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A tiny Cambridge house gets a big renovation.

By Jaci Conry
March 20, 2011

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Three years ago, when Dee Elms and her husband, Doug Brown, first saw the single-family Cambridge house that would become their home, “it was a three-room wreck,” says Elms, a principal in Boston interior design firm Terrat Elms. But the $300,000 asking price was right, the neighborhood was charming, and the 590-square-foot house was sited on a corner lot close to a park, so the couple signed on the dotted line and jumped into a major renovation project.

Built in 1870 with one level of living space, the house had just one bathroom “with a stall shower, no sink, and no heat,” says Elms. The couple completely revamped the main floor, turning the bathroom into a powder room, and added a second floor with two bedrooms and a full bathroom. They also converted the basement – initially a wet, dismal space – into a livable floor, complete with an office, a room used as a bedroom, and a full bathroom. “Even though it’s below grade, we were able to put in a large window,” says Elms. “And the whole area has radiant-floor heat, so it feels really comfortable.”

The main level encompasses the home’s kitchen, living, and dining spaces, all open to one another. “We went with an open floor plan because that’s how we like to live,” says Elms, who adds that the design helps maximize space more than a series of compact rooms could. The couple also relocated the kitchen to the spot where the original structure’s sole bedroom was and opened up the ceiling to 15 feet “to give the space a big, dramatic feel,” says Elms. White cabinetry and an island were custom made for the room, and the couple chose 2-inch-thick Carrara marble for the counters. Five-inch-wide oak boards, stained dark to look like walnut, cover the floors.

Other additions include reclaimed-wood beams for the first-floor ceiling and a cozy breakfast nook created from space under the stairway to the second story. While Elms and Brown wanted the interior to exude a richness, they were also cost-conscious: Brown did a portion of the work himself, and they found some materials at reduced prices at the Building Materials Resource Center in Roxbury. Among the finds were the kitchen’s pendant light fixtures and the backsplash’s oversize subway tile.

“When we bought the house, it was the smallest house in the neighborhood,” says Brown. “At just 1,365 square feet, it’s still the smallest, but it’s got everything you have in a large house, just in a smaller footprint.”

  • March 20, 2011 cover
  • March 20 cover
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