There are a lot of ways to renovate an old gem of a property.
The long-standing work on the Ames Mansion in the Back Bay could be described in a couple of words – careful and timeless.
When Dr. Fahad El Athel purchased the old Ames Mansion on Dartmouth Street and Commonwealth Avenue in 2014, it was a converted office building whose fine luster had worn to tarnish. However, Athel was ready to embark on a multi-year restoration that was as much about preservation as development.
His first move was to bring on Architect Kahlil Hamady of Hamady Architects, and he brought in Interior Designer Leslie-jon Vickory. Over the past six years they have studied the home on paper, written a detailed history of the home, gutted out the office structure and began making major changes to the exterior. Having done a tremendous amount of work on the grand staircase, the stained glass windows and other public spaces, this fall they are moving towards the interior.
“It will be timeless,” said Hamady during an interview in his temporary office set up in the first-floor parlor of the mansion. “Once restored it will be elegant classicism with modern amenities that make it appealing…The owner is not from here. He loves the idea of being a successful developer and a good citizen. It is a development, but it’s not exclusive of being a good, responsible custodian of this property. He gave us the time to do it correctly.”
The work started very quietly six years ago, when he and Vickory began the painstaking research of the building – including original architectural drawings and historical vignettes. The went to the Library, the Archives, and were able to get drawings not accessible to the public – original 1871 drawings by famed Architect Robert Peabody.
“The owner allowed us to do a lot of research,” said Hamady. “It was helpful to us to see the sequential changes. They were critical to helping us develop a plan for the restoration…We wanted to record history and conditions. We’ve gone through an enormous and extensive effort to record the whole building in its detail. It is recorded for the future now. Again, it is the owner being a responsible citizen in the process of restoring or altering a very significant historical building.”
They also found original drawings for the 1882 addition done by John Sturgis.
They detailed the history of Boston from a small British Colonial village to a city on the world scene. That went into the development of the Back Bay, making it very much a European style neighborhood after the fashion of the times. That also translated into sketches of the owners from several time periods, right down to the change of use to an office building in the 1970s.
All of that is included in an exhaustive manuscript detailing everything about the past neighborhood and the building’s place within in.
Once that was understood, the contractor, Geoff Caraboulad of Metric Corporation, was brought in to carry out the restoration and renovation of the property – transforming it into a three-unit condo building with parking in the basement and lush, accurate common spaces that celebrated the history of the place.
One such place is the grand stairway that contains a fireplace that is the size of a Volkswagen and is topped by stained glass windows that are pieces of fine art. While that are could have been converted into large amounts of living space to accommodate more condos, Hamady said they were not interested in such things. The owner felt it would have destroyed the historical integrity of the home.
So it was painstaking restored to better than the original.
“The work the owner intends to do here is not going to be undermining the existing historical importance of the building, but celebrating it,” he said.
That has also resulted in a new addition to the alleyway – where an ugly exterior and an asphalt driveway have given way to a new façade and a new raised garden. Hamady said neighbors have approved, and he believes it can be the model for how to do other alley spaces along the Back Bay.
Other challenges came along, such as how to find parking in the basement of the building – a feat accomplished by actually picking up the building and reinforcing areas underneath to allow for an entrance from the sally port.
Hamady said the work so far has come together to create a culture among the workers, restorers and artisans. They see it as more than a job, he said.
This month, as they transition into beginning to build out the interior spaces, he said that culture will look to continue through the end of the project in 2020.
“I dare say this is really an unparalleled property,” he said. “It’s a property like no other. There is no comparable property. It becomes a home and not an expansive dorm for living. It is a place people will live, but it will be a place for them to find peacefulness and a place they will be inspired by – as it was intended to be from the beginning.”
The property will be marketed by Tracy Campion of Campion & Company.