Small Space Renovation: Living Large in a Small Space

Even renovation professionals live in homes that are sometimes less than perfect. Paul and Karen Morse, founders of Morse Constructions, treasured their Cambridge home, despite a first floor that didn’t make the most of the available space.

Paul and Karen are deeply involved in their community and had no desire to ever move. After decades helping clients to renovate homes so they could “stay put,” Paul and Karen knew that the time had come to become their own client.

Paul and Karen Morse

The traditional first floor plan and furnishings in their Victorian home were no longer working for the Morses. Paul and Karen identified a long list of ambitious goals for the space, including:

  • Create serene, uncluttered, open space

  • Create flexible spaces to serve multiple purposes at any time without a great deal of work

  • Create spaces ideal for entertaining

  • Support aging-in-place with special features and a floor plan that could be easily adapted to accommodate one floor living

  • Improve the energy efficiency and comfort

  • Re-use as much as possible to minimize waste

  • Flood spaces with natural light

  • Create a highly functional entryway that serves multiple purposes and minimizes clutter

Morse Constructions collaborated with Barbara Hirsch of Elza B. Design to make sure that the floor plan and furnishings worked together to create the peaceful, unencumbered, flexible, open spaces that were central to Paul’s and Karen’s vision.



Morse Constructions Before Floor Plan


Morse Constructions After Floor Plan

Working within the existing footprint, the team first looked at the floor plan to create the flexible, open spaces that Paul and Karen wanted. Small changes delivered big results. A large beam replaced a bearing center wall to open up the space. The entry way wall was extended just a foot, yet that small extension made the entry way feel much larger while providing definition to the adjacent room. A light color scheme was chosen to maintain the airiness and serenity of the first floor. Pops of color from furnishings such as the Turkish rug in this photo were used to enliven the spaces.

Morse Constructions living room renovation 1 resized 600

Worn out oak flooring and the kitchen’s cork floor were replaced with maple throughout the first floor. The uniform flooring, combined with the lack of thresholds, creates a seamless look that makes the space feel larger.

Streamlined Runtal radiators replaced six, old, covered cast iron radiators. The new Runtals free up visual – and actual – space while delivering much more energy efficient heat.

Morse Constructions living room renovation resized 600

“We regularly entertain and have different sized groups of family and friends. Comfort is key, whether it is just the two of us, a small group, or 40 people,” explains Karen.  Furnishings were selected to enhance the flexibility of the space. For example, the low bookcase in the photo below is comprised of two units on castors that may be easily reconfigured and moved around.

Morse Constructions Boston area living room remodel resized 600

Similarly, the sectional in the photo below serves multiple uses. It provides intimate seating around the gas fireplace in the configuration shown here, or it may be separated and turned around for extra seating when a group is enjoying movies or slide shows on the nearby TV. The swivel chair provides a comfortable perch for conversations with the cook in the kitchen, or as part of the seating cluster around the fireplace.

Morse fireplace renovation resized 600

Paul and Karen enjoy having friends over to watch movies or slide shows from recent travels, but they did not want the TV to be a focal point. The team’s solution was to mount a flat screen TV on a wall platform that extends and swivels for optimal viewing positions, yet rests flat against the wall when not in use.

Morse Constructions TV room remodel resized 600

Morse Constructions dining room remodel

The dining room features a distinctive, handcrafted table that is extraordinarily durable. When not in use for entertaining or family dinners, the dining room becomes a project space. The tea cart holding the flowers in this photo provides additional serving capabilities without adding visual weight to the room.






The Morses loved the layout of their existing kitchen. They made the most of what was already there by painting the existing cabinetry with white high-gloss finish, updating hardware and ceiling light/fan. The light-filled space offers both a peninsula and an island for guests to gather around to talk with Karen as she prepares meals for the many social events that she and Paul host.


Cambridge MA Kitchen Remodel resized 600

Desk space in the kitchen makes the space a multi-functional work center. The lower counter provides convenient work space for a seated cook.

Morse Constructions kitchen renovation resized 600

Morse Constructions entry way remodelThe small entryway packs multiple functions into a small footprint. The exterior door opens out to free up useable space for an efficient storage unit. As part of the Morse’s aging-in-place considerations, a sunken entry rug prevents trips, while unobtrusively trapping moisture and dirt.














 The adjacent bench is the perfect location for removing shoes or setting down mail and packages. It matches the nearby dining room table to provide visual continuity.

