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Julia Child's house for sale

Posted by Binyamin Appelbaum  July 1, 2008 10:25 AM

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The Cambridge house where Julia Child lived and cooked for 40 years is on the market. Yours for just $4.35 million.

One big asterisk: The kitchen has been renovated completely. That's usually a good thing, but in this case it means nothing remains of the space most identified with Julia Child.

The original kitchen -- its counters raised for the comfort of the 6'2" chef -- is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It was shipped there after Child moved out of the home in 2001.

Other features, such as a wine cellar, apparently survive.

The listing agent, Jeffrey Goldman of Premier Properties of Boston, points out that the home also was occupied until 1916 by the once-famous Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce.

But don't be intimidated -- your name could be the third on the historical plaque.

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27 comments so far...
  1. You have to love a new kitchen with ten times the price, and a hundredth of the charm, of the original. Look at the two side by side. Where would you prefer to hang out?

    Though I do admire the chutzpah of a designer who sets out to "improve" Julia Child's kitchen.

    Posted by Marcus July 1, 08 04:00 PM
  1. Yeah, that's a shame. The house isn't worth anything now that Julia's kitchen is at the Smithsonian (which, by the way, is a fantastic exhibit)! The new kitchen looks just SOULLESS. No thank you.

    Posted by Missing Julia July 1, 08 04:34 PM
  1. If you read the article... Julia's kitchen was dismantled and shipped to DC to reside in the Smithsonian, so keeping it as it was wasn't an option. Unfortunately at this price point though I would expect a buyer would require a "modern" kitchen, regardless of the history.

    Posted by Katherine July 1, 08 04:37 PM
  1. How dumb. They probably could have gotten a lot more if it had her original kitchen. Some people just don't get it.

    Posted by Erik July 1, 08 04:52 PM
  1. I realize the original was shipped to the Smithsonian at her request. But I doubt she asked anyone to replace it with a six-figure surgical theater.

    How would you ever know that was a storied kitchen in an old house? Instead of inviting guests to savor a meal, it berates them to gape at the materials invoices. Rather than housing a cook who tipples the Burgundy while stirring the stew, it's now the perfect stage set for glaring in irritation at your caterers.

    Posted by Marcus July 1, 08 05:57 PM
  1. Gorgeous house, gorgeous kitchen. Look at the pictures and notice the untouched dining room. Still plenty of historical value there. I'd take that house (w/the new kitchen) in a second. Get over it!!!!

    Posted by talia osiris July 1, 08 08:09 PM
  1. talia, we have nothing to get over. Most of us simply don't share the developer's taste for bland, featureless kitchens, especially in historic homes, and we aren't wowed simply by the fact that someone dropped a fortune on updates. But thanks for your concern.

    Posted by Marcus July 1, 08 08:44 PM
  1. Even if the original kitchen had been removed it could have been replicated. Look at all of the Cheers bars in airports! There are many ways to update a kitchen without making it look cold and empty. It's a shame that someone didn't come up with something at least a bit more creative than white. Now there is nothing special about it.

    Posted by Moops July 1, 08 10:11 PM
  1. So I guess every 3 years you're supposed to add $1.2 million to the sale price?

    Sale history:

    06/09/2004: $3,755,000
    05/15/2002: $2,350,000

    Looks like Smith College goofed when they sold the property in 2002?

    This house is beautiful, but it's Julia's in name only, not in any other way. In other words, it doesn't deserve a $1.2 million premium to its comparables.

    It will be fun to watch the price reductions and days on market on zip realty.

    Posted by Brian July 2, 08 09:46 AM
  1. Any replication would have probably suffered in comparison, but I agree that the modern kitchen is way out of whack in a historical home on Professor's Row. A kitchen keeping in the style of the original with some more modern touches would have been most appropriate. If I won the lotto and money was no object, the kitchen would get a looks a little too space-agey.

    That being said, I'd be tickled to buy a house that had once been Julia's!

    Posted by A.B.-G. July 2, 08 10:16 AM
  1. Brian, it will be interesting to see whether someone is willing to pay the premium just for the ego factor. A lot of high priced houses in Cambridge have been languishing longer than usual recently.

    A.B.-G., I don't know whether you're familiar with the Cambridge market. Many million-plus properties look like this: old homes with rather goofy ultramodern kitchens. To make matters worse, many of these "ultramodern" renovations took place in 1975 or 1985. I think it has something to do with the buyer demographics in that market--successful, famous professors who never quite got over the '70s.

    Posted by Marcus July 2, 08 11:18 AM
  1. You all have to admit - it's tremendous pressure on WHOEVER has the daunting task of renovating Ms. Child's kitchen.

