The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on November 13, 1977 · 316
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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · 316

Boston, Massachusetts
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 13, 1977
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House Call Sir I8U1F for sra c:ta structure By Estelle Bond GuralnickPhotos: William Ryerson Sometimes the process of buying a house sounds as pleasantly irrational as falling in love. For Diana Barrett and Robert Vila, for instance, the chemistry was just exactly right when they answered a tiny newspaper ad that read: "Old house with barn in Newton, needs work, adjoins conservation land." "We pulled up in the driveway on a snowy, bleak day in February, and the house looked just awful," recalls Diana. "But before we even went inside, I turned to Bob and said, 'That's it; I want if The nice old gentleman who was selling the house took them on a careful tour, pointing out that faucets could be fixed, that he had extra wallpaper where repairs were indicated. All the while, says Diana, their minds were humming. "He assumed we'd paint and paper and move in, but we knew we were just looking at a space." It probably should be mentioned here that neither Diana nor Bob is a novice when it comes to pumping new life into old structures. They met, in fact, in the course of doing just that, in 1973 when Diana, then a second-year student at the Harvard Business School, bought a Boston townhouse for conversion into five apartments. Bob was designer-builder for the job, a liaison that subsequently led to marriage and a son named Christopher, now one. Diana has kept her maiden name. Given the premise that the Barrett-Vila duo know what they like, it's not surprising to hear that they bid on the old house and barn that very afternoon, sending the real estate agent into shock. From then on, it became a case of daily decisions as they embarked on a renovation that was to reflect the way they wanted to live. Built as a field hand's house for the Webster estate, the structure's back part dates to about 1785, with the two front parlors and upstairs bedrooms added on in 1840. Somewhere along the line after that, closets were appended willy-nilly and a bathroom tucked into a corner of the living room, boarding up six windows in the process. "People did things that were easy and useful in those days," Diana explained. "If grandmother needed a bathroom nearby, they'd throw one in, not giving much thought to how it would look. Addons are common in old houses." From the start, Diana and Bob Xi ) , m - I wife! m ' mm hi pfMf SI v T ferJ? ; Mil1,! ,u By stealing four feet from the library, Bob Vila picked up enough room for a wall-long built-in as well as space behind it for new closets and stairway. Result a cozy intimate room that the whole family enjoys. 52

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