead where she had family ties, and she wanted the house to be right for the place," says Peach. He gives Vitzthum credit for designing a house that fits in well with the community and is sympathetic to the local character. And he takes great pride and pleasure in the family’s 300-year history of helping shape this seaside town all in a timeless fashion.
With today’s busy lifestyles, homes have to be organized. If the can be customized to fit the family’s needs, all the better. In many new home designs, room dimensions are becoming smaller, which makes the home more intimate and personal. This scaling back allows families to stay more connected. But by necessity, rooms have had to become more multifunctional—think homework station in the kitchen or a mudroom doubling as the laundry room. And with smaller rooms, creating storage for all of our stuff has become critical to the overall design. Let’s face it—good storage is key to keeping our lives well organized. For instance, individual coat cubbies for each child in the mudroom reduces the frantic search for boots, gloves, and hats when kids are rushing for the school bus and you’re hurrying to catch the commuter rail to Boston first thing in the morning.
The pantry is as popular today as it was in the 19th century for storing dishes, the lobster pot, baking pans, and dry goods. Kitchen clutter disappears when small appliance cabinets are introduced. A corner of the garage can be utilized for the recycling station; Separate built-in bins can catch paper, plastic, and glass, making it easier for you to transport these castoffs to the curb. If you garden, why not add a cutting room with a deep soapstone sink off the kitchen or a potting shed in the backyard to store your gardening tools and terra-cotta containers? Thoughtful additions, no matter how small, can keep your home ordered and organized.
"I always ask my clients to really think about how they use the spaces they live in—especially the kitchen," says designer Thomas Kelly of TRK Design Company, a premiere kitchen design showroom located in Marblehead. "I see more and more families opting for eat-in kitchens—it really is the place where family and friends gather." The dining room has become virtually obsolete, "so why not turn that unused room into the kids’ homework study," he suggests. Cabinets and drawers once fitted with fussy cubbies and dividers are going back to a more traditional storage approach. Instead of the kitchen being over designed with ornate moldings, they have simpler, cleaner lines with open shelving and under-counter drawers that easily pull open to access pots and pans. Kelly sees unfitted kitchens in vogue, which use a mix of practical materials, such as honed granite or concrete countertops. Slate and sealed wood countertops are also popular low-maintenance choices for the kitchen.
A master at designing uncluttered homes is local architect Topsfield architect Benjamin Nutter of Benjamin Nutter Architects, who designed a home on the North Shore for clients who wanted help organizing their "stuff," and this meant keeping their home free of excessive clutter. "They wanted a functional, new Colonial farmhouse," says Nutter. Nutter chose to employ the simple Shaker aesthetic. "Economy of space is a key feature in Shaker design," says Nutter. "And this lends itself to creating order in the home."
Nutter incorporated furnishings right into the design to create this order. In the master bedroom, two built-in wardrobes flank a three-bay window and built-in window seat. The crown molding incorporated into the top of the wardrobe creates continuity in the design, and the window seat offers ample storage for comforters and blankets—easily accessible on cold winter nights. Another practical idea that Nutter introduced in the home’s design was a built-in "Hoosier" cabinet. A ubiquitous fixture in 1930s kitchens, the Hoosier offered several compartments of various sizes to store cooking supplies.
"Today, there is a trend toward creating built-in cabinetry that looks like freestanding furniture of the past," says Nutter. A plate rail around the kitchen is the perfect spot for a collection of beautiful and functional ceramic pitchers and mixing bowls. In this home, there truly is a place for everything and everything is put in its place!
Sustainable and Eco-conscious
When we think of sustainable, we often conjure up flat roofs sprouting grass or the latest green gadgets, such as wind turbines and geothermal systems. Although these high-tech gizmos and design ideas may be well out of our budget when it comes to building or renovating our homes, there are a host of sustainable moves that we can incorporate into our home designs that can make a difference. And most of these really stem from good old-fashioned common sense. The way a house is sited to take advantage of passive solar rays, where the materials came from to construct the house, the building methods employed, and whether recycled or repurposed materials are used in the building all play into creating a more sustainable design. For instance, using locally quarried stone for countertops, rather than specifying exotic marble, can reduce the carbon emissions factored into a building project.
