Lofty Dreams in Lawrence
The loft's sprawling dining room flows into a living room.
A couple turns a beautiful sprawling space in Lawrence’s historic Wood Worsted Mill into a dream contemporary dwelling.
When Christine Gosselin walks from her vast dining room to the equally vast living room, she crosses space once inhabited by laboring mill workers, most likely young women. It’s what she loves most about her home.
"I love that we’ve taken this huge ark of a place, made it home, and left as much of the original as possible," Gosselin says. "I love living with so much history."
"This building has special meaning," adds Bob Ansin, Gosselin’s fiance and CEO of MassInnovation, the sustainable development company.
Their historic home is a stunning loft in the ultimate converted industrial space, Lawrence’s Wood Mill, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Wood Worsted Mill. The largest mill in the world when it was built in 1905, it backs onto the Merrimack River and gazes across the street at the almost-as-massive Ayer Mill. The Ayer Mill’s clock tower is famous in its own right; only a foot shorter than Big Ben, it chimes the hours, discernible for miles around.
In 1912, the Wood Mill was the birthplace of the Bread and Roses Strike, the famous American labor event. At its peak during the 1920s, the American Woolen Company, which built and owned the Wood Mill, controlled 20 percentof the country’s wool production. This huge building has been both celebrated and decried on a national level; it has always figured large in Lawrence’s physical and cultural landscape.
When the mill closed in 1955, the empty red brick factory and the nonworking clock tower became symbolic of Lawrence’s post-industrial decline. Repairing the clock several decades ago was a potent symbol of reawakened vigor in the city.
Ansin and MassInnovation came to the building in 2003, fresh from the successful conversion of Fitchburg’s Anwelt Shoe Manufacturing Company into the Anwelt Heritage Apartments. When he bought the Wood Mill, he did not intend to live there. However, the time between the purchase and February 2012, when he began to rent the newly created Monarch Lofts in the Wood Mill, was an eventful one.
"The economic downturn considerably slowed our progress," Ansin says. "And, a wonderful thing happened: I met Christine.
Gosselin and Ansin, who plan to marry in September, now occupy a 4,500-square-foot unit on the sixth floor. Its enormous windows gaze down on the river from an open layout, in which the kitchen is at the center of the apartment and the living room, dining room, and kitchen flow into each other. At one end, a pair of paneled French doors leads to the master suite; at the other, stairs lead to children’s rooms.
Despite their size, the spaces feel intimate. "The scale was a challenge," says Gosselin. "We turned to Sue Adams for help with space planning." Adams, whose eponymous firm is located on Main Street in Andover, designed the layout, which maximizes the light and the views and provides lavish space for entertaining, while creating privacy at the same time.
"I was inspired and mesmerized by Bob’s vision," Adams says, "which included reusing, repurposing, and generally going green, while doing as much for Lawrence as he could."
Adams first met Ansin when he began to develop the Monarch Lofts, which led to their collaboration on the design of the model unit. During her 22 years in the design industry, Adams has worked with commercial and institutional clients, as well as private homeowners.
"[Gosselin and Ansin] wanted and needed space for kids from their previous marriages, for guests, and for themselves," Adams explains as she describes the project. "Finding the space was not a problem—there was plenty of that. What was critical was that we had light and air in all the spaces."
To this end, Adams created a loft within a loft and placed the children’s bedrooms on the second floor of a walled-off section of the main living space. Interior windows bring both air and natural light into the children’s spaces. Looking down onto the living/dining room area is delightful for children, while the windows provide interest on the 18-foot high wall.
It was the kitchen that proved to be both the biggest design challenge and the homeowners’ favorite area. "[The couple] wanted the kitchen to be exciting," Adams says. "The old, wide-open industrial space called for supporting posts, so there are posts where you might not necessarily want them." So, Adams made lemonade from that lemon by using one of the posts, hard by the stove top, to anchor a pot filler.
"We entertain a lot, so we wanted the kitchen to function as a gathering space as well as a workspace," says Gosselin. "The kitchen was definitely the biggest challenge, but it’s my favorite part of the house." But Ansin also notes an advantage they possessed: "You can’t customize a space like you can a loft," he says.
Gosselin and Ansin have certainly made the kitchen their own. At one end of the granite-topped island that separates the business end of the kitchen from the dining area is a long trough sink. "We use it as a raw bar and fill it up with cherry-stones and oysters when we have a party," Gosselin says, smiling. She and Ansin especially love the floors, which gleam with the patina that can only come from years of heavy use. "To live in an old mill building is to appreciate what went on there in the past," Ansin says. "All those lives are depicted in the flooring, the years of people standing in front of machinery."
Those days are a memory; all 200 unites of the Monarch Lofts are occupied, and there is now a waiting list.
"I decided to rename the project The Monarch to represent transformation," Bob Ansin says. "Like the caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, I also meant this [metamorphosis] for the broader community of Lawrence," he adds.
The couple praises the location. "I-495 is a half a mile away, Route 93 is two miles from here, tax-free New Hampshire is five minutes away, and we are 30 minutes from Boston. And, there is a train station across the street."
Since he moved here, Ansin has become a student of Lawrence. "What a special history Lawrence has," he marvels. "I have fallen in love with the city."