Rebound and Rebuild
When a fire destroyed their longtime home, a Bedford couple and their design-build team met the challenge to create anew.
For many people, a brand-new home is a dream come true. So it was for Surrinder and Michael Sandhu of Bedford, but the circumstances resulting in their new residence were no less than a nightmare. An electrical fire in the attic burned the couple’s former house to the ground shortly after Thanks-giving in 2015, leaving them and their three children to live in temporary quarters for two and a half years while various insurance and construction issues were sorted out. “One day we woke up, and at the end of the day we didn’t have a house,” says Michael.
Eventually, however, with the community rallying around them and a thoughtfully selected design-build team in place, their former home was replaced, and they were able to move forward with their lives, grateful for both the local support that kept their spirits buoyed through a difficult time and the expert professionals who worked with them to construct a new home, one that responded to their needs even better than their former one had. The new house was built on the same footprint as the old one, but that’s where the similarities end. A core team made up of Jason Aselin of JAD Design Group, interior designer Emily Shakra and Legacy Homes collaborated on a plan for a grand yet cozy house that literally rose like a phoenix from the ashes.
Where they would rebuild was never an issue. “We originally chose this location because of its convenient proximity to the highway and schools and its beautiful perch on top of a small hill in a quiet neighborhood,” shares Surrinder, who was also happy with their former home’s brick exterior, which matched the other homes in the neighborhood. Her husband, however, favored a more New-England look for the rebuild.
In the end, says Aselin, the Sandhus and he settled on a style he calls New England Craftsman colonial, which, in this case, pairs clapboard with stone—particularly stone bases on the columns and a stone veneer up to the window sills.” It’s a timeless look that contrasts with the neighborhood brick and complements it at the same time. Inside the home, Aselin’s use of high-end interior millwork results in warm and intimate spaces, and Shakra, who became involved early on in the design-build process, incorporated built-ins in every room, like book shelves and window seats to create an ambience that is upscale but not so formal that it feels uncomfortable. Her approach, she says, “was to create a transitional vibe that was youthful and sophisticated, much like the homeowners themselves.”
Aselin visited the site before the old house was demolished and recommended Legacy Homes. “We were amazed by the quality of Legacy Homes’ beautiful designs and the wonderful sub-contractors they used,” says Surrinder. A discussion between Aselin and the Sandhus revolved around important aspects of the rebuild, like the arrangement of rooms (six beds and eight baths) on three floors, including an open-concept finished basement level and the flow from room to room. Of critical concern was where to locate the spacious kitchen, which is open to an eating area for daily gathering and a family room. Other important aspects of the architectural design program were primary suites on both the main floor (for aging-in-place parents) and upper level (for Surrinder and Michael), and office space for Michael that was convenient yet separated from public spaces.
Aselin chose to locate the main gathering spaces to take best advantage of the sunlight, capturing as much of it as possible to give them a brighter space than what they previously had. The generous amount of glazing has the added benefit of bringing the outside in. “No matter where you are, you feel like you’re connected to the outdoors,” says Michael. “I love that aspect of the house.”
Shakra shared this penchant for glass, and her suggestion to add even more windows to the hub area of the home—large ones, and some with transoms—was championed by all. The designer collaborated with Capital Kitchen and Bath on the beautiful and functional kitchen, where an expansive wall of drawers at the sink area and a generous island both mimic custom furniture pieces, and the commanding stove hood serves as the centerpiece of the space. Gray-veined Cambria “Brittanicca” quartz topping the island and used for the backsplash simulates the modern look of marble without the porous qualities of natural stone. “We were afraid marble would stain, as we use a lot of spices, like turmeric, in our cooking,” says Surrinder.
Instead, marble abundantly graces the two primary bathrooms, which, says Shakra, she designed to be “luxurious without feeling sterile.” In both rooms, 24-inch Calacatta marble tiles surround a slipper tub situated beneath a stunning chandelier—Waterford crystal in the first-floor setting and a modern Sputnik-style light on the second floor.
