Tuesday, October 12, 2010

19 Demar Rd. in Lexington -- Techbuilt Classic

Designed by Carl Koch, the "Grandfather of Prefab" (Progressive Architecture, 1994), this Techbuilt classic, a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath 2615 s.f. home is a fine example of the pioneering modernism that Koch applied to mid-century homebuilding as returning GIs and a surge in Boston-area technology firms created more demand for housing young families. Bill Janovitz and John Tse are thrilled to offer this property for the listing price of $639,000. It will have an open house 1-3 on Sunday 10/17/20. Please contact me with any questions or to set up a private showing: bjanovitz@hammondre.com.

The House

Set on a wooded 3/4 acre, the siting takes full advantage of the natural beauty of Lexington's Middle Ridge/Turning Mill neighborhood. Vast expanses of glass open up the living area in the rear to meet the large, level, and private backyard. The open floor plan offers a natural flow. From the foyer (an addition consistent with the modernist aesthetic), one is drawn down the stairs of the split entry toward the views from the windows in the main living area. You will be forgiven for being distracted by the view and failing to immediately notice the newly refinished hardwood floors. The flexible first floor layout consists of a dining area, an airy, open main area, and a cozy nook formed in part by the fireplace and exposed chimney. It is easy for one to picture him or herself curled up with a book, perhaps a rare edition of Koch's own At Home with Tomorrow. **

Adjacent to the main living area is a room currently used as a 24X25 family room and spa, also an addition to the original structure. A hot tub is in one corner. One could easily see this room as an office large enough to house a home business, a home gym, a playroom, or as it is currently used. Sliders open up the back wall to a patio.

Flanking the living area in the other direction is a huge (20X16) eat-in kitchen with an island. From the walls of windows, watch family, pets, and/or wild turkeys gamboling (as the "wild" variety of turkeys are wont to do) in the backyard while you prepare dinner or wash the dishes at the sink (no need to actually wash, though; of course there is a dishwasