Brookline's 29 Thorndike Street and the Newly Changing Backdrop to Urban Development
By Madison Silvers, Divine Design Center
November 15th, 2017
As we see the seasons begin to change, and a new year upon us, Divine Design Center shares exciting news: the Divine Battery Wharf showroom, which plays host to a barrage of award-winning designers and architects, celebrates a recent win for the international Global Kitchen Design competition. The Global Kitchen Design Award, sponsored by German cabinet-makers Leicht Kitchens, is polled from over 1,000 designs globally. Fortunately, our collaboration with Chadi Kawkabani and Francke I French Architects on the renovation of 29 Thorndike Street, an architecturally-significant single-family home located in Brookline's Coolidge Corner, showcased the best in Boston’s German cabinetry applications, and provided the win for the best in American Leicht kitchens. While Divine Design Center’s senior designer Samantha DeMarco worked closely with Chadi and Francke I French in supplying sleek, modern imported cabinets for this riveting Dutch colonial’s reconstruction, we wanted to sit down with Chadi and Matthew Francke of Francke I French, two key players in this renovation’s success, to understand how modern development projects fit into an evolving Boston landscape.
Divine Design Center (DDC): Explain your background in design and/or development + building:
Chadi Kawkabani (CK): My name is Chadi Kawkabani. I am a developer, and a custom builder. So, we custom build homes for people, and we also develop properties for sale.
Matthew Francke (MF): In 2001, I graduated with a professional degree in Architecture from Roger Williams University. I worked in Providence for about six years, before moving to Boston, where I began working at CBT Architects. It was at CBT that I met my future business partner Monte French, whom I worked alongside on a number of large scale mixed use developments here in Boston. In 2011, I left CBT and had the pleasure of working for Moshe Safdie Architects on one of the largest mixed use developments in the World. During my tenure at Safdie Architects, Monte had broken away and started his own firm, and before long in 2014, we had partnered up and Francke | French Architects was born. The combination of our experience through the years canvases just about all project types, sizes and services.
DDC: How did you find yourself as a developer working on the reconstruction of 29 Thorndike Street?
CK: We are always looking for interesting projects to dive into. And, this property came onto the market, or actually a family was looking to sell it. It had been with the family for decades. With time, though, the house was sort of stripped of its charm. Therefore, it needed a lot of work. So, we thought it was a challenging project to get into. It was a 2,500-square-foot house that we turned into roughly 4,800 square feet. The house was a Dutch colonial style, and it sort of sat on the lot in a strange way. It was challenging to work with the layout of the land. So, after speaking with our architects, we found that the best way to renovate this home was to take the house’s traditional Dutch colonial looks and add to it in a more modern, Swedish look.
DDC: For the 29 Thorndike Street project, what was your immediate vision for the project, and how do you think that integrated into the ultimate needs of the developer?
MF: There isn’t always an immediate vision at first sight, or at least not an immediate vision that is entirely preserved through the design process, but in this case there was. We knew the existing home was over a century old, but when viewed at first sight, you wouldn’t know it. It was clearly and categorically a Dutch Colonial style, but had been stripped at some point of all of its distinguishing characteristics and period details, with the exception of the gambrel roof. Thus, it became immediately evident to give this poor home some of its original personality back, so it would stand proud amongst its neighbors again. This restoration became the primary driver, and we wanted to celebrate that effort. So, when faced with integrating a new addition, we decided that rather than add an addition that is perceived as a replication of a historic building typology that blurs the authenticity of this structure as it was originally conceived, we would create a contrasting composition that embraces the historic home and distinguishes itself as a reflection of now.
The ultimate needs of the developer is to sell their investment point blank. There is a lot at stake, and a lot of risk on their behalf, and as such, it is always our goal to appeal to a large enough group of interest. We accomplish this through thoughtful and deliberate execution, an attention to detail, and a design that is truly unique.
DDC: What do you think modern design adds on this project, and similar projects you are working on?
MF: The word modern can come with connotations that can have negative or over bearing meaning, or maybe thought of as “out of the ordinary”. To me, modern is really just reflecting the present time, current functional requirements, our current technologies, current building methods and materials, current cost trends, and current philosophies amongst many more. It is the conception and formulation of new ideas and imagination to keep up with the times. For instance, as I understand it, the Dutch colonial became popular in the 1920’s because the gambrel roof shape allowed for a very cost effective full height second floor, i.e. circa 1920’s current cost efficiency, functional requirements, building methods and technology. Therefore, the Dutch Colonial during those times was also “modern”, breaking away from its colonial revival predecessor. We are just doing the same for the 2010’s, and as such, many people embrace it.
