All in the Details

When they began renovations, a Seacoast couple decided to stay true to their historic home’s original design. They did such a good job that the home received the 2016 New Hampshire Home Design Award for Excellence in Renovation.
Keeping the character of this charming 1860 home—from its high ceilings and crown moldings to its expansive yard—was the focus of this light-filled home renovation by John Merkle of TMS Architects in Portsmouth. An open seating plan enables the homeowners to work in the kitchen while keeping an eye on their young daughters, whether they’re in the family room or playing outdoors. A row of tall windows and doors leads to a deck and large back yard.

When it comes to home design, sometimes the difference—and delight—is in the details. That’s what a Seacoast family discovered during renovations of their elegant home. Built in 1860, the five-bedroom home is set back on a shady street in a small Seacoast community. The in-town location, Italianate-style charm and large yard appealed to the homeowners (a husband and wife with two young daughters) when they were house-hunting several years ago. “We loved the house,” the wife says. “We wanted to make it a space we could really enjoy.” They moved into the home in 2013.

Originally from England, the homeowners wanted a roomy, contemporary living space that accommodated their busy lives. Also important was having a large yard, visible from the house, where their children could play. Outdoors, the yard needed a few tweaks to make it family friendly. The garage and a row of trees bisected the property, cutting off access to an in-ground pool.

A crystal chandelier from Restoration Hardware and gecko print wallpaper by Osborne & Little add whimsy to the master bedroom.

Through friends, the couple connected with TMS Architects of Portsmouth and Glen Farrell of YFI Custom Homes in Cape Neddick, Maine, to make their vision reality. John Merkle, lead architect on the project, has renovated many historic homes with an eye toward creating livable spaces while staying true to a building’s original design.

“We wanted to maintain the historic integrity of the building while incorporating the family’s contemporary tastes,” Merkle says. The greatest design challenge was changing the orientation of the garage so it was better sited on the lot. “The property is unusual,” he says. “It’s L-shaped. The old garage cut off the house from the yard and a row of trees separated the house from the pool.”

Merkle designed a new three-car garage, relocating it behind the house on the northwest side of the property. Siting the garage at a slight angle opened up access to the back yard; the row of trees was removed so the family has direct access to the pool. The driveway was redesigned, allowing visitors to pull up in front of the house or drive straight back to a new rear entry.

Moving the garage presented an opportunity to open and enlarge rooms in back of the home, on both the first and second floors. “We had strong ideas about what we wanted,” the wife says. “Everything that didn’t date back to the nineteenth century was taken down, including the back of the house.”

The new addition includes a back porch and garage entrance; a sunny family room; a renovated kitchen; and a new master bedroom suite.

Curves in all the right places

The homeowners wanted a kitchen that not only met their cooking and storage needs, but also accommodated their children’s activities.

The kitchen was gutted. Installed were new windows; white oak floors (also featured in the family room and upstairs); and beautiful custom cabinetry, created by YFI Millworks, YFI’s woodworking shop. Every shelf and drawer serves a specific purpose, from built-in shelves (adjacent to the professional-grade stove) that pop out when pushed, to recessed wine shelving on either side of the sink. Even the built-in refrigerator and dishwasher are camouflaged by cabinets. Round oak drawer pulls and cabinet knobs add a contemporary touch, as do the sleek black granite countertops and backsplash behind the stove.

Other clever elements in the kitchen are curved edges and walls. Merkle and project manager Nicole Martineau incorporated the smooth curves throughout the home. “All the woodwork and cabinetry in the kitchen are curved,” Merkle says. “The curves soften the lines and spaces inside the house.”

The curved walls found on the first floor are echoed in the second-floor hallway, which connects the master bedroom with the main house. The peacock-feather-patterned wallpaper is by Osborne & Little and the paint by Farrow & Ball. The chandelier is from Restoration Hardware.

The curves are even found on the multifunctional, oak-topped island, which provides practical storage for cookware as well as seating for the girls and large drawers to store their toys and supplies. A new walk-in pantry is easily accessible to cooking and prep areas.

Directly off the kitchen is the light-filled family room. Full-length glass windows and doors ring the space, which opens to the back yard and a new bluestone terrace, designed by Merkle. A fieldstone firepit is a warm spot to gather around on cool evenings.

A reconfigured upstairs space

The home’s earlier upstairs configuration around the bedrooms was “convoluted,” Merkle says. The original master bedroom was accessed through another bedroom. Merkle designed a new master suite, incorporating space from the former bedroom to create a new, larger master bath, dressing room, hallway and laundry room. Lined with windows on three sides, the new master bedroom is comfortable and light, with a high, arched ceiling as well as a window seat along one wall. Decorated in calming shades of gray, the space also has touches of whimsy: a crystal chandelier as well as purple-gray Osborne & Little wallpaper with a silver gecko print by (a similar wallpaper with silver peacock feathers is used on the back stairs leading up to the second floor).

The modern master bath is a contrast of textures, with limestone tile and flooring as well as a sleek vanity. The curved edges from downstairs are echoed in the bathroom design. “We designed one wall to curve, following the radius of the elliptical bathtub,” Martineau says. The white, high-gloss vanity is mounted on the wall, making for easier cleaning, and the storage in the vanity drawers is “astounding,” she says. “They’re functional and glide smoothly.”

Enjoying each space

Now, two years after renovations were completed, the family is still delighted with their home’s architectural and decorative details, enjoying all that the home has to offer.

“It came out well integrated,” Martineau says. “All the new elements fit consistently with the historic nature of the house.”

The homeowners agree. “We worked well together as a team,” the wife says. “Everyone did a fantastic job.” Their efforts were acknowledged when the home won the 2016 New Hampshire Home Design Award for Excellance in Renovation.

Once hidden from view by a row of trees, the family swimming pool is now linked visually to the house. An outdoor patio off the back of the house provides extra entertaining space.

The Italianate-style home has Sandstone siding by James Hardie.

Categories: Architecture and Interiors