Morse Constructions interior renovation

Paul and Karen couldn’t be happier with their “new” home. Their vision for the space was realized and they now have the comfort of knowing that they will be able to age in place. Should they have health or mobility issues in the future, the half bath may easily be expanded to a full bath and the dining area may be converted to a bedroom to permit first floor living.

For ideas about how you may make the most of your space, please contact us!  



Tags: small space design, Boston renovation, aging in place, remodeling project photos, Morse Constructions

Arlington, MA Home Renovation Update: February 2014

This is the third installment in our monthly chronicle of a major historic home renovation and addition project in Arlington, MA. Our goal is 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.

Arlington MA interior windows

Winter is still with us, but we are warm working inside. When last I wrote, we were in the process of blowing Closed Cell Foam Insulation in the house. That was completed and inspected.

Much has happened since then. Michelle, our office manager, stopped by today on her way into work. She was amazed at the difference. All the walls and ceilings were blue boarded with a skim coat of plaster. Ninety percent of the tiling is completed. We are waiting for the vanity tops and kitchen counters to finish. Pat, the lead carpenter on site, has begun trimming the windows and stairs.

Arlington MA interior renovation shot

Taking advantage of a slightly warmer day this past week, the main roof was re-shingled which allowed us to install the skylight and faux chimney in the attic.

Arlington MA skylight and faux chimney
Also this week, Pat, our lead carpenter, and crew began trimming windows and stairs. As I Arlington MA stair constructionwrite this, the hardwood flooring is being laid. Next week the interior doors will be delivered along with the kitchen cabinets and vanities.

When we started this project in October, we were scheduled to complete around the end of March. Even with seventeen change order days added, we are still scheduled to complete in mid-April.

If you have any questions about the renovation process or would like to discuss renovation plans for your home, please contact us!

Tags: Historic Renovations, remodeling project photos, Arlington MA home renovation

Arlington, MA Home Renovation Update: January 2014

This is the third installment in our monthly chronicle of a major historic home renovation and addition project in Arlington, MA. Our goal is 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.

Arlington, MA historic renovationIt’s been a busy month on site, though major changes are less visible to the untrained eye. The interior framing is complete. We passed the engineer’s and Arlington building department inspections with flying colors.

Arlington, MA framing for home renovationton

Arlington, MA framing new stairway to third floor

Arlington, MA master bedroom framing


Rough plumbing is in and inspected, along with the electrical rough installation and inspection. Venting for the exhaust fans and dryer ducting is installed. Both HVAC systems are installed and running, keeping the workers warm during this frigid winter period.

Arlington, MA renovation HVAC system

Final design decisions were made and the tile is on order along with the bath vanities and medicine cabinets. The homeowners have picked the counter slabs and cabinet handles. Lighting placements were tweaked to accommodate framing and the wiring for them is all installed.

Arlington, MA first floor renovation

Arlington, MA bathroom renovation

On Monday, 1/27 we began blowing closed cell foam insulation in all the exterior walls, rafters and in the basement rim joists. We will also insulate bathroom walls and pipes for sound. During these three days, we pull all workers off site to avoid potential dangers during the quick curing period.

Immediately after insulation (and insulation inspection) we will begin hanging blue board and applying a smooth skimcoat plaster finish. We are on schedule to complete the project as planned in April. Stay tuned for the next installment when we discuss interior trim selections and flooring options.

If you have any questions about the renovation process or are planning to update your home, please contact us!

Tags: remodeling project photos, historic renovation, Boston home renovation, Arlington MA home renovation

Project Update: Arlington, MA Historic Home Renovation & Addition


This is the third installment in our monthly chronicle of a major historic home renovation and addition project in Arlington, MA. The first installment laid out the scope of the project. If you missed it, you can read it here.

There are always stages in a project when most of the work is behind-the-scenes. Rather than obvious transformations such as new walls or finishes, daily progress is measured by less visible – but essential -changes to the guts of the home.

December was such a month on the Arlington project. Our work focused on infrastructure improvements – some of which were planned and others the result of the surprises that so often come with historic renovations. Let’s start with the surprises.

MA historic renovation floor joistsWe discovered that the existing attic floor joists were cracked and the main carrying beam had shifted from its supports. As a result, the house had a lot of interior movement and walls that splayed outward. Before proceeding, our top priority was to restore the home’s structural integrity.

We partnered with a structural engineer to evaluate the problem and develop cost-effective solutions. Morse Constructions installed steel brackets and metal connectors to support the main carrying beam. We then sistered new 2” x 8” joists  to the existing floor joists to add support.

Once we ensured the structural integrity of the home, we:

  • Began rough electrical and plumbing work;

  • Installed two, high-efficiency HVAC systems, including a basement system to heat and cool the first floor and an attic system to serve the second and third floors;

  • Installed (2) double windows in kitchen wall at the new sink location

  • Measured for kitchen cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms

  • Designed a solution to different ceiling heights that would have converged right in the new kitchen

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

 Arlington first floor plan

First Floor Plan


By the end of January we will have completed the rough electrical, plumbing and heating work, insulated the entire house and be underway with the blueboard and plastering. The exterior trim and siding will be complete.Watch for details and photos!


If we may help you with your renovation or addition, please contact us for more information!

Tags: Historic Renovations, remodeling project photos

Project Update: Arlington MA Historic Home Renovation & Addition

This is the second installment in our monthly chronicle of a major historic home renovation and addition project in Arlington, MA. The first installment laid out the scope of the project. If you missed it, you can read it here.

The construction phase of the project began with demolition of the existing one-story addition and deck.

demolition before building addition

old addition demolition

At the same time, we’ve virtually gutted the entire interior of the home, retaining the exterior walls, most of the upstairs floors and some original woodwork. The old heating system has been entirely removed and will be replaced with a high-efficiency alternative.

remodeling historic MA home


We were delighted to find that the 1850 home features post-and-beam construction, which means that force is on the outside walls. This gave us greater flexibility to open up or eliminate interior walls without adding costly additional structural support.



Since the home is on the Arlington Historic Register, exterior changes are limited. The homeowner needs to retain a chimney in its original location, despite the fact that it will no longer be used by the new HVAC systems. Originally, we were going to support the chimney at the third floor level, but eliminate it from the floors below. Instead, we are eliminating the chimney in its entirety and replacing it with a wood and brick veneer substitute that is aesthetically identical, but non-functioning. This solution eliminates the need for chimney support on the third floor.

When completed, the renovation will retain the historic character of the home while opening up the floor plan for living spaces that are more suited to modern lifestyles. The home will feature:

First Floor

  • Spacious open kitchen and dining area
  • Living room
  • Rear hall with 3/4 bath, laundry area, closets and basement access
  • Front porch and reconfigured hallways

Second Floor

  • New master bedroom suite with master bath
  • Two bedrooms with bath
  • Sitting room
  • Reconfigured hallways and new stairway to the attic

Full Basement and Attic
The full basement will be the future home of an exercise room.


Stay tuned for future installments. Feel free to call us with any questions.

And by the way, may we help you with your renovation? Please contact us for more information.

Tags: remodeling project photos, historic renovation, Boston home renovation

Project Spotlight: Renovation & Addition in Historic Arlington Home

Arlington, MA Historic Renovation Before
The best way to explain our renovation process is to share progress updates from a real-life project. Each month, we will provide a project update and photos from a whole house renovation of an historic home in Arlington. Alterations to the 1850 home have received approvals from the Arlington Historic District Commission and we anticipate breaking ground this month.

Project At-A-Glance: October 2013

Arlington home renovation before

  • Removing a one-story kitchen and bath wing on the back of the house
  • Rebuilding the wing with a new, full-basement foundation (for a future exercise room) and two-story addition featuring the kitchen, a ¾ bath, laundry room and mudroom on the first floor and master bedroom suite on the second floor
  • Opening up the existing dining room in the main portion of the house to provide a more modern layout for the kitchen/dining area
  • Renovating the main bath on the second floor
  • Reconfiguring the existing bedrooms to add a full stairway to the third floor


Unique Challenges

  • The house is on the Arlington Historic District Register, which means that changes – particularly to the exterior – are limited
  • The existing chimney must be visible from the street but it will not be used by the two new high efficiency HVAC systems that we are installing
  • We will solve the problem by supporting the chimney at the third floor level but removing it from the floors below

Schedule & Project Team

  • Demolition of existing one-story wing and beginning excavation for new addition on 10/15/13
  • Estimated project completion 3/31/2014
  • Construction- Morse Constructions
  • Design – Morse Constructions with Lisa Wasserman Sivan
  • Civil Engineering -- Sami Kassis


How may we help you with your renovation? Please contact us for more information.

Tags: Historic Renovations, remodeling project photos, Boston home renovation