Louis' Design Articles,  New England Home

Copper Box with Green Roof



What if we lived in a world of and instead of but?

That’s the world in which Adolfo Perez, architect, and Nathalie Ducrest, designer, created such a world in this Brookline addition.

What is essentially a large new living room called for these two professionals to resolve any number of seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. Though they had never worked together before, they found themselves flowing with the ands while moving right past the buts that can trip up others.

For example, the 1,200-square foot addition has a fresh, optimistic, modern look on the outside and at the same time an exterior in sync with the Craftsman style main house and the zealously-guarded Historic District in which it finds itself. The interior has minimalistic lines making it easy to maintain and at the same time organic shapes and rhythmic patterns animating it throughout.

It has action-packed custom foosball, billiards, and ping-pong tables and at the same time a quiet space given to reflection. It’s more inviting for a teen sleep-over than the cut-up formal room on the second floor of the main house, and it’s an easy place for adults to entertain, as its sliding doors open on the lower terrace.

“Ultimately, for the owners, the space felt both intimate and large, which is what they wanted perhaps most of all,” says Ducrest.

The challenge was to make all these ands work out, to put the and in the addition

Most clients seek out the Newton, MA-based, GSD-trained Perez for modern — modern, that is, on the inside only. These Brookline homeowners were different: they wanted inside and out. European in background, they were comfortable with the idea of modern and traditional side-by-side. Not so the local preservation committee, who gave Perez a list of historically appropriate materials. Two of those materials caught his eye: steel windows and copper siding, a formulation for an industrial look, now arguably historic in this post-modern era.

Stucco matching the house would have been cheaper, but Perez chose the low-profile steel windows and doors and the copper siding. He pushed both towards more oxidation rather than less, which will result in rich, rust-proof patinas on the sides of the addition. Cladding the roof in copper would have been exorbitant, he says. However, flat roofs have always posed a kind of aesthetic challenge, how to make them beautiful. Perez’s solution was a green roof, on which a grid of 12 x 12-inch trays grows carpets of sedum and other plants year-round, or by the season.

To stay consistent with the industrial look of the outside, Perez’s clients wanted the interior walls to clad in concrete. That gave him pause. Repainting scuff marks would have been cheaper, he suggested. Concrete must be thick, around ten inches, is hard to detail, and prone to cracking. But the clients remained firm. It was up to Perez to find the and ­— massive like concrete and thin, easy to detail and maintain.

Here, high-tech came to the rescue in the form of Neolith, ½ inch thick, 5 x 10-foot sheets of man-made stone. “We templated every sheet, sending them back to the manufacturer in Spain. This took some time,” recalls Ducrest. We did the floors in a ceramic tile with the warmth of wood. You can just wipe it off. There’s no paint anywhere. The whole idea was to leave a blank canvas. To that end, owners have the option of using the barn doors and automatic curtains to seal off the sitting room from the mudroom.”

To enter, you can drive in a J-shaped loop around the main house to double garage doors where, to your right, you’ll find the steel-clad entrance door to the addition, or what Ducrest amiably refers to as the “copper box.” There in front of you, framed by sheets of Neolith, is a console Ducrest commissioned from the French sculptor Mathilde Penicaud.

The console’s steel surface and concrete base compliment Perez’s minimalist materials, and at the same time break up the formal geometry of the design with a kind of syncopated rhythm. Ducrest elaborated on this theme with Perez’s custom-made lighting circles that not only move up and down but dance from one area to the next, tying them together.

From the entry, veering left in a clockwise loop, you go through Perez’s 750-foot gut renovation of the main house basement: first the garage stairs and entry, proceeded by a new mudroom, laundry room, bath, and playroom. .Stepping down one flight, there’s the sitting room, featuring a three-sided fireplace, an iconic bubble chair for meditation. In the center, Ducrest spec’d an “On the Rocks” chenille-covered sofa by Edra which afforded her the ability “to play around with the sections like a big puzzle” and for the sitters to observe all the action in the round.

From the bubble chair and fireplace, one can see an outdoor kitchen to the far left, the upper terrace straight in front, a firepit to the right, and the lower terrace beyond the sliding doors of the sitting room, all skillfully arranged by Gregory Lombardi Design in Cambridge, MA.

With one more turn in this clockwise loop, you return to the entrance, set off by the steel surfaced console. This marks the end and the beginning of the tour, a copper-clad world that feels both straight-lined and organic, modern and traditional, large and intimate.

Well done.

by Louis Postel for New England Home, c 2017