Updating a Boxford Colonial

Refined Renovations helps a busy young family update a Boxford Colonial.

Photograph by Eric Roth


After years of living in Silicon Valley, Joanna and Steve Hambling were looking east. He is English; she grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

“I wanted to come back home, to be near my parents,” Joanna Hambling says. “Also, being on the East Coast brings us that much closer to the United Kingdom and to Steve’s family.

“It’s hard to go house-hunting when you’re on the other side of the country,” she continues. “So, we enlisted my parents, who looked at properties in person while we looked at the multiple listing sheets and the pictures online.”

She admits that even with today’s technology, it takes courage to buy a house without ever stepping inside.

“After my parents saw this place for the first time, they went back and FaceTimed it while walking through. But we physically never saw the house until we moved here.”

The 5,200-square-foot Boxford center-entry Colonial, built in 1998, had what she and her husband wanted: a big backyard, space for their growing young family, and a quiet location on a private cul-de-sac surrounded by woods. What it lacked was personality. Also, the kitchen was uninspiring, and some of the rooms had no clear function.

“The inside needed life,” Hambling says. “And, for such a large kitchen, it was lacking. We wanted comfy, cozy spaces for the family to gather.”

She and Steve have three children—Scarlett, Sawyer, and Sienna—as well as a dog, Shushee.

Hambling found the design expertise she needed at Refined Renovations, a 12-year-old Andover company founded by Jim Buhrer. Working together with design associate Kimberly Holiver, he turned the nondescript house into a home that reflects the busy life of the family living there.

“The biggest thing we did was to open up the kitchen into one large room,” Buhrer says. “We removed a post that divided the space. To provide stability for the resulting 25- by 20-foot room, we installed two steel ceiling beams. More than anything else, that kitchen reno made the home large and inviting.”

In addition, he found a happy use for the room just behind the kitchen. With a fieldstone fireplace and a vaulted ceiling, Buhrer redesigned it to serve as an informal dining room. To lighten the mood and décor, he whitewashed the fireplace stones, and then found a hefty piece of wood to serve as a mantel.  A wagon wheel placed on the new mantel suits the scale of the room while it also refers to Boxford’s farms.

“When Jim and I talked about bringing personality into the house, I told him that I wanted to embrace Boxford, which is rural and sleepy,” says Joanna Hambling. “He and Kimberly understood what I was after, and we incorporated elements like a zinc range hood and old-looking ceiling beams in the kitchen. The wagon wheel, too, speaks of the town’s agricultural heritage.”

Echoing the motif is a two-tiered chandelier descending from the lofty ceiling; its round and rustic personality makes it a fitting companion to the wagon wheel.

Buhrer also brought an informal sensibility into the family room, where he lined one corner with shiplap. The recessed area proved the perfect location for a family game table, and the gray-green boards soften and warm the corner. He also brought function to Steve Hambling’s home office with gray-painted built-ins and he transformed an unused basement into a bar and a second kitchen.

“Eventually, we will install a swimming pool,” Joanna Hambling says. “Downstairs will be the place where you come in with wet feet and get lunch or a snack; we tiled the floor for that reason. Right now, it is great to have an extra oven and fridge when it’s Christmas and we have a lot of people for dinner.”

While she relied on her design team for guidance, there was one thing Hambling knew for sure: She wanted a white kitchen.

“I wanted a classy, timeless, country farmhouse feel,” she explains. “I’m more of a monochromatic person who likes to bring in colors with accessories.”

Buhrer designed a new kitchen with two islands, one for food preparation and one for eating breakfast and doing homework. White-painted cabinetry accompanies a farmhouse apron sink and stainless steel appliances; the new floor is oak, stained dark. The counters, which are quartz, are white on the islands and a raw concrete color on the work surfaces. Above the range, the backsplash is composed of irregular subway tiles that look handmade. The backsplash behind the bar area, on the other hand, is lined with a diagonally laid sparkly mosaic. The large white room is flooded with light.

“We have a huge, wonderful window, and because there are no neighbors in that direction, just woods, we did not need curtains,” Hambling says. The smaller window over the sink wears simple blue-and-white Roman shades. But because of the home’s happy private location, they are never lowered.

Refined Renovations

64 Bartlett St., Andover, 617-320-7095