DDC: How do you think Boston is responding to the integration of modern design within such a traditional landscape of taste?
CK: Boston is a traditional place usually. You have a lot of red brick and New England colonial homes. So, what we try to do is look at the neighborhood and see what the people want. And, what we also try and do is see what people want both inside and outside of the home. A lot of times, we try and blend both. We also pull from experience with custom homes. Because, a lot of times we have a real strong pulse with what is happening when people are building for themselves, and that’s when they really have the choice to build what they want. So, a lot of developers, for instance, try to do these cookie-cutter homes with specific styles and specific layouts, because they don’t want to take too much risk. They want to appeal to the masses. And a lot of times, the taste changes. Sometimes, developers won’t change with that [evolving taste], or they won’t change as quickly as they should. However, our experience with building and as builders, we have a closer pulse to when things are changing and to what they want. We felt like with this property and with the specific demographics in the area, there was a need for something a little bit more modern. And, some of our developer friends were a little bit surprised by that. We were taking a risk by going more modern. But, we felt that we had a specific demographic in mind when we built this house. Along with a net of other, similar demographics as well. So, we decided that we will take a chance on this, and it really paid off. The buyer was very close to what we had imagined the potential buyer to be.
MF: Different strokes for different folks, it just wouldn’t be natural any other way. There should always be areas of preservation, and areas of evolution, with folks on both sides to protect and enforce them, Boston has it all.
DDC: What do you think modern, European cabinetry adds to your projects that American carpentry might not?
CK: The quality of the product is wonderful. The design and the sensibility that comes with that stands out. A lot of people, what they do when they walk in is go, “oh wow.” You know, like a retail shopper. They will walk in and love something, but they won’t know why. And, a lot of times, it’s in the small details. Whether it’s with the kitchen cabinets, or doing the flooring, or the angles you take when you are designing a stair: a small curve versus a ninety degree angle. A lot of those details have to be thought of in advance. These details are considered in this project’s cabinetry.
MF: Modern design trends when compared to more historic design is really about the stripping of ornament in my opinion. It’s about simple and clean lines with visual bare necessity. Europe has definitely influenced the traditional kitchen here, and we are seeing this really proliferate among our clients who have a strong conviction for the European modern cabinetry. Now that is speaking purely of aesthetic, the cabinet systems that we employ from European manufacturers are also leaps and bounds more efficient and truly user friendly. Cabinetry has really evolved from boxes with shelves that hold stacks of plates and glasses, to a new level of humanistic design and engineering that puts items in the perfect place and with the least amount of waste in terms of space and function. They have been designed to a level we see in our new vehicles, or our anatomically correct office chairs.
DDC: What was your experience working with Divine Design Center?
CK: Working with Divine is great. The team is wonderful, and they are proactive. They are receptive, and they understand what we do. They are very customer-centric. The product is shipped from overseas, which takes time. Divine understands that, and they understand how that stands out from us going and sourcing the product locally. So, a lot of times, they look at our schedule and try and accommodate that schedule. And if there are surprises, which there always are with building, sometimes you don’t have that luxury to fix things. But, I have to say, that with Divine, when there were surprises, they were able to get things shipped via air in order to meet our timelines. And in order to meet with our schedule, they were very responsive to our needs. Which is very important to us as developers and as builders.
MF: Divine Design Center has a tremendous staff of support and expertise. We enjoy working with them because we know that with a few drawings and a phone call, they will take the ball and return a fantastic and full service product. That makes our clients happy, which in turn, makes us happy, and look forward to work with them again.
Mariette Barsoum and her company Divine Design Center have offered developers luxury, European cabinetry at cost-effective rates since 2004.
Subsequently, Divine Design Center, a woman, minority owned business, has provided Boston’s multiplying developments with premium quality kitchens, wardrobes and bathrooms suitable to expanding buyer’s demands that permeate the metropolitan area.
Apart from their 8,000 square foot modern + transitional European showroom which showcases the before mentioned, Divine is heralded for their:
• Top quality product with global name recognition
• Value engineering
• Developer-only pricing through exclusive partnerships
with our European manufacturing partners
• Detailed plans
• Local, competent support
• Strict adherence to budget
• Reliable deliveries
• High end design services at no additional cost with
Boston’s top design team
• 3D photo realistic rendering to pre-sell units
• Financing to qualified developers
Increase the value of your units under development via Divine’s modern, European manufacturers. Garner the pre-sale of your project’s units well before completion with cabinetry that exudes seamless design and beautiful finishes. Our quality, cost-effective cabinets + Boston’s top design team emanate the best solution for your development’s needs.Divine Design Center >>