A Modern Dwelling
from a Nineteenth Century Stable

by Robert M. Adams

Proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society.
Spring 1969, pp. 13-14.
(Brookline Public Library: [Brookline Room] 974.45 B77hn)

Houses have always fascinated me … not ordinary houses … but special houses … new or old.

Perhaps this interest was gendered by having spent my childhood in Chicago living in a home designed for my father by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a very modern house, beset by many architectural faults, but our family enjoyed it.

After having served four years in the Navy during World War II, I received a medical discharge for wounds and arrived in Boston on V.J. Day, hoping to find a home in which to live. I was able to find one in spite of the housing shortage at that time. It was my good fortune to find a very special old house. It was known as Saint Botolph Studios and I acquired the studio of the great Boston painter, the late John Singer Sargent.

I lived in this lovely surrounding for fifteen years, but was forced to give up my home when the State took over the property for the building of the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension.

But again good fortune smiled upon me, for I found this home on my first week of house hunting. It was sold to me by Mrs. Abagail Washburn, and was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Homer of High Street. I am happy to say that all three of these people have been close and dear friends during my nine years of residence.

Prior to my purchase, the stable had been converted by the Homers for use as the Cumberland School for Retarded Children. Like most structures of the middle half of the nineteenth century, the house is sturdily built. It sets on a foundation of natural boulders; its walls are of double brick with an air space between. The flooring on the lower level is thick planks, built to withstand the extreme weight of horses and carriages. The bookcase in the main studio was the tack rack for the horses. The floor area is partially concreted, evidently done at a later date to accommodate the horseless carriages of the turn of the century. A hand-operated gasoline pump is located to the right of the carriage doors. It connects to a large steel drum which is buried under the present driveway at the rear and was used to store gasoline in the days when modern service stations were unknown.

The guest closet in the hallway was formerly a dry sink. The dining area was a box stall, with the grillwork still intact. Hooftmarks remain on the floor as well as the drain in the center. The study on the first floor was used by the head stable man.

The only structural change on the first floor was the erection of a wall which divides the kitchen and dressing room. This area was separated into three horse stalls and is on a slightly higher elevation, being reached by a step from the study and by a ramp off the kitchen. The laundry room, located off the dressing area, has been left in its original condition, showing the thick planks of one of the former stalls, and includes one of the many grain chutes that were once part of the stable.

The hayloft has been partitioned and now contains a winter living room, sculpture garden, fireplace, bathroom and three bedrooms. The wood paneled bedroom is the former living area of the stable boy, and still retains the high rise at the bottom of the door, which was needed in order to keep the hay from entering the room. The rear section of the hayloft is now used as a workshop and is only semi-finished.

The patio off the kitchen was created with bricks brought from the old Saint Botolph Studios in order to keep the same vintage feeling. Adjacent to this area is the old potting shed through which an opening was made in order to provide access to the grounds beyond. The landscaping was designed by John Olmsted, creator of New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Franklin Park, Fenway, Jamaicaway and Arborway. The Japanese Torii gate beyond the potting shed was built from the posts removed from the inner stalls of the stable.

I do not find antique furniture practical for modern day living, so I have tried to blend conservative modern with Chinese and Japanese accents in keeping with the period in which the building was built.

And above all, I have tried to make it comfortable and livable without deliberately destroying any of its original charm. Rather than try to achieve this through one major effort, I chose to live with the house and absorb its personality. When I felt changes or alterations were needed, I did them myself preferring to solve one problem at a time. A house is never really finished, but I feel I have reached a point where I am now content to relax and enjoy it.