LEDGEBROOK, NEWTON, MA 1986

The story of Ledgebrook begins with architectural forgery and an unrealized project.  These events led to the opportunity to develop a grand estate while sensitively preserving the site’s character. The Alexander House appeared on the cover of a magazine around 1980. Not too long after that, Frank DiMella, while out on a run (yes, Frank swore he was running) came across a house foundation being poured that looked strangely familiar.

In Frank’s own words: “As I jogged by while the footings were being poured, I recognized the floor plan of the Alexander House. Sure enough, up it rose and I told Rem about it. He swung by one morning as framing began and bumped into Jack Antaramian, who readily explained that he had seen the Alexander House published, liked it, and asked his architect to copy it (although not very gracefully!).  In any case, Rem was actually more flattered than upset.” Rem and Jack ended up having a pleasant conversation and they agreed to stay in touch. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Left: Alexander House, Marblehead, MA. Right: Antaramian House, Newton, MA.

Shortly afterward we got a “makeup” call from Mr. Antaramian.  He was looking at a project in Gloucester: Stillington Hall.  Stillington is a gorgeous mansion built in 1926 on a steep slope overlooking Gloucester Harbor. Check out both these links for the history and pictures:

A Summer Estate Preserved

Stillington Hall Is Revamped and Ready To Go

The owner was looking to redevelop the property. Jack was interested and asked us to develop a concept for it. The style of Stillington Hall–Tudor with a stone base and half-timbered gables–had enamored Jack. Like Shadow Farm, we developed a clustered housing concept that drew its inspiration from the house, incorporating tan split-face concrete masonry for the base, white vertical tongue and groove siding with brown accents and latticed brown gables. Unfortunately, the project would remain only a concept, as developments often do, but Jack Antaramian kept Huygens and DiMella in mind for future enterprises.

Left: Stillington Hall Site Plan. Right: Preliminary Renderings. Click to enlarge.

When the 1920s Ledgebrook estate came up for sale in Newton in 1984, Jack again called Frank and asked the firm to do a plan for its redevelopment, specifically that the design be similar to Stillington Hall, since he had been quite taken with it.  It was always curious to me, as nice as it was, that Ledgebrook was Tudor in its character when the 1920’s mansion was clearly Colonial Revival (see top photo).  The firm had always used the design character of the main estate house as a starting point for architecture of the new buildings, but here, the style was intentionally shifted.   You learn that fulfilling the client’s wishes is one of the ways to stay in business.

The genius of Ledgebrook is in the site planning.  A 1989 article in Builder Magazine stated, “In a time when there is an increasing concern for environmental preservation and a growing resentment toward development, this project provides an important message: It is possible to build and still protect an existing site.”  The sweeping lawn up to the main house is maintained free of buildings; the only notable change to the street view is the sign. Meanwhile, 40 units are sensitively tucked into the woods, gently peering out here and there, while creating intimate motor courts.

Site Plan.

The architecture evolved directly from the Stillington Tudor concept, further refined in both details and clarity of the rendering (below). No more than five units are in any one building, and as we have seen previously, each is designed as a complete building and not five separate townhouses joined together. The units are all oriented to look out to the woods and not to each other, as shown in the recent photo below.

Rendering from the Sales Brochure.

Wooded views for each unit.

In addition to the skill exhibited in the overall site planning, the courtyards are carefully planned and scaled. The target market (affluent empty nesters desiring a comfortable lifestyle and more cars) influenced the decision to build more garages than at a project like Shadow Farm, completed just five years earlier. Here, careful scaling, massing and positioning diminish their visual impact. Some garages are grouped to visually extend the buildings in a way not possible with only the residential program. The consistent color palette and details calm the composition and one’s eye is naturally drawn to the white areas, which are the smallest on the garages. The overall effect of the roof pitch, scaling of the wall elements at one and a half stories, and lattice fences is reminiscent of a Cotswold Village.

Thirty years later the landscape has grown in and I want to share with you how pleasant these courts are today, even though they accommodate our love affair with the automobile. It just goes to show you that cluster housing done right is a very nice place to live. Below are four photographs that capture the character and variety of these courts. A big thank you to my colleague Rob Shearer, who has eagerly trekked around getting these updated images of all the projects so I can share how they have gotten better with the passage of time.

Using the garages to extend the sense of enclosure.

The Cotswold scale, with lattice enclosures.

Recessing second garage door under a “porch” reduces the impact of two car garages.

Mature planting creates an intimate scale.

These projects don’t get resolved to this level without the contributions of numerous people. Terry Cracknell’s renderings were always a guiding light for the design. Even if they were fuzzy, Rem would say everything we needed to know to finalize the design was in those renderings. Jane Hewitson was the project manager and people in the office always raved about Jane’s beautiful wall sections. They were beautifully drawn and for the detail-oriented readers I wanted to share some of her work. Note how much information is communicated so clearly. The drawings are aligned  to show the relationship of the parts with special conditions captured in the margins.

Click to enlarge.

While perusing the working drawing set for Jane’s drawings, I came across this beautiful construction drawing below. The whole design for the Guard House is laid out on one sheet, including landscaping, elevations, plans, and details. There is no question how it should be built. It is all immediately understood. The drawing is signed “DMD,” who we know as Diane Miller Dooley, my partner. Diane, do you remember doing this drawing? Was Ames Fender riding your coattails? This is a fantastic example of how it should be done, and a reminder to sign your drawings and be proud of your work.

Click to enlarge.

Although the first meeting was a little awkward, Jack Antaramian became a client and friend of the firm, commissioning an office building and housing at Newton Corner, the Village Falls Condominiums, a design for Jack’s second house in Newton, and ultimately assisting him with a concept for Spinnaker Pointe on Marco Island when he moved his activities to Florida.

Ledgebrook would go on to win several awards, including a BSA Housing Award and a Merit Award in the Builder’s Choice Awards where the jury commented that “We thought the preservation of the existing site plan and the execution of the condominium buildings came off well and maintained the scale and stature of the estate.” This success of Ledgebrook, built upon the earlier design for Stillington Hall, proves that sometimes, second time’s the charm.