Converting two-family house into a single-family home

Adrienne Shishko and her husband made a smart move as first-time homeowners: They invested in a two-family. They had renters for years, “which gave us flexibility in our careers,” says Shishko, a lawyer turned fitness trainer turned artist.

As their family grew, they absorbed the full second floor, and later, the rest of the house. That said, they never properly converted the Brookline home into a single-family. Each level felt disconnected from the next, and there were extra sets of stairs.

As newly-minted empty nesters, the couple was ready to remedy those issues along with others, including the rabbit warren configuration of living spaces and the lack of sunlight. They called upon architect Derek Bloom to instill a modern sensibility into the historic framework in a way that suited their lifestyle moving forward, as well as highlighted art by Shishko, her mother and grandmother, and others.

To accommodate the couple’s desire to keep daily living on the second floor — where the windows look out to treetops and a park — Bloom and his associate, Markie Mello, needed to connect the first-floor entry to the main living areas. The solution? A grand central stair flooded with natural light that draws people in and up. “We created a sculptural stair that flares at the bottom, and expanded the openings on each level to bring down light from above, almost like a mini atrium,” Bloom explains. “It was key in breaking the boundary between the original two-family and the single family it is now.”

The team removed most of the walls on the second floor — save for the den, the couple’s preferred spot for watching television together — to create an open plan ideal for entertaining. The moves make the spaces sunnier and allow a view to the park from the kitchen at the back of the level, strengthening the indoor-outdoor connection.

To anchor the seating area in the front of the house and address the scale of the now open and airy space, Bloom designed a gas fireplace with a substantial surround, and a stone-topped walnut bench. A lushly-colored abstract painting by Shishko increases the overall impact.

Shishko brought in Sarah Scales to help with furniture and finishing touches. “This is the phase that cozied it up,” Scales says. They focused a significant part of their time — and budget — on choosing textiles. These included cognac-colored velvet upholstery for Shishko’s mother’s swivel chairs in the downstairs family room; hardy blue chambray for a long-beloved sectional in the den; and multi-colored, plaid mohair pillows in the alcove. In the living room, throw pillows in global-inspired fabrics dot the near-black velvet sofas, which are striking atop the room’s shaggy olive rug.

With all the drama in the living room — as well as in the adjacent dining room with its swirl of a statement light and bold painting purchased in Cuba — Bloom kept the kitchen quiet. That’s not to say it’s any less elegant, however. A walnut island ties to the benches in the living room and alcove, while walnut shelves made by Shishko’s brother warm the light stone backsplash. There’s some shine, too: A burnished brass hood glows beneath the skylight, and brass pendants over the island create circles of light on the ceiling.

A much-appreciated bonus is the brass-backed bar — or “shrine to alcohol” as the family refers to it — in the spot previously occupied by the back stair. “The brass backsplash catches the sunlight and the brass shelving hangs down like jewelry against the black woodwork,” Bloom says.

Bloom and Scales both point to Shishko’s highly attuned sense of color and artful, collaborative process as fundamental in arriving at the rich end result. Shishko is proud to hear that. “I collect and collage, throwing a lot down before editing so the eye has places to rest between the many elements,” she says. “This house is my living work of art.”


Architect and interior designer: BLOOM Architecture,

Interior designer (furnishings): Sarah Scales Design Studio,

Contractor: Redman Construction,


Anthracite-colored cabinetry and window frames in the kitchen take cues from homeowner Adrienne Shishko’s artwork in the adjacent dining room.Jared Kuzia
Architect Derek Bloom designed a built-in bar that coordinates with the kitchen for the spot where the back stairs had been located.Jared Kuzia
The stringer and risers of the stairs are olive green, stylishly (and subtly) distinguishing those parts from the glossy black treads and rail, and tying the structure to the just-refashioned exterior palette.Jared Kuzia
A snuggly daybed and an inherited midcentury wall unit occupy the alcove where the front stairs had been.Jared Kuzia
Shishko’s brother made the walnut vanity to maximize the small footprint of the powder room. Artwork by Patricia Busso makes a statement on the Pierre Frey wallpaper.Jared Kuzia
A Brookline family room with a Roche Bobois sectional and vintage swivel chairs from the homeowner’s mother.Jared Kuzia

Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to [email protected].