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Working in a variety of styles, SV Design creates custom luxury residences that are distinguished by what architect Tobin Shulman, AIA, calls “a sense of place.”


“Our work is contextual – it knows where it is, and it honors and elevates that,” says Shulman, the principal who manages the North Shore office’s private residential projects from large, new construction to renovations and additions. “Every neighborhood has a different style – a house in Beverly, for instance, is different from a house in Marblehead Neck, and Marblehead Neck is different from Marblehead Old Town.”

Comprehensive Services for Complete Customization

Established in 1987, the award-winning architecture and interior design firm, which has another office in Chatham on Cape Cod, offers a comprehensive array of services.

“We do everything from looking at a bare piece of land and designing a house for it to designing the interior architecture and selecting the stone for the fireplaces, the tile for the baths and kitchen and handpicking the knobs on the dresser in the primary suite,” he says.

Builder: Cape Associates
Photographer: Amber Jane Photography

Understanding Lifestyle and Goals For A Client-Centered Process

Whether it’s a renovation or a custom-built house, the SV Design process starts with an extensive interview with the client to determine needs as they relate to the property. 

“We really listen to our clients so we understand their lifestyle and their goals,” Shulman says. “I like to say that we design the house that they would design for themselves if they had our 35 years of experience.”

The Creative Journey of Hand-Drawn Sketches to Detailed 3D Models

After the goals are determined, the SV Design team makes hand-drawn, to-scale concept sketches. 

“I liken this part of the process to a funnel,” Shulman says. “We start wide and refine, refine, and refine until we get the right answer for the client, the design and the community.”

The ideas that are selected are translated into 3D computer models that show everything down to the beams in the ceiling and the knobs on the kitchen cabinets.

“We are process-focused,” he says. “It’s not beauty-pageant architecture where the architect makes all the decisions and the client has no say. We work with our clients as a team to get a solution. Each custom house we design is different.”

Builder: This Old House / Silva Brothers Construction
Photographer: Jared Kuzia

Renovating History: A Case Study of SV Design’s Work

A case in point is an 1890s shingle-style house on Cape Ann that the SV Design team renovated and reimagined, seamlessly blending the past and the present and setting it up for the enjoyment of future generations. The homeowners, a couple with a small child, needed more space and were trading their Boston townhouse for a large North Shore residence.

The house had an attractive location and good bones but had not been renovated since the 1960s or ’70s.

“It had no curb appeal, but there were beautiful architectural details on the façade,” Shulman says, adding that there also was “a lot of shag carpet in all different colors, a green toilet, and laminated kitchen countertops.”

Builder: This Old House / Silva Brothers Construction
Photographer: Jared Kuzia

What’s more, the house had been altered through the decades, and the additions, which included a garage topped with a deck, were not appropriate to the architecture. 

“The layout itself was not suitable for the family’s lifestyle,” Shulman says. “The house lacked family living space, and the kitchen was too small and unworkable.”

The SV Design team removed the old additions, a process Shulman calls “addition by subtraction,” and added ones that “enhance the historic character of the house to show it to its best advantage. They complement the style of the house and look and feel like they have always been there.”

The garage and mudroom were moved to the main living level, historically appropriate exterior architectural detail was added, the kitchen was enlarged, and the third floor was finished out as a playroom.

“These changes made it feel more contemporary,” he says. “And to make it feel connected to the landscape, we added feature windows to bring the outdoors in in a beautiful way.”

Like every SV Design project, the North Shore renovation is unique – and was exciting not only for the client but also for the design team.

“We love nothing more than having a blank piece of paper in hand and turning drawings into a dream house that people live in and enjoy for years,” Shulman says. “It’s like a little bit of magic.”

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