    Is there anything that can be installed that would please everyone, or even a majority of observers? I'm curious to know what you all would put in. Let's assume it's a non-negotiable to keep the original kitchen - that's going to the Smithsonian no matter what.

    What would you do?

    Posted by LL July 2, 08 12:04 PM
  1. Kinda off topic, but Marcus touched on something that's driving me crazy these days - kitchen renovations that are completely out of character with the rest of the house. Cherry cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances...pretty much everywhere, regardless of the house or the condition of the rest of the rooms. In modest capes with miniscule kitchens from the 1950s, in cramped 1940s bungalows, in just about everything I see - and often with no other updates. I understand the desire for modernization, but this obsession with "one size fits all" kitchen renovations just doesn't work for me.

    Posted by Sophia July 2, 08 01:28 PM
  1. Can't say I'm familiar at all with the Cambridge market. All I know is that I can't afford it! Unless I want a 1 bedroom condo...I work at Harvard though so it would be nice though for both my husband and I, commuting-wise.

    I have had the repeated experience of walking into some of the historic Victorians in Dorchester and finding set of the Partridge Family inside. Ugly faux wood paneled walls, shag carpet, puce, dark brown, rust, modern lamp fixtures. Lowered ceilings with foam ceiling tiles. Meanwhile old wireplaces are pulled out and hardwood floors covered. Textured walls, ceilings, etc. One place North of Jones Hill had walled in the huge farmers porch to make it a big, useless, shapeless room--coats hanging on bars outside any kind of a closet. You could see a considerable dip in the floors where the home began and the porch once started. I'll never get some people and their choices of decorating.

    I grew up in a brick rancher in Bedford County, PA that for a good bit of the time had features such of these---but at least it was a CONTEMPORARY (built in 1969) home. My family updated it and added onto it throughout the years, it was sold a month ago as my mom moved to the Poconos into a newly constructed home.

    As for me, I'll never buy a split-level or a rancher because its not the aesthetic I care for, and I'm way too smart to try and make a house something on the inside that it definitely isn't on the outside.

    Posted by A.B-G. July 2, 08 01:37 PM
  1. Beautiful home. Bland new kitchen. Great locaiton, but overpriced. It should sell for a lot, but 4 million? Get real.

    Posted by Middle July 2, 08 02:23 PM
  1. LL, I don't think for a minute it's possible to "please everyone" with something as subjective as interior design.

    However, sometimes it's possible to displease everyone--or at least quite a few people. Here, I think the designer set out to accomplish a very specific goal: wipe clean the history of the room and produce a very generic, very high-end showstopper kitchen that screams "money" instead of warmth or the love of food. It erases every quirk and cranny to produce an open, modern space full of trendy finishes. And while some buyers clearly like that, a lot of people who love old houses clearly don't.

    Personally, I prefer a clever, eclectic mix of old and new. I find it surprising a designer would not have attempted to reproduce even one single element of the original kitchen, in an updated way, simply as a nod to its past.

    Posted by Marcus July 2, 08 02:50 PM
  1. Kinda off topic, but Marcus touched on something that's driving me crazy these days - kitchen renovations that are completely out of character with the rest of the house. Cherry cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances...pretty much everywhere, regardless of the house or the condition of the rest of the rooms.

    It is slowly, slowly dawning on designers and developers that granite and steel are the harvest gold and avocado green of the early zeroes. You've started to see ads for new developments promoting first "honed" granite and now quartz replacing shiny granite countertops; stainless steel giving way to "oil rubbed bronze" (I don't even understand what that is; who rubs oil into bronze?); and painted cabinetry. I've even seen buyers at open houses roll their eyes at black granite and steel kitchens, saying, "Well, this will have to come out."

    When you do exactly the same thing that everybody else is, at exactly the same time, you're basically putting a big fat expiration date on your renovation.

    Posted by Marcus July 2, 08 06:36 PM
  1. I actually think stainless is timeless, but most contemporary kitchen rrenos aren't. Decontextualization never works...

    A quick flip through Fine Homebuilding would find a lot more apropos kitchen redos for Julia Child's house.

    Posted by charles July 2, 08 06:47 PM
  1. Marcus said - "When you do exactly the same thing that everybody else is, at exactly the same time, you're basically putting a big fat expiration date on your renovation."

    We usually dont see eye-to-eye, but you are 100% correct on that one.

    Posted by Middle July 3, 08 08:24 AM
  1. Yes, the design is unfortunate but even worse is that the buyer is expected to pay for the reno and then some. Unless a buyer simply loves a renovation, I try to steer them toward a lower priced, un-renovated comparable property with good bones that they can customize themselves for a lot less money.

