Renovating a Historic Home in Boston

Ramy Rizkalla and Cinthya Marturano spent years looking for land on which to build their dream home, but never expected to find the perfect spot in the middle of the South End. A simple, wooden house next to an open lot on quiet Taylor Street proved to be the ideal blank canvass for the couple’s Boston home. “I wanted to build architecture,” Ramy said. “Actual, real architecture that would be appropriate for the South End, but also show that contemporary design can exist in a historic neighborhood and do so in perfect harmony with century-old brownstones.”

It was no mean feat getting such a radical project off the ground, however. The plot of land next to the original structure belonged to then Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), and so came with certain restrictions. In the end, the design was modi ed several times based on feedback from the BRA, the Landmarks Commission, and the neighborhood. “We were very fortunate to work with people who were open-minded, could see the vision, and didn’t shut down the process from the get-go,” Ramy said. Approval took 16-18 months, and construction added another 2 years to the timeline.

Preserving the exterior with a contemporary interpretation was a central part of the process. The couple played off the wood of the original house and wrapped it around the new structure. The interior is a reflection of their love for utilitarian, industrial construction, and the stripped down simplicity of Nordic-influenced design. There is almost no drywall. Instead, the walls are covered in light oak, lending the interior a whitewashed Scandinavian warmth. Most of the construction materials were left uncovered, including the poured concrete walls, and the steel frame that holds up the second floor and the roof. There is no electric in the walls or ceiling, the lighting is track and surface-mounted. The floor is reclaimed oak grain tile, solid and grounding against the ow of the rest of the space. The layout prioritizes public over private space. Everything is open, each space owing into the other. Hinged doors are replaced by pocket doors that, if desired, can be closed for privacy.

The project would not have been possible without an ensemble of architectural stars. From the 30-foot poured concrete walls, to the stairs cantilevered on them, a lot of what Ramy and Cinthya asked for was thought to be impossible. Architect Scott Slarsky, contractor John Holland, and project manager Tim McGowan were an integral part of the design team. “This could have gone sideways at so many different times, but the team was great,” Ramy said. “Everyone took a lot of pride in the work.” 

Photos courtesy of Scott Slarsky, Director at Shepley Bulfinch

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