Specifying reclaimed heart pine from an old mill rather than ordering lumber from newly felled trees can also be a smart ecological choice. If using new wood materials, be sure the wood comes from a sustainably harvested forest. Invest in good windows—in this New England climate, we need windows that will keep out the cold as well as hold in the heat by creating spaces that offer cross ventilation in the house instead of running the air conditioning all summer long. Energy efficiency is also an important component to an eco-friendly house. Charlie Silva of Silva Brothers Construction advocates using high-efficiency Icynene when insolating New England houses. "Closed cell is the most effective to creating a thermal barrier," says Silva. "Programmable thermostats and superstore water heaters all contribute to less of a carbon footprint as well."
Groom Construction, a leader in residential construction located in Salem, renovated the first LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) house on the North Shore in Marblehead. The certification was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to set the standard in measuring how green a building actually is. Originally built in 1870, the waterfront Victorian was totally rehabbed to incorporate state-of-the-art energy conservation measures. The project also included such materials as eco-star recycled rubber-roofing tiles and Weatherbest decking made of recycled plastic and waste wood. Walnut floors were chosen because they were domestically grown and responsibly harvested. It often comes down to sensible choices when it comes to an eco-conscious house.
Purchasing materials from local sources can also factor into how sustainable your home is, says David Sanborn, owner of Ecomodern Designs, a two-year-old one-stop shop for all things green at the Boston Design Center. Sanborn carries wood flooring from a Massachusetts FSC-certified lumber company. "They transport the logs out of the forest using a team of mules," says Sanborn. "This eliminates the use of fossil fuels at that stage—now that is a sustainable product!" Sanborn also advocated purchasing New England marble and granite for countertops to cut down on how far a material may need to travel to your home. "Every bit helps the process," says Sanborn, who also carries wall tiles made from crushed seashells that have been recycled from local seafood processing plants.
Introducing green building elements into your home doesn’t stop with the building. Kim Tenenbaum, owner of Urban Elements, which carries a line of sofas and chairs made in the United State using innovative green methods and materials (cushions are made from soy-based materials and regenerated fibers, padding is 100 percent recycled cotton, finishes are water-based wood, spring components are made from 98 percent recycled steel, and seat and trim pads are made from 80 percent regenerated fibers), which takes Green to a whole new comfort zone.
One important aspect of home building today is creating healthy environments in which to live. This practice encompasses ensuring a home has good indoor air quality. To achieve a healthier house, cutting down on formaldehyde, paint with VOCs, lead, and asbestos can all contribute to a better environment. The American Lung Association has come up with a set of tips to help homeowners create healthier houses, and local designers and builders have been implementing many of these healthy house moves into North Shore homes.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Groom Construction’s Marblehead project was to fulfill the owners’ request to integrate systems and materials that would offer excellent indoor-air quality. To achieve this goal, Groom Construction installed highly efficient air exchangers (to bring in fresh air, remove stale air, and recover heat) and a hydrostatic/HEPA Air filtration system. Materials included formaldehyde-free plywood for all interior construction; low-VOC caulks, sealants, and glues for all finish work; low-VOC paints and finishes for walls, cabinetry and wood floors; cork flooring in the basement; and wool carpets with "green" padding. For the kitchen counters, Silestone, a no-VOC product was chosen. Shade fabric is Green Guard-certified (low emission) and cast-iron (rather than PVC) pipe was installed for all plumbing drainpipes.
Radiant heat is not only the most energy-efficient heating system that you can add, but it is also a healthy choice. Feeling warm floor boards underfoot on a cold January morning is not only comfortable—it is practically life giving! Radiant heat is also much better for us than forced hot air that can dry and irritate skin. Fireplaces are making a strong comeback into home design as well—the feel of a warm hearth is truly soul sustaining. And a soapstone fireplace by Tulikivi offers radiant heat as well as a handsome hearth.
