Architect Sam Kachmar Gave a Family Home a Vibrant Overhaul

Boston Home

A Cambridge Victorian last updated in the 1970s gets a top-to-bottom overhaul with an infusion of color.

/ Photo by Jared Kuzia

When architect Sam Kachmar’s client first approached him about updating her family’s Cambridge home five years ago, she knew it needed a lot of work—but she and her husband were hesitant to dump a bunch of money into it if it wasn’t their forever home. “I think we need fewer walls and an open floor plan,” she proposed. After eyeing her extensive art collection, Kachmar demurred: “I think you need more walls,” he told her. Yet the couple couldn’t seem to pull the trigger despite numerous design iterations; instead, they called to say they’d found a house that needed to be gut-renovated—could Kachmar look?

The 1897 Victorian in Cambridge’s Avon Hill neighborhood had charm and ample wall space. But it had been last renovated 50 years ago and looked it, with yellow toilets, bypass closet doors, and red-tile flooring. “It was groovy in that 1970s way that people aren’t looking for in this day and age,” Kachmar, a principal at Samuel Kachmar Architects, says. Not to mention, it was uninsulated, still had a lot of single-pane glass, and was the opposite of energy-efficient. It would need some serious TLC—but just how much wasn’t clear until they opened it up and discovered a mess. “We wondered, How did this thing stay up?” says Kachmar, who worked with lead designer Mike Fields. “Things were stitched together in a way that was not appropriate for a house of this level of grandeur.”

To meet the approval of the Cambridge Historical Commission, the plan was to keep as much of the historical character as possible in the front of the house, including the leaded-glass windowpanes, while they restored the interior. The most significant structural change the team proposed was to move the basement stairway from the back of the house to the front, connecting it to the main stairwell. As a result, you can stand in the basement and look all the way up to the primary suite on the third floor. “It gives you a nice sense of verticality in a house like this,” Kachmar says. It’s also practical: The walkout basement now hosts a cozy family room (as well as an office, guest suite, and exercise room), which is more easily accessible from the main living area.

A German Biedermeier table and Polonaise handknotted carpet welcome guests into the home. The grand staircase and original leaded-glass windows lend a historic feel to the entryway. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

The powder room paneling in Farrow & Ball’s “Lulworth Blue” matches the hue of the kitchen cabinetry (shown on the opening spread). / Photo by Jared Kuzia

The grand four-story staircase provides an elegant focal point upon entry to the home. To the right is the living room, and to the left is a dining room, mudroom, and kitchen. In the space vacated by the back stairwell, Kachmar added a powder room that adjoins the mudroom and kitchen. Schumacher’s “Chiang Mai Dragon” wallcovering in China Blue in the powder room was one of the first decisions the client made with interior designer Amanda Reid of Mandarina Studio. “That really drove the color palette for the rest of the house,” Reid says—including the kitchen cabinets in “Lulworth Blue” by Farrow & Ball, selected for its “fun and happy” vibe.

One of the couple’s priorities was to be able to access the backyard from the kitchen, so the team replaced dated windows with French doors, which open onto a newly landscaped bluestone patio with a plunge pool. A banquette, too, was a must: The client desired a spot for her two daughters to do their homework or eat breakfast that wasn’t at the kitchen island or in the formal dining room. The indoor-outdoor “Exotic Butterfly” patterned fabric by Schumacher brightens the space and accents the vivid blue cabinetry.

The owners wanted each of their daughters’ bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms to reflect her distinct personality with vivid colors and bold patterns. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

A sitting room on the third floor landing provides a cozy reading space between the primary bedroom and the bathroom and closet. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

Various shades of gray in the primary bathroom create a multidimensional atmosphere that feels fresh, clean, and curated. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

Upstairs, on the second floor, the color of the girls’ ensuite bedrooms reflects their personalities: one with softer pastels and the other with brighter, more vivacious hues. On the third floor, the primary suite includes a lounge space when you first walk up the stairs, with a sleeping area to the right and a bathroom—complete with a freestanding soaking tub, a curb-less shower, and a separate water closet—to the left.

The resulting design respects the home’s history. “It’s a blend of styles and eras,” Reid says, “which makes it feel like a cohesive plan and doesn’t interfere with the original architecture of the house.” More importantly, it realizes the client’s goal: to provide a fitting backdrop for her colorful art collection. Mission accomplished—and then some.

“It was a priority to introduce color into the spaces but ‘quietly’ so that [the owner’s] art collection could be showcased,” Reid says. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

Photo by Jared Kuzia


Reid typically steers clients toward a more sophisticated look when planning a child’s bathroom because children “inevitably grow,” she says with a laugh. “It’s one thing to change the bedding or wall color, but most people are not going to renovate a bathroom again in a couple of years—so you definitely want to design something that children can grow with.” For the younger daughter’s bathroom, for example, a flower-shaped mirror and delicate flower-shaped drawer pulls on the vanity subtly pick up on the pattern of her Galbraith & Paul bedroom drapery.

Sam Kachmar Architects

F.H. Perry

Interior Designer 
Mandarina Studio

Leaded-glass panels inspired the upper glass cabinetry in the dry bar outside the dining room. “I wanted it to look like a piece of furniture,” Reid says. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

First published in the print edition of Boston Home’s Spring 2024 issue, with the headline “A Tall Order.” 

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