Renovating a Kitchen in an Old Home

Kitchens were once workplaces designed to be hidden from living and entertaining areas. Today, parties often gravitate there.  

Kitchens have undergone a transformation to become open, airy hubs of the home. Owners of older homes often put a kitchen renovation at the very top of their wish lists because their outdated spaces no longer support modern lifestyles or cooking/food prep technology.

We have built many wonderful, modern kitchens in old homes (including our own). Many of the factors that give old homes character can create some unique challenges. Just a few of the special considerations include:
•    Out of level floors and walls that are not plumb
•    Framing members making it difficult to accommodate venting
•    Inadequate insulation, plumbing and electrical systems
•    Very low or very high ceiling heights
•    Unusual floor plans

Here’s how we met those challenges in a recent renovation for a family of four living in an 1850 home in Arlington, Massachusetts.


Arlington MA Kitchen Renovation

The kitchen was part of a wing that was separated from the main home. The room was quite small with numerous doors and openings breaking up the floor plan. Storage was very limited.

MA kitchen renovation before floorplan resized 600

Before Kitchen Floor Plan

Our client wanted an open layout to unite the dining room and kitchen, as well as the front and back of the home. The family wanted the look of the kitchen to be consistent with the rest of the house.


Renovating MA kitchen

Space previously allocated to a basement stairway and back pantry was incorporated into the kitchen. The new kitchen straddles a new addition and the existing home, creating an interesting challenge.

Modern framing sizes are different from those used a century ago. A new addition must adhere to current framing requirements. This means that the kitchen would have a different ceiling heights in different parts of the space unless we were clever with design. Instead of meeting in the middle of the kitchen, where the old and new sections of the house abutted, we decided to drop the existing ceiling down 2”, where the flooring surface changed in the foyer of the existing house. This way, ceiling height and flooring made a logical transition at the same place.

Arlington MA first floor plan after resized 600


Historic home kitchen renovation

kitchen remodeling progress photo

These shots were taken while we were finishing the kitchen and don’t fully capture the island with ample seating or pocket doors to the living room, but we hope they give you a sense of the finished space (professional photography will be coming soon!). We used traditional 6/6 (number and pattern of the lites) windows; a farmer’s sink; classic white cabinetry; Cambrian Black Antiqued Granite countertops and a Montauk Black Slate floor “runner” between the island and sink counter. These features help us to maintain the traditional comfort and character found throughout their home.

Our clients were happy to report the addition and renovation exceeded their expectations and fully met their goals: to build a home that fits with their current lifestyle with the traditional look and feel of the past.

Coming soon! Paul and Karen Morse’s personal story of their traditional to modern transformation.

Tags: Massachusetts remodeling, kitchen renovation, Massachusetts renovation, historic renovation

Arlington, MA Home Renovation Update: Final Installment

deck on Arlington, MA home renovation

This is the final installment in our monthly chronicle of a major historic home renovation and addition project in Arlington, MA. Our goal was  to go beyond "Before & After" photos to outline the many steps that go into a major renovation behind-the-scenes. The first installment laid out the scope of the project. If you missed it, you can read it here.


We began this major renovation project in the fall and completed in the spring. The homeowners have moved all their belongings back and are slowly unpacking and settling in. The kids are happy to be back home. They are waiting to have their friends visit until they have completed the transition.

The owners chose wonderful colors. When we walk into the house we feel welcomed and warm. When I asked if their home feels like they were hoping for, there was an unequivocal and resounding ‘Yes!'”

For a detailed description of some of the changes made, please read our February and January 2014 posts, as well as our 2013 posts in December, November and October. We're pleased to share a few of our own shots of the finished project. We look forward to sharing professional photographs, to be taken later this summer, after our son's wedding at the end of June.

