Projects / Renovations      Newton, MA

Hip Replacement


In the same year that Albert Einstein unveiled his quantum theory of light and the first Model T drove off the assembly line, a small cottage was erected along the banks of the Charles River. The modest structure was completed long before modern setbacks made such sites unbuildable and underappreciated its proximity to an active riparian ecosystem.

The cottage perched on a steep hill bound by retaining walls and pushed against the street, limiting access to the building and forcing its lower level mostly underground. Along the best viewsheds, dark and narrow façades took for granted the panoramic sightlines to surrounding waterscapes. Inside the structure, low ceilings and small rooms crowded beneath a hipped roof’s heavy brow.

More than a century after its initial construction, the home – and extraordinary riverside property it occupied – was purchased by an ambitious, nature-loving couple hoping to retire along the water’s edge. The new owners recognized that the underbuilt and largely uninsulated structure would need much more than a change of wallpaper to make it comfortable and practical as a permanent residence. The steep stairway navigating the property’s 15’ height differential between street and entryway also posed questions for safety and the feasibility of aging in place.

The homeowners faced a choice – demolish the cottage, which was identified by the City as “preservation preferred” due to its age but not required to be saved…. or get really creative. They chose the latter. Our team was asked to reinvent the original home as a celebration of its location that acknowledges both the scale and character of century-old neighborhood and the natural wonder in its backyard.


…stay tuned!


  • Year Completed

  • Cost

  • Gross Floor Area

    3080 sq ft
  • Beds

  • Baths

  • Partners

    Auburndale Builders
    Cowen Associates Structural Engineers
    Richardson & Associates Landscape Architects
    Gala Simons Associates Civil Engineers
    LEC Environmental Consultants

Sustainability Achievements


  • Walkable location
  • Sustainable landscape
  • Native plantings
  • Reused materials from the site
  • Resilient landscape design


  • Designed for durability
  • Designed for low maintenance
  • Designed for minimal embodied energy
  • Low global warming potential insulation
  • Recycled exterior foam insulation


  • Optimized for daylighting
  • Fresh air ventilation system for indoor air quality
  • Visual connection to the outdoors
  • Low-VOC finishes
  • Formaldehyde-free building


  • Low-flow fixtures
  • Heat pump water heater
  • Designed to maintain natural drainage patterns
  • Landscaping requires little water


  • Fossil fuel-free building
  • Uses renewable energy systems
  • Uses passive design strategies
  • Net zero-ready
  • Meets Passive House requirements
  • Fresh air ventilation system with heat recovery
  • Super-insulated
  • Triple-glazed windows
  • Airtight construction
  • Benchmark EUI: 45.7
  • Predicted EUI: 2.75
  • % Reduction from Benchmark EUI: 94%
  • ACH50: 1.13
  • Airtightness of gross envelope area: 0.05 cfm50/ft²