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 Owners of older homes often put a kitchen renovation at the very top of their wish lists because their outdated spaces no longer support modern lifestyles or cooking/food prep technology.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

The Secret to Successful Home Renovations

In early 2014, we published a quick guide called "How to Plan a Successful Renovation". In it, we shared the story of a gentleman who contacted us two weeks before Christmas to inquire about renovating a bathroom as a Christmas gift for his wife. It would have been a wonderful gift -- if he (and his wife) started planning the renovation months earlier.

Successful renovations depend upon careful planning and collaboration. It is a recipe for trouble to rush the process. (We also think it is a recipe for trouble to surprise a spouse, partner or roommate with a renovation that does not incorporate his or her input, but that is a discussion for another day.)

What are the secrets for successful home renovations? Take a look at our guide on the topic and this recent Houzz Ideabook by Toronto architect Jeffrey Veffer. He makes some great points! To read the full article on a single page on the Houzz website (as opposed to the excerpted slide show mode shown here), just click any photo.


Plesae give us a call at 617-666-4460 or email Paul if you have any questions or would like to discuss your project.

Tags: home renovation, Boston renovation, renovation guides, Massachusetts renovation

How to Plan a Successful Renovation

What's the #1 renovation mistake? We feel it is not allowing enough time for careful planning.

Planning is essential for a project that stays on schedule, within budget, and successfully transforms your home. Upfront planning includes: Planning a Successful Renovation guide

  • Considering function and aesthetics for the renovation
  • Creating a master plan for this and future renovations
  • Establishing a realistic budget
  • Understanding local building and historic commission regulations
  • Designing a renovation that achieves your goals within your budget
  • Selecting finishes, hardware and other items
  • Setting realistic schedules

To find out more, please read our free guide on planning a successful renovation. You may download the 8-page PDF guide at the link below.

If you have questions or would like to discuss a possible project, please email Paul or call us at. Now is the perfect time to plan your summer renovations!


Download Planning a Successful Renovation



Tags: renovation ideas, renovation guides, renovation ebooks, Massachusetts 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

Design/Build Partner Spotlight: Lisa Wasserman Sivan

Boston area kitchen renovation

Morse Constructions is a design/build firm.  This means that you may choose us for all services from initial design, to construction, to finishing touches instead of hiring separate services from an architect, space planner and/or interior designer.

We assemble a design team that is best suited to your goals and your project. One of our Lisa Wasserman Sivanmost frequent collaborators is Lisa Wasserman Sivan.  Lisa and Morse first worked together years ago to create an open, airy kitchen/mudroom in a West Newton home (see photo above). Currently, we are collaborating on a Somerville condo renovation and a whole house renovation/addition for an historic residence in Arlington.

How does the design/build collaboration work? What are the advantages? We asked Lisa to share her perspective with our readers in the following Q & A.

Q: Thanks for joining us, Lisa. You and Morse Constructions have worked well together on a number of projects. What do you feel is the secret to this effective design/build collaboration?

A: It has a lot to do with listening and communicating with the homeowner and the whole team. Everybody comes to the table with different expertise and ideas. If you respect this, then everybody is working together toward a shared vision. This leads to more creative ideas because different perspectives are incorporated. The end result is fresh, creative and innovative.

Q: Are you finished your job when construction begins?

A: When I collaborate with Morse Constructions, the services are completely integrated from beginning to end of the project. During the design phase, there is a lot of give-and-take to make sure that designs can be constructed within the budget. Sometimes we save money through smart building, which opens up more design options. There’s always movement and flexibility between design and construction. When building begins, the collaboration continues. We work as a team until the vision is fully realized.

Q: What are the advantages to the homeowner with design/build?

A:  Since the designer and builder are working together from the outset, you know that what is designed is achievable within the established budget. There are a lot of checks and balances that are built in to the system, so you’re going to know exactly what to expect every step of the way. You’re also going to have a team that works together, rather than protecting turf. I think this is the most effective way to realize a vision and create highly functional, imaginative design.

Q: Do you stay involved after construction to help clients with finish selections and furnishings?

A: It is up to the client. Some homeowners want to select their own paint colors, light fixtures and so on. Others want help creating finished spaces. I have some projects that are purely interior design.

Read more about Morse’s six-step design/build process or contact us for more information.


Tags: Massachusetts renovation, design/build, architectural design