A Hidden Gem
Architect Daniel Scully and garden designer Michael Gordon helped create a wonderful apartment in downtown Peterborough.
You could walk around downtown Peterborough for a long time and never realize that a comfortable, airy, one-floor apartment is on the top floor of the building that houses the Peterborough Community Theatre and Cooper’s Hill Public House bar and restaurant.
In fact, the apartment hasn’t been there for long. In 2017, Susie Hunter and her Labrador retriever Darby moved into the space designed by Keene architect Daniel Scully and his team. Since then, Susie and Darby have been living happily above the (relative) hustle and bustle of one of the Monadnock Region’s most vibrant small towns.
A few years ago, Susie was facing some difficult decisions. Her husband of fifty years— Bruce, a trained biologist, environmental consultant and (after “retirement”) property developer—was in failing health and would soon need to move to a facility for professional care. The couple had lived in their rambling, Shingle-style “cottage” with its extensive grounds since the early 1990s. It was soon going to be time to sell the property and organize a lifetime of shared belongings. Susie was also concerned about her future income. She met with Scully and contractor Philip Woodbury, of Woodbury Construction Company in Greenfield (both had worked on building projects with Bruce), to discuss making the Peterborough movie theater building that she and Bruce owned more financially viable. “I’m kind of a planner,” says Susie, who combines an organic, go-with-the-flow approach to life’s changes with a talent for organization.
One possibility was to make two rentable apartments out of the top floor of the building, which at the time contained an event room and some offices. But the building codes for mixing commercial space and residential space, particularly above a restaurant, were stringent. A short while after this discussion, Susie says, “Dan came back and said, ‘Maybe we’ve over-thought this.’” Scully suggested that one apartment might be easier to implement than two. And then Susie got the idea that this apartment could be hers— her new home could be in the old building, right in the center of town.
Bruce passed away in December 2016, and Susie moved into the apartment in July 2017. This change from “country mouse to city mouse” was just the next incarnation for Susie. “I’ve reinvented myself a bunch of times,” she says. She’s been a stay-at-home mom, a schoolteacher, a competitive runner, a sports marketing/public relations executive, a landscaper and an eldercare worker. Currently, she volunteers with UpReach Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Goffstown and Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, where Darby works as a therapy dog.
A multi-purpose building
Peterborough’s only movie theater, said to be the oldest in New Hampshire, opened in 1914 as the Gem Theatre, with a seating capacity of five hundred. Since then, it has undergone a number of renovations. In 1984, its owners reconfigured the building, downsizing the theater to ninety-five seats, and adding a restaurant called the Holly-wood Café on the ground floor as well as offices and an art studio upstairs. Bruce bought the building in the 1990s—renovating the restaurant and the theater lobby with Scully’s assistance, and installing a piano bar/function room in the art gallery space upstairs.
The building’s latest incarnation— as a multi-purpose structure combining residential and commercial space— incorporates the restaurant; the movie theater; Susie’s one-floor, second-story apartment; and offices, including CoWork Peterborough, a shared office space business that Susie started last spring.
Teams and shared goals
Susie enlisted Peterborough artist Sue Callihan to help with décor for the apartment Scully designed. “I love Sue’s art and her aesthetic,” Susie says. She also signed on Peter LaRoche, of C.P. LaRoche Construction in Peterborough, as a general contractor. “He’s the best,” Susie says. “He’s so willing to collaborate. All the people who worked on this project were collaborative. They were committed, and listened to what I wanted and didn’t want.” For any project, Susie says, it’s important to assemble the best team you can. “I learned that from Bruce.”
Susie’s desires included a comfortable, well-lit space with plenty of room for cooking and socializing with friends. She also wanted a window seat, which was built into the living room. “Susie really likes natural light,” says Scully, who consequently added some windows to the structure. Because she likes to cook, he made sure the kitchen was roomy and well proportioned. The resulting 1,075-square-foot apartment includes a bedroom, bathroom, office/guest room, and a central space for the kitchen, living area and dining area. Vaulted ceilings that slope slightly hint at the building’s movie-theater origins.
One of the primary challenges of the project, Scully says, was meeting the building codes for a mixed-use structure. “We all believe in mixed use, but the building codes don’t always make it easy,” he says.
One of the charms of the apartment is the way that Scully created spatial definition between the different areas of the main open room. Even though the kitchen connects to the living area, the kitchen feels like its own room in terms of the layout; the dining area also feels very much like its own space. Another differentiator is the flooring in the kitchen, which is COREtec interlocking vinyl that resembles wood, from Flooring Concepts in Marlborough. The rest of the main living area has a neutral carpet, over which Susie has placed several Oriental rugs—a good method of dealing with a black-haired dog, she says. The bedroom and office are also carpeted, and the bathroom is floored with COREtec.
Because she was downsizing from a much larger space, Susie didn’t need to buy many new pieces of furniture. Instead, she retained favorite items, including family heirlooms and furniture made by Bruce. She did buy a couch for the living room and a sofa bed for the office/guest room.
In the living room, both the couch and the window seat are upholstered in a raspberry-red fabric that was chosen to pick up the colors of the raspberry-and-champagne quilt that covers Susie’s bed. (Scully designed the bedroom with French doors so it could open to the main room or be closed off, as desired.) The window seat was important, but the way it got incorporated was due to a happy accident: The heating ductwork for the restaurant downstairs goes around most of the apartment’s exterior walls. This created a unique opportunity, as Scully describes it, for situating the window seat as well as the built-in desk in the bedroom and the extra-deep counters in the kitchen.
