We're often asked why, with abundant opportunities to design new houses, we take on renovation projects. To us, the answer is simple: we learn so much from mid-century modern homes. They allow us to continue to improve our own skill set and grow as designers.
Recently, we had clients who asked for our help in restoring one of architect Henry Hoover’s greatest projects in Weston, MA. The home, built in 1958 for Kenneth and Polly Germeshausen, was designed relatively late in his career after he had absorbed many influences, including mid-century California design and style. In this house, he took a softer approach than he had with earlier houses. This can be seen in the gable roof and extensive use of California redwood and Douglas fir with a natural finish both inside and out. This is a wonderful contrast to his earlier work and that of other modernists, like Walter Gropius, whose houses can feel cold and harsh. He also paid careful attention to orienting the large window to catch the winter sun, with generous overhangs to keep the bright summer sun out.
Aside from the usual wear and tear that comes with time, this house also had some major imperfections that needed to be addressed. Fortunately, our clients had lived in the house long enough to appreciate its unique beauty. They saw the importance of preserving the original aesthetics while acknowledging the need for some updates to fit the home to their needs and make it a more comfortable space to live in. The floor of the original house was poured concrete slab on grade with no vapor barrier or insulation below. This made the house not only expensive to heat, but even when the indoor heating system was turned on, the radiant cold from the floors made the house uncomfortable. Ready to take on the challenge, we only saw one way to solve this problem: remove the existing tile floor and associated mortar bed and put down rigid insulation, new radiant heat, and stone floor. At the recommendation of our client, we topped the concrete floors with 12” x 24” mottled purple and green slate from Vermont Structural Slate, which beautifully complements the warm tones of the wood and the green tile installed in the dining room 6 years prior, but also radiates the heat from the floor slabs. The bathrooms needed work too, and what could be better than poured concrete counters, chosen by the client and sourced from Stone Soup Concrete in Easthampton, MA, complemented with authentic mid-century tile? The tiles, created by the Heath Ceramics Company (founded in the 1950’s), have a beautifully crafted appearance. Each tile is hand glazed, giving each a slight variation. The unique quality of these ceramic pieces gave the home a very personal touch. In addition, all of the original window frames for the house were original custom made Douglas fir, with aluminum casement sash. It was also the client’s idea to work with raw aluminum for all of the finishes in order to stay with, and respect, the materials used in the original design of the home. Raw aluminum became popular after WWII, as designers took advantage of the wartime aircraft industry's need to convert to the consumer market. The aluminum windows, along with cabinet and door hardware, share the same raw aluminum finish. The windows were sent to be dipped in solvent to remove 50 years of grime and the original unfinished aluminum pulls were used for the cabinets and closet doors. All interior woodwork was stripped and then an oil-rubbed finish was applied to bring out the natural warmth of the wood.
Mission accomplished! A gem of a house is beautifully restored, with updated finishes that respect the original design. The client’s great taste, dedication to the process and appreciation of the original materials, design, and aesthetic make this home a truly beautiful and personal space. To live in the house now is so comfortable with the winter sun shining in; it is truly "architecture of the well tuned environment."
Text by Colin Flavin, AIA