"Adding a steam shower to your home is one of the biggest trends I’m seeing in the bath," says Jason Sevinor of Designer Bath and Salem Plumbing Supply. A steam shower is not only relaxing, it’s restorative. "They are coming with all kinds of amenities to enhance the steaming experience—aromatherapy, chromatherapy, music—which are all good for body, mind, and soul.
Plush carpets, warm floorboards, cozy love seats, Egyptian-cotton sheets, soft down comforters—these are just a few of the creature comforts we crave in our surroundings. Creating comfortable living spaces is often about choosing furnishings, art, and accessories that satisfy our personal tastes.
"Many of our clients are turning away from building large homes with large rooms no one ever uses—homeowners want smaller, more intimate spaces that are more cozy and comfortable," says Darby Easterbrooks, founder of Easterbrooks Construction in South Hamilton. "The trend is moving away from the McMansion. People are really asking what do I need—how do I create comfortable living spaces?"
"Your home should be pleasing to you when you arrive," says Tenenbaum, whose shop, Urban Elements, also carries eco-friendly furnishing made in the United States, as well as tables made from reclaimed wood and iron. "I think we have a different perspective today than we did before the recession—we want our surroundings to reflect our personalities, not a façade of what we think we should have," she explains. Tenenbaum likes an eclectic mix of furnishings in her own space. She suggests surrounding yourself with things you like and love. Adding layers of texture into your design can create comfortable, luxurious spaces. Her most comfortable spot in her home is the sofa. "I love getting home at the end of the day and laying down with my partner and the dogs and relaxing," says Tenenbaum.
Peter Kiernan of Marine Art Gallery, one of the oldest marine arts galleries on the East Coast, located next to the Peabody Essex Museum, knows that creating comfort in your home encompasses not only the sofas and bedding but also what you hang on your walls. "Art is a very personal thing," he explains. "It’s important to see a piece in person before you purchase." One of the services his gallery provides is to bring the painting right to your home so clients can hang the piece in its potential spot. "We’ll let homeowners live with a piece for a few days to make sure it rests comfortably in the home," he explains.
The gallery offers a range of both antique and contemporary pieces—many of which reflect our seacoast environment—that can really bring comfort and joy to your living space. He also believes less is more when it comes to hanging pieces. Having one piece to take center stage or a collage of art together can create a soothing experience. "Art is something you can enjoy in your home every day," he explains. "It’s a great time to purchase art, too."
Connecting To The Land
An important element in today’s design is connecting indoor spaces with the outdoors. When the weather is glorious, we want to enjoy it! Architects and builders are further blurring the division between interiors and exteriors so that our natural environment becomes part of our experience. Whether it’s through a bank of operable double-hung windows that emit natural light, gentle breezes, or serene views; open or enclosed porches; or thresholds that lead to terraces and gardens, a connection to the land has become part of our lifestyle. Porches offer transitional spaces between house and garden and come in all shapes and uses—you can add an all-weather sun porch with removable glass windows that can be replaced with screens during the spring and summer seasons or an open porch to sip morning coffee and read the Sunday Globe during warm months.
Another strong connection we can make to the land is creating outdoor living rooms to dine, read a book, or even watch TV! The coal-burning grill and Coleman cooler have given way to outdoor kitchens equipped with stainless steel gas grills, rotisseries, refrigerators, ice makers, and sinks. "Cooking, entertaining, and dining outdoors has become a way of life today," says Justin White of Bayberry Nurseries in Portsmouth. Outdoor rooms offer field and cast stone fireplaces for when the temperatures cool at sunset—and not only are fireplaces introduced but also plasma TVs and state-of-the-art sound systems. "We are really extending our living spaces into the outdoors," says White. "Instead of buying second homes, homeowners are reinvesting in their properties to create dynamic living environments."