The furniture and woodwork are predominantly cherry, including built-in elements, such as the desk in the bedroom as well as a shelf that wraps around part of one wall and onto the next to serve as a headboard for the bed. These pieces were built by LaRoche; the bookcases in the bedroom and office were made by Windmill Hill Cabinets and Design in Dublin.
One standout piece of furniture is the tapered cabinet made from quarter-sawn fumed white oak in the dining room. This cabinet was designed and constructed by Susie and Bruce’s son Andrew Hunter, a fine-furniture maker based in Accord, New York.
Throughout the apartment are hints of Southwestern décor—a throw pillow on the couch, a rug in the bedroom. Susie originally hails from Southern California, and another prevalent decorative element are paintings by well-known California painter Helen Reynolds, who was a friend of Susie’s mother.
The kitchen has a wood-topped center island with two seats on one side. Plentiful natural lighting and task lighting make the room a bright and cheerful workspace, as do the white wooden cabinets. Both island and cabinets are from ProStock Kitchens in Peterborough. The kitchen walls are covered in tiles that resemble gray bricks, and this separate wall treatment also helps delineate the kitchen from the rest of the larger room.
The granite countertops are unusually deep, as necessitated by the placement of the heating ductwork. This feature turned out to be a boon—Susie likes the depth because items can be stored or displayed where the counter meets the wall, while still allowing plenty of counter space for food preparation. Stainless-steel appliances, including an induction stove, provide a sleek look.
A public/private garden
Although Susie was excited to move into town, something she knew she would miss was gardening. “My connection to the land has been a very important touchstone in my life,” she says. She also discovered she missed outdoor cooking. After she first moved in, she sometimes grilled on a hibachi outside her front door, but that wasn’t ideal. “I wanted a place with a proper grill,” Susie says. “I also wanted a table to eat on, some privacy and a little garden.”
She began discussing the possibility of an in-town garden with public gardening expert Michael Gordon (who is also an optometrist with a practice in Peterborough). She and Gordon had previously collaborated on public projects, such as the flower boxes on the bridges in town, and private projects at her old house.
In conjunction with Scully, Susie and Gordon designed a small, semi-private garden patio along the side of the building facing the movie-theater parking lot. The 240-square-foot space is topped by an aluminum pergola and bordered by a stone wall mounted with high, aluminum flower boxes. Tall plantings in the boxes provide an attractive, effective, partially transparent border that makes the space within surprisingly private, even though it borders the often quite-busy parking lot. “I had this idea that if you added tall flower boxes to the stone wall, with massive plantings, it would work almost like a hedge,” Gordon says.
For the pergola, Scully used long-lasting aluminum rather than wood. “The aluminum we used is the same shape as a traditional pergola frame, including the rafter tails—yet it’s bright and airy,” Scully says. The pergola and aluminum flower boxes were made by Tucker’s Metal Fabrication and Welding in Munsonville. The paving for the garden was done by Paul Haupt-Renaud in Greenfield.
For the flower boxes, Gordon used a variety of plantings, including annuals such as ‘Marmaduke’ begonias, salvias and Amicia zygomeris; and perennials, such as shrub evergreens and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ grass. “I like to mix up the textures and make it fun,” he says. Yew hedges were added to create an entrance to the garden.
“Once the plants came in, and the hedges, it all came together,” Susie says.
“When you are inside, it feels totally private.”
The three enjoyed working together. “Susie said she wanted us both to ‘do our thing,’” Gordon says.
“It was great working with Michael Gordon,” Scully says. “The patio took on a life of its own.” Part of that life is its public/private nature. It is a private garden, but it is quite visible in town and not locked. Workers at Susie’s co-working space sometimes eat lunch there, for example. “I’m very interested in the whole idea of public and private space,” Gordon says.
Susie’s apartment also has a kind of dual life. It’s not public, but it is situated in very public surroundings. Scully calls it “a magically private space in the middle of town.” Susie can walk downstairs and engage in community life whenever she likes. She walks Darby through town on a daily basis, and has gotten to know many residents and shopkeepers. She has learned the rhythms of the town—what days the local grocery store gets its deliveries and how the town rolls up its sidewalks during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But she can choose to be alone in her apartment right in the middle of it all whenever she likes.
Hunter’s garden, designed by Michael Gordon in Peterborough, faces a busy parking lot, so high flower boxes filled with tall plantings serve as a privacy barrier.
The built-in window seat in the living room was one of Suzie Hunter’s wish-list items for the new space.
Left: The dining area, kitchen and living area all connect in the main room of the apartment. The raspberry-red couch in the living area was a new purchase.
Right: The spacious kitchen incorporates a center island for food preparation and entertaining. The counter with the sink was designed to be extra deep for more space.
Left: The bedroom can be opened up to the main living space or closed off with French doors.
Right: A built-in desk in the bedroom is made of cherry by Peter LaRoche, of C.P. LaRoche Construction in Peterborough.
Susie Hunter’s garden is topped by an aluminum pergola that is traditional in shape but non-traditional in material.