If you have any questions, we welcome comments on our blog. If you would like to discuss a renovation for your home, please give me a call at

-- Paul Eric Morse

Arlington MA kitchen remodel

Arlington MA kitchen remodel scouting shot

Arlington, MA historic renovation

Arlington, MA bathroom remodel

shower in arlington, ma bathroom renovation

Tags: Massachusetts remodeling, Massachusetts renovation, Arlington MA home renovation

Morse Constructions Honored with Best of Houzz 2014 Award

MA Renovation Best of Houzz Design award  MA renovation Best of Houzz Satisfaction award

For the second consecutive year, Morse Constructions has been honored to receive a "Best of Houzz" award for both design and client satisfaction. is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, with 16 million monthly users.

Best of Houzz recognition is given to firms and professionals whose exemplary work or reviews have stood out for Houzz users. Morse Constructions has been recognized for both our design work and client satisfaction.

According to Houzz, design award winners' work was the most popular with Houzz users, who saved more than 230 million professional images of home interiors and exteriors to their personal ideabooks via the Houzz site. Client satisfaction awards were granted to Houzz pros based upon client reviews.

We are honored that 22 clients or professional associates took the time to post reviews of Morse Constructions on Houzz. Thank you to everyone who helped us earn the Best of Houzz designation!

Visit us on Houzz

Tags: Massachusetts remodeling, Massachusetts renovation, Morse Constructions News,, 2014 Best of Houzz

Popular Old Home Renovations


Do you live in one of the Boston area's wonderful older homes? If so, you may love your house's character and location, but yearn for spaces and a floorplan that are more suited to modern living. Here are four of the most popular renovations that we do to update older homes:

1. Opening  Up a Kitchen

Tired of a dark, cramped kitchen? Bring in light and open it up to the rest of the home by removing walls. If a wall is load-bearing and can’t be replaced by using a header beam, you may be able to get the open feel that you desire by using columns or a half wall.

If removing a wall is not an option, installing an interior window on the wall between the kitchen and an adjoining room makes the kitchen feel larger and gives it better sightlines. Doubling the width of the entryway or using archways instead of solid doors both achieve a similar effect.


 Boston kitchen Before     Boston kitchen renovation AFTER



2.  Repurposing a Basement or Attic

Finishing a basement or attic is a cost-effective way to gain additional living space without adding to your home’s footprint. Basements with a fieldstone foundation, significant moisture issues,  or low ceiling height are clearly not  good candidates for finished rooms. Otherwise, basements are fairly easy to remodel from a structural standpoint.  Most are sturdily built, offer easy access to utilities, and walls can always be added to simplify electrical wiring. Radiant heating can be installed below the floor to counteract cold, while well-designed lighting systems can replace natural light if windows are limited.

Renovating an attic can be a bit trickier.  Angled dormers can often be accommodated in the design of the space, but low ceilings pose a far more significant challenge. Most attics also do not have an adequate point of exit and entry, so a new or remodeled staircase will have to be added as part of the remodeling process. Most attics are also not built with floors that can withstand day-to-day living, so you will probably need to strengthen the joists and lay down sub-floor if you are converting it to a useable room.

 Morse Construction Attic Playroom resized 600

An underused attic was transformed into a light-filled playroom.


3.  Bringing the Outside In

If you can’t be oMorse Constructions bathroom renovationutside, the next best thing is seeing it. Windows, skylights and glass doors instantly make a room feel more spacious by drawing the eye to the outdoors and letting in light and air. Transoms above doorways may not frame a view, but they can be a wonderful way to share a room’s natural light with an adjacent space.

A skylight over a partial wall and porthole window flood this bathroom with natural light while establishing a connection with the outdoors.


5. Expanding to Accommodate Multiple Generations

Is an adult child coming back home or an elderly parent coming to live? You’ll probably need to renovate or add on to create additional living space. The space should feature:

Privacy with Proximity – Successful multi-generational living requires a fine balance between private and communal spaces. Separate entrances, morning bars or kitchenettes in bedroom suites, and sitting rooms provide much-needed privacy. A large, open kitchen/eating/living area is ideal when the family comes together.