"We just finished an outdoor project for a family in Boxford whose wholesale seafood business does not allow them to travel during the summer months," says Susan Howell of Howell Design Group. They really wanted to create a place at their home that took them away from it all. So Howell Design Group created a backyard oasis, adding a swimming pool surrounded by native plantings, a hot tub, an outdoor kitchen, and a dining patio—all the amenities of a vacation destination, really creating a "staycation" environment.
Hiring a Builder on the North Shore
For most people, a major renovation, creating an addition, or building a new house can be one of the largest purchases of their lives. This endeavor can be intimidating, especially because there are so many stories of homeowner’s with a negative building experience—typically due to a builder’s unreliability, unexpected cost overruns, or schedule delays.
Home construction can be a complicated process with many unknowns. You want to minimize the complications with careful planning up front. As you consider which builder to hire, do your homework to increase your chances for a positive building experience. Remember when comparing prices that it’s very difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison on the quality of the building experience.
2011 North Shore Home Resource Guide
80 VFW Parkway
Revere, MA 02151
262 Highland Avenue,
Salem, MA and
77 Turnpike Road,
Stephen Roberts Holt Architects
24 Bridge Street
Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA 01944
James Hardy/All In One Contracting Services, Inc.
14 Westridge Drive
Hampton, NH 03842
603-601 0494, aiocsi.com
940 Forest Street
North Andover, MA 01845
638 Bay Road
96 Swampscott Road
Salem, MA 01970
Howell Custom Building Group
360 Merrimack Street, Bldg. 5
Lawrence, MA 01843
Rocky Neck Associates, Inc.
14 Wiley Street
Gloucester, MA 01930
978- 281-8783, rockyneckassoc.com
Silva Brothers Construction
91 Babicz Road
Tewksbury, MA 01876
DOOR & WINDOW TREATMENTS
Phantom Screens/Robert’s Home Services & Repair Inc.
6 Allenclair Drive
Amesbury, MA 01913
Landry & Arcari Oriental Rugs & Carpeting, Inc.
333 Stuart Street
Boston, MA 02116
and 63 Flint Street
Salem, MA 01970
HOME FURNISHINGS & ART
419 Andover Street
North Andover, MA 01845
Marine Art Gallery
135 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
Sunline Patio & Fireside
24 Newbury St. Rt. 1 South
Danvers, MA 01923
Seltser & Goldstein Public Adjusters, Inc.
900 Cummings Center Suite 302T
Beverly, MA 01915
182 Elm Street
Andover, MA 01810
KITCHEN & BATH
Designer Bath & Salem Plumbing Supply
97 River Street
Beverly, MA 01915
262 Highland Avenue
Salem, MA 01970
Frank Webb Bath Centers Multiple locations
160 Middlesex Turnpike
Bedford, MA 01730
135 Broadway Rte. 1 South
Saugus, MA 01906
545 Main Street
Reading, MA 01867
Northshore Kitchens Plus
183 Tedesco Street
Marblehead, MA 01945
TRK Design Co., LLC
183 Tedesco Street
Marblehead, MA 01945
LANDSCAPE & GARDEN
Acorn Tree & Landscape
513 Codman Hill Road
Boxborough, MA 01719
151 Kensington Road
Hampton Falls, NH 03844
647 Lowell Street
Peabody, MA 01960
31 Essex Road
Ipswich, MA 01938
J & R Fine Landscaping
30 Lowell Junction Road
Andover, MA 01810
Kingston, NH 03848
LCM Plus, Inc.
10 Draper Street, Ste. 15
Woburn, MA 01888
Mayer Tree Service, Inc.
9 Scots Way
Essex, MA 01929
22 New Derby Street
Salem, MA 01970
North Andover Mall
North Andover, MA 01845
1 Braintree Street
Allston, MA 02134
Combined Energy Systems, Inc.
37 Ayer Road, Unit 9
Littleton, MA 01460