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From mundane to modern: Architect redesign honors Brookline Victorian’s past, reimagines its future

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The sensitive addition of white cladding encompassing the entire structure is the new canvas for the exterior. (Left) Kripper Studio; (right) Pablo Gerson

When Amir Kripper took on the redesign of a tired 112-year-old house on Brookline’s Washington Street, he created the combination today’s homeowners crave.

“We appreciate buildings with historic charm, but we want modern interiors,’’ said the architect and principal of Kripper Studio, located on Boston’s Bromfield Street. “ADCO Realty [who owned the property] asked us to reimagine what had been a single-family house built in 1910 and to turn it into a contemporary duplex.’’

Kripper, who grew up in Uruguay, came to Boston in 2007 to work for the architecture and urban design firm Machado Silvetti. About 10 years ago, he opened his own firm. He said he is especially fond of adaptive reuse projects. “It’s very rewarding work to bring historic buildings back to life,’’ he said.


This building’s interior — made up of small, fragmented spaces, outdated systems, and decaying materials — was gutted. The exterior shell, however, was treated as an important element of a historic neighborhood, particularly on the street-facing façade.

BEFORE: Shrubs shrouded the tired exterior. – Kripper Studio
AFTER: The front of the building includes visual cedar accents on the porch spindles, cap, foundation lattice, and underside of the canopy. – Pablo Gerson

The house is now sheathed with crisp white siding. Traditional elements include the original fieldstone above the foundation; copper eaves; cedar on the porch spindles, foundation lattice, and underside of the porch roof; and black metal frames and casements for the windows, doors, and skylight. A horizontal band halfway up the side of the building reflects its division into two units. To show off the refreshed Victorian styling, crews removed the overgrown bushes, so the house is again fully visible from the street.

While the front looks as it once might have, the rear is unabashedly new. Black metal siding marks an elevator shaft, a rooftop dormer, and a contemporary bay window. Contemporary doors offer access to each of the two units, and there is a new two-car garage and a heated driveway.

BEFORE: The existing wood siding, seen here, was removed. – Kripper Studio
BEFORE: The original fieldstone detail was preserved and restored. – Kripper Studio
AFTER: At the rear of the building, white eaves blend with the white cladding to allow the architectural changes to be more pronounced, with black metal visual cues to what is new. – Pablo Gerson
AFTER: Black metal siding encases the elevator shaft, which is for the exclusive use of Unit 2. – Pablo Gerson

To create two spacious units, Kripper found additional living space in areas usually relegated to storage: the basement and the attic. In Unit 1, which measures 2,565 square feet and occupies the first floor and basement, he excavated to create 9-foot ceiling heights on the lower level. Unit 2, at 2,386 square feet, gained a lofty upper story when he raised the attic ceiling to the rafters. Each four-bedroom unit connects the levels using elegant cantilevered staircases with oak risers. An elevator serves Unit 2.


“We wanted to create as open an interior floor plan as possible,’’ Kripper said. To support that volume of space, a concealed large steel beam spans the building from front to back at the height of the dividing line between the two units.

“The spaces have an appearance of effortlessness, but it took a lot of precision and craftsmanship to get that look,’’ he explained.

BEFORE: Walls divided rooms into small spaces on the first floor. – Kripper Studio
AFTER: Winding stairs to the second level dramatic visual interest. – Pablo Gerson
BEFORE: The upstairs, now Unit 2, was divided into small rooms. – Kripper Studio
AFTER: In Unit 2, a cantilevered staircase appears to float in the open floor plan. – Pablo Gerson
BEFORE: This second-level bathroom was a confined space. – Kripper Studio
AFTER: The guiding design principles are precision and craft as seen in the choice of materials and fixtures in the bathroom. – Pablo Gerson

Kripper called the town of Brookline “very progressive’’ in its management of historic districts and buildings.

“The policy is: Restore in kind, but when adding, do not do ‘fake old’ and mimic what is there,’’ he said. “That made for a satisfying and successful renovation.

“As architects, we want to add to buildings, but when working with old buildings, it takes a certain amount of care. We sometimes have to just let the building reveal itself. It’s not always easy to find the balance.’’

At 523 Washington St., the balance between a Victorian exterior and a modern interior is a stunning combination.

Regina Cole can be reached at [email protected]. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Follow us on Twitter @GlobeHomes and on Facebook.


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