Flexibility – Flexible spaces can be easily transformed to function for different purposes and ages. For example, an underused living room and sunroom may transition into a home office, then an in-law suite, then a space for an adult child who moves home, then an entertainment area.universal design hallway renovation

Universal Design -- Universal design works hand-in-hand with flexible spaces to create environments that are usable by all people. Hallways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair and zero entry thresholds are classic examples of universal design features.


The zero entry threshold to and from this sunny hallway makes the space easy to navigate for people of all ages and mobility.


Need more ideas? Contact us about your project!

Tags: home renovation, Historic Renovations, Massachusetts remodeling

Renovation Trends for 2013

The start of a new year always kicks off predictions from the experts about what we’ll be seeing in the next 12 months. Trend watchers in the home design and remodeling arena predict that the following will be popular in the year ahead:


Open spaces: Open, airy floor plans are in right now. Homeowners with older homes can Open floor plan renovationachieve the flow of an open floor plan by taking down walls. If you want to retain discrete rooms but yearn for a more open look, consider adding interior glass doors and windows to increase natural light.


Multi-generational housing:  New home builders report an increase in buyers for homes specifically designed for multi-generational living. Flexible, first-floor spaces; separate entrances; and larger kitchen and living areas coupled with more intimate private spaces are particularly popular with families blending several generations into one space.


Quartz countertops:  For a while, granite was the “go to” choice for kitchen counters. Now everybody is talking about quartz. The man-made stone is easy to care for, nearly indestructible and comes in a wide range of colors and patterns.


Going green:  More owners are opting for energy-efficient or chemical-free products in their homes.  Adding insulation, sealing air leaks, upgrading HVAC, using low VOC (volatile organic compound) products, low- and dual-flush toilets and energy-efficient LED lighting will be on many homeowners’ To-Do lists this year.


Hardwood:  Hardwood floors never went out of style, but now they are even cropping up in bathrooms, thanks to a growing range of pre-finished or engineered options. Pre-finished woods provide a very durable finish without the mess of on-site sanding. In addition, engineered wood floors work well with under-floor heating systems.


Streamlined bathrooms: With an emphasis on natural materials and lots of light, bathroom design is veering towards the minimalist this year. Simple, clutter-free vanities, wall-mounted toilets, single-basin sinks and simplified fixtures will all spruce up your bathroom in a new, modern way.



Tags: Massachusetts remodeling, remodeling trends

Does Green Remodeling Increase the Value of a Home?

Paul Morse, Morse ConstructionseGreen remodeling is a hot topic -- and one that Paul decided to address in his most recent blog post for Here's what he had to say:

Green remodeling and building is the hottest trend in the construction industry. McGraw-Hill Construction recently reported that the green homes share of the construction market is expected to rise as much as 38% by 2016.

Does this mean that more homes will sprout solar panels and feature bamboo flooring? Not necessarily.

Growth in green remodeling is being propelled by an interest in energy efficiency. Straightforward steps such as upgrading insulation and installing energy-efficient windows and appliances are considered “green remodeling”.  So is smart design to increase a home’s function without enlarging its footprint.

Most Boston homeowners want to go green to reduce their impact on the environment and live in healthier spaces, but they are pragmatic about it. Improvements to increase energy efficiency are popular because they lead to measurable payback and greater comfort. Sustainably harvested lumber, low VOC paints, and products made with recycled materials are typically embraced if the costs are comparable to traditional materials. Green products that are priced significantly higher than traditional materials are often dismissed.

The biggest change that I have seen in the past few years is the value that the homeowner now places on energy efficiency. Home designs and materials that minimize energy use are often a priority in renovation, rather than an afterthought.

Homeowners are willing to pay for greater energy efficiency during remodeling, but are they willing to pay more when a house is on the market? An article in the Chicago Tribune reported that green-labeled homes in California sold for 9% more than typical California homes. In Boston, where heating costs are so much higher, I’d like to think that energy-efficient, green homes are also worth more to homeowners, but I’m not sure that is the case yet. I don’t recall seeing many ads that tout low annual heating costs or space efficient designs as key selling features, but I’m optimistic this is the direction that we are heading.

Tags: Massachusetts remodeling, Paul Morse, green remodeling