Updating a Treasure

A dramatic refresh to a Hingham home leaves its 19th-century charm intact.

By Jaci Conry | Photography by Greg Premr

For nearly a decade, Demi and Tate Isenstadt loved living in their 1870s Greek Revival in Hingham. “During those years, it was a great house for us,” recalls Demi. The couple cherished the home’s historical architecture and its place in the vernacular of the town, which is revered for its trove of homes built during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

And yet, renovations in the 1930s and ’40s had obscured some of the home’s original details. The layout was choppy, some rooms were very small, there weren’t enough windows and, according to Demi, “There were parts that were a little funky, like they didn’t go with the house.”

Even though the house doubled in size, with its white clapboards, black shutters and cedar roof shingles, it fits within the historical context of the neighborhood.

The Isenstadts were ready for an overhaul that would expand the home and create airy, open living spaces. They spent years pondering how to do the renovation yet, when Demi learned she was pregnant with the couple’s third child, they immediately contracted LDa Architecture & Interiors. “LDa got the ball rolling. They really understood what we wanted to do, very quickly,” she says.

While the project centered on a complete overhaul of the house, the Isenstadts were passionate about maintaining its antique architectural qualities. LDa worked with them and the Hingham Historical Commission to ensure the updated structure met all of the family’s needs and was also in keeping with the town’s requirements for historic residential renovations.

“It’s an interesting challenge: how to make a small old house grow and live new but keep its charm,” says LDa principal architect John Day. The plan involved raising the house for a new foundation and taking down the additions that had been made in the 1940s and ’50s.

“We kept the original 1800s Greek Revival gabled façade on the right and designed a new gabled end that mirrored it on the left,” explains Day. A dormered gambrel section connects the two gabled ends.

Tate Isenstadt’s firm, TDI Building, was the builder on the project. “It’s a nice perk to be able to keep it in the family,” says Demi.

The house that had previously felt dark and often dreary is now filled with natural light, thanks to abundant windows and a spacious open floor plan. A top priority for the homeowners was that the kitchen and family room be open to one another. “The kitchen is in the same spot it was before, but it’s bigger and much more open. When we’re home, everyone is usually in here, at the kitchen table or in the family room, which is really nice,” says Demi. “I didn’t want to have doors separating any of the rooms on the main level,” she adds. Double-wide cased openings with trim work ensure that none of the living spaces feels closed off.

“It was very important to the Isenstadts that the house have a historic backdrop,” says Day. While the floor plan is open, the interior includes traditional beams and columns and gracious moldings and trim work that recall the design trends of the home’s original era.

LDa also worked on the interior design scheme. “We were going for a younger aesthetic than is typical in a traditional home,” says Day. Furnishings veer toward transitional style with a few more modern pieces and a handful of antiques, such as the dining room table, which belonged to Demi’s mother’s grandfather.

Bold hues introduced throughout the house make an immediate impact. “You don’t have to be married to color for the life of the house,” says architect John Day.

Since it’s a family home often filled with not only the three Isenstadt children but also a handful of their friends, it was essential that furnishings be informal. “Nothing could be too precious,” says Demi who chose to have walls on the main level painted a neutral gray.

Bold hues are introduced as accents. “Color is impactful; you don’t have to be married to it for the life of the house,” says Day. “You want to have the opportunity to update it without having to do significant work. It’s best to have color be the top layer—what is fresher and more fun can be updated as the family changes.” For example, a vanity in one of the bathrooms is painted a deep raspberry and tufted chairs in the living room are a bold shade of royal blue.

While the home nearly doubled in size, resulting in roughly 7,000 square feet, “it’s deceptively scaled,” says Day. “It doesn’t feel that big because we retained its historic proportions.” At two-and-a-half-stories tall, with a white clapboard exterior, black shutters and topped with a cedar shingle roof, the house sits within the context of the neighborhood as though it’s always been there.

“The renovation kept the style of the home so I feel like I still have my old house; it’s just better,” says Demi. “I am a homebody. I love being in my house. It’s cozy and inviting and warm: there’s no place I’d rather be.”

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