Shakra’s love of color and pushing the envelope played well with the homeowner’s leanings toward more neutral colors and a judicious use of glamour. “Emily helped us create a beautiful, transitional home with her creativity and flair for good design and color,” says Surrinder. “She was an amazing resource in picking out fabrics, paint colors and wallpapers, and she introduced us to fresh perspectives that we had never thought of before.”
The Sandhus had worked with Shakra on a refresh of their original home two years earlier, and they also admired her flair in their friends’ homes. “We respected Emily’s ability to make even the newest houses feel lived in, and how she could translate the homeowners’ lifestyle into settings that layered in color and texture,” says Surrinder, who also appreciated that the interior designer was “not bound to a single-design approach.”
Throughout the home, a palette of gray paint shades in different gradations, from greige to pewter, create a neutral yet warm backdrop against which Shakra introduced accent colors like navy, dusty rose and coral along with a variety of textures in the upholstery and custom window treatments by J&R Langley. Much of the furniture is from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Century and Company C, three American-made brands that align with the stylistic goals for the transitional home. Original art, from Manchester’s Art3 Gallery and some of it commissioned, offers a personal touch in many of the rooms.
As a team, Shakra and the homeowners made design decisions informed by getting to know one another, their personalities as well as their aesthetic preferences. The three of them visited the Boston Design Center together on several occasions and even traveled to North Carolina, home of some of the best and biggest furniture showrooms in the country. There, Shakra’s professional connections, particularly at Furnitureland South, helped them streamline the process of selecting furnishings for the nearly 10,000-square-foot home. “I knew the Sandhus’ style—classy, timeless, New England—and could easily point them in the right direction.”
The orientation taken by the home’s design is evident as soon as you step through the front door. “The large entryway sets the stage for what you’ll see throughout the house,” explains Shakra, noting that the scale and the color of the Moroccan tribal nomad carpet energizes the grand entry and pass-through. “All of the colors we used throughout the house are in that carpet,” she says, adding that it’s one of several in the home from Mir Sultan Oriental Rugs in Bedford. Two benches custom designed to fit under the long windows feature the work of local upholsterer and furniture designer Don Mavrikis.
On either side of the entryway sit the dining room and music room—spaces that exhibit restrained elegance before you get to the more relaxed kitchen and family room. “We wanted the dining room to be spectacular,” says Shakra, who zeroed in on a Maya Romanoff wall covering of intricately hand-inlaid, micro-thin wood veneer geometric shapes that capture and reflect light beautifully. To give the quiet-hued room a pop of color, they selected a painting from Robin Reynolds, whose exuberantly hued plein-air paintings also appear elsewhere in the house.
On the other side of the entry, the smaller music room echoes the dining room’s simple but upscale presence, with only a baby grand piano beneath a glimmering chandelier. The Sandhus’ daughter, an accomplished pianist, plays here when she’s home from college.
At the top of the main staircase, whose cladding of panels and molding give it a New England character, a cozy seating area beckons, its furnishings from Sherrill Furniture arranged on a contemporary abstract bamboo silk carpet from India and a commissioned Dana Boucher landscape painting. Similarly, the navy and white first-floor library is a comfortable retreat, with walls sheathed in gray Thibault grass cloth, Company C chairs and floor to ceiling built-in bookcases straddling a cushioned window seat, one of several in the house. Capital Kitchen and Bath built all of the home’s bookcases and window seats.
In Michael’s spacious office, Shakra wanted to surround the former merchant marine with things that were meaningful to him, like maritime memorabilia and artwork that references his love of sailing. Custom cabinetry houses file cabinets and a fax machine, leaving the rest of the room to be a sanctuary that’s pleasing to the eye and sometimes doubles as a family gathering space to watch movies. But the favorite place for the family to come together and relax is in the ground-level space with its 150-inch projector screen and stylish bar designed by Shakra after one she saw in New York City.
“We were quite happy in our old house,” says Michael of the 1980s-era abode they’d called home for 25 years. “We weren’t looking to change things; we were thrown into it. We’re fortunate that we connected with really good people and that they were so good throughout the whole process.”