The 1948 Colonial-style house that architect Andrea Zaff and her husband, Pierre Azoulay, purchased in 2010 was modest, and they liked it that way. Drawn to stripped-down forms, original details, and natural light, they knew the three-bedroom house in Newton, Massachusetts, was the perfect starting point. “We recognized the potential for us to expand and modernize while touching little in the existing parts of the house,” says Zaff. “We have modern tastes, but we like old.”
Zaff drew up plans for an addition to the back of the house after the family, which includes the couple’s daughters, Sivan and Orli, who are now 10 and 8, respectively, spent close to two years living there. They discovered that the house lacked a family-centric kitchen and a connection to the outdoors. Instead of the unremarkable, albeit functional, kitchen typical of the era the house was built in, the couple wanted an expansive, light-filled cooking and dining space that would be the focal point of their home lives. “To us, cooking and eating are intertwined with family and friends,” Zaff says.
As a student at Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture in Chicago, Zaff spent most of her time in the school’s Modernist glass-and-steel masterpiece designed in 1956 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The experience had a lasting effect. She recalls being tucked away inside, admiring aspects of every season — foliage, snow, lightning storms. “It was always beautiful,” she says. “I contemplated how to achieve that same feel in our center-hall Colonial.”
The facade of the house is unchanged, and the interior layout remains intact, but Zaff has introduced an airy palette and Modern vibe that belie its traditional roots.
The living room boasts a black leather sofa by B&B Italia, two leather-and-walnut lounge chairs by Swedish-Mexican designer Alexander Andersson for Luteca, and a Noguchi coffee table with a walnut base. The fireplace, with its painted wood mantel, brick surround, and plain plate-glass mirror above, is an uncomplicated foil to the furnishings’ strong, sophisticated silhouettes. The Turkish rug, which provides color and levity, was chosen by Zaff at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul while her husband, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, taught a course elsewhere in the city.
An original Vernor Panton Capiz shell chandelier, plucked from Azoulay’s childhood home, punctuates the dining room turned sitting room. The room melds into the pantry, boundaries blurred by clear glass display cabinets that Azoulay’s mother rearranges each time she visits from France. An ancillary island shoots into the new kitchen, reinforcing how Zaff pushed through the walls to create the almost 1,700-square-foot addition.
In the kitchen, a 16-foot-plus island has a honed quartzite countertop that holds two sinks and a BlueStar gas cooktop, and incorporates an elevated wood-topped section for eating. Parallel is an almost 21-foot-long floating birch banquette, half of which is inset with cushions. It’s where the girls sit and read and Zaff drinks her morning coffee. It is positioned under the row of five identically sized large windows that line the back of the house, which Zaff calls “a study of balance.”
Jonah Zuckerman of City Joinery in Holyoke, Massachusetts, made the custom maple table on a steel trestle base. On holidays, a folding table is added to take advantage of the seating on the other half of the bench. “Growing up, we had Thanksgiving with the kids’ table sticking out into another room,” Zaff says. “It’s nice to be able to have everyone in one space.”
Every element, including the horizontally oriented matte-white cabinetry by Eggersmann, a German company with a showroom in New York, and details such as the wood-lined niche carved into the back of the island contributes to the linear flow.
As important as bringing sunshine indoors was providing easy access to the outdoors. Zaff’s design incorporates two sets of 7-foot-wide French doors at each end of the banquette. One opens onto a back deck that replaced an enclosed porch and the other onto a side patio with modern plantings and a pergola.
Only a third of the addition has a second story. It houses the new master suite. The master bath, like the powder room on the first floor, is executed in Zaff’s pared-down aesthetic, with elongated forms, half walls with ambient lighting, and smooth expanses of wood, tile, and marble. Of the showpiece linear wash basin with two spigots, Zaff says: “I really wanted it, but we both use the same faucet. You never really know what will work until you live with it.”
All in all, that tiny detail may be Zaff’s sole misstep. Her work is symbiotic with the home’s Colonial simplicity yet altogether fresh and current. Zaff’s allegiance to the Midcentury Modern masters that informed her training shines through. “We never close the shades in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s wonderful in every season, just like in Chicago.”
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