    I recently saw a "renovation" project that was not only a hideous design but poorly done. It just went under agreement. I will be very interested to see how much it sells for.

    Posted by Sally July 3, 08 01:10 PM
  1. " Kinda off topic, but Marcus touched on something that's driving me crazy these days - kitchen renovations that are completely out of character with the rest of the house. Cherry cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances...pretty much everywhere, regardless of the house or the condition of the rest of the rooms."

    True and not true. Because most of what's put into the newest homes are cabinets that are traditional in design. As a realtor, developers for the most part put the cheapest thing they can find into homes. Because they actively say “people don’t care”. What waste. Affluent buyers a) know quality and b) are willing to pay for it. There is nothing worse than the $2 million homes I see with $10,000 kitchens.

    This project has some spectacular finishes and workmanship. For people in the know, that kind of work just isn’t done any more. There are some better photos on the internet.

    From an architectural standpoint, the kitchen appears to be very meticulously laid
    out and is quite successful in creating a more open space. It's hard to appreciate when comparing a staged shot against a "lived-in" kitchen. Is it for everyone? Probably not. But I have seen it and it is a beautiful space.

    In my humble opinion in this country we have an odd relationship with our kitchens. We fill our homes with the latest TVs and technology--and even appliances for that matter... buy newly built homes (that shake when we close a door) and then put faux historical kitchens with sub-optimal space utilization and less than up-to-date technology. Does that make any sense? We don't have a kitchen industry as the Europeans do- we have "cabinet makers". We are woefully behind the times when it comes to design. And we’re not so special- there are plenty of places more steeped in history and tradition than we are. But we buy what we are sold- “cabinets”. And the more “cabinets” that Home Depot or the cabinet maker can sell the better off they are. No eye to planning or good design.

    If contemporary kitchens can work in 15th century palazzi I think it can perfectly be contextual in a Victorian home. It just takes a good architect to who knows materials and space planning to make it work. Contemporary isn't "stainless and granite" we realtors like to simplify. And it isn’t necessarily devoid of feeling either. And there's modern elegant and modern cheap. I think there’s a gross lack of exposure alongside our stubborn provincialism. Time to open our eyes and become a little more worldly!

    Posted by Mark July 9, 08 03:10 PM
  1. does it have granite countertops?

    Posted by calgary kitchen countertops July 11, 08 05:29 PM
  1. Mark, I'm not talking about the high end. I'm talking about kitchen renovations in homes from the 300K - 500K range that are totally out of character with the rest of the house. The look ridiculous, they don't belong, and I can't believe prospective buyers would be willing to compensate the current owners for their ill-advised renovations.

    Posted by Sophia July 11, 08 10:18 PM
  1. Honestly, I don't think it looks that bad. I was much less offended by it when I looked at the photos on the realtor's site than the bad copies on this page. It's pretty simple, clean, big, and bright. They could have done worse!

    Posted by Jennifer July 12, 08 01:39 PM
  1. Contrary to popular belief, Julia Child did not live on or adjacent to Brattle Street. Her house was on Francis Ave, on the diagonally opposite side of Harvard Yard.

    Francis Avenue and the section of Irving Street north of Kirkland vie
    with the Brattle Street area as being the wealthiest part of Cambridge.
    This area is often referred to as "Old Cambridge" and is within 0.25
    mi (or less) of ... Somerville!

    That is relevant because there have been anecdotal accounts of Julia Child, and her Nobel Prize award-winning neighbors, being "regulars" at the old Star Market (now Shaw's) at 275 Beacon Street in Somerville. Julia preferred Savenor's, which was within walking distance of her Francis Ave home until it burned down in the early 1990s. Savenor's relocated to Charles St in Beacon Hill.

    The small amount of land on which Child's house sits must be worth at least $1-2 million alone!

    Posted by Daniel October 5, 08 05:13 PM
  1. Julia's kitchen suited her for 40 years. But I don't think I would have wanted it if I were buying the house. However, I do think that putting a kitchen that contemporary in a Victorian home is a bit out there.
    Julia would have found it ridicules. To her the food was the focus in the kitchen, not the kitchen itself. The designer didn't do a bad job, but he could have done it differently, in a way that went with the hose.

    Posted by Jack February 12, 09 10:20 PM
  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the new kitchen. The designer did a fabulous job-- it's simple, clean and unpretentious, yet modern and welcoming. Just like Julia. Fabulous design...I'm not one for renovations that are done to "period" anyway so I think it's just beautiful.

    Posted by K. Ann June 29, 09 03:38 PM
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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