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Marblehead has been an irresistible draw for its seaside charm for more than two centuries. The crown jewel is Old Town, the downtown neighborhood that rings with history, down to the historic plaques affixed to many of the houses. 

It’s no wonder that some Old Town residents were worried as they watched the rambling 1725 three-story house across from the harbor disintegrate. After years serving as converted apartments, the house had been gutted and stood vacant. Some townspeople swore it could crash to the ground at any time. Sunlight streamed through large gaping holes in the roof; half of the structure sat on dirt; it was plagued by rot. The exterior was wrapped in aluminum siding; windows were of cheap vinyl. 

Kyle Donovan and her husband, Paul Donovan, fell in love with the antique home, despite its condition. “There was no way to save what was here,” Kyle Donovan says. “We bought it knowing it had to be rebuilt.” But it had to be a pristine rebuild that would adhere to very strict rules set by the Marblehead Historical Commission.

The appearance of a garage is unusual for Old Town.

When the Donovans met Branden Scimone, the owner of S&S Construction in Marblehead, they were confident that Scimone and his partner, Weverton Silva, would fulfill their dream, rebuilding the house to the couple’s impeccable standards and the historical commission’s rigorous rules. Walter Jacob, principal of Walter Jacob Architecture in Marblehead, helped usher the project through the commission’s process; then the project was in the hands of the Donovans. Kyle Donovan, a realtor with Gibson Sotheby’s in Boston, has seen many houses, but this project was enormous.

“Paul and I have done many renovations, but this was our first experience building from the ground up,” Donovan says. It was immediately clear that Scimone was focused on success: “He is super-organized and managed the subs phenomenally.” And S&S finished on schedule.

The rebuild of the 18th-century house was a perfect match for Scimone, who worked in project management and construction—primarily in Boston’s North End and Beacon Hill—before founding S&S Construction 10 years ago.

Today, the company offers a full range of high-end design and build services, taking on additions, renovations, and new construction, often from initial sketches to final build. Scimone and his crew completed an impressive 37 projects last year. “We’re proud of our craftsmanship and scheduling, our ability to finish on time,” Scimone says. “We work really hard.”

The first phase of the Donovans’ project involved numerous visits to the historical commission, including hearings and public meetings. “Our biggest challenge was getting the approvals,” Scimone says. Then came a meticulous rebuild.  

When Scimone began, the house had nothing historically significant left. The demolition took just a few hours.

The house was sited “to a laser on the footprint of the original,” Donovan says. (They were allowed to add three dormers and a detached garage.) Every finish, every exterior door, all the lights and hardware, had to have the commission’s approval.

In spring of 2020, the Donovans and their son, 9, moved into the house, which fulfills their desires for a home with historic characteristics and modern conveniences. The house, perched on a rise, is surrounded by a spacious lawn, lined in front with seagrass the Donovans planted, along with several birch trees, which they both love.

Donovan loves interior design and relished the chance to create the décor herself. “Ever since I’ve had this obsession with design, I’ve gravitated toward black and white and neutrals,” she says. Occasional bursts of color light up the home, with its cozy, family-oriented spirit. “There’s nothing in the house that’s formal. My husband and son are very active. A football could be thrown at any moment. It needed to be casual and welcoming.” 

The kitchen is a special room, with an easygoing but elegant feel. An island topped with Danby marble, and cabinets from Venegas and Company in Boston’s South End, give the room substance and major style. Donovan loves the layout. “It just works; your eye dances around the kitchen.” A closer look reveals sculptural hardware from Sun Valley Bronze, a foundry in Bellevue, Idaho. 

Wallpaper in beautiful patterns highlights the front entry, an upstairs nook, the stairwell, and the powder rooms, hung in exacting fashion by Tracy Karatza of Attention to Detail in Chester, New Hampshire. 

Perhaps the most special place of all is the grand front porch. “It’s the main reason we pursued the project,” Donovan says. The porch became a tranquil balm during the pandemic. “My girlfriends and I would sit, socially distanced, on the porch with cocktails,” she recalls. “We love this house. We’re so comfortable, and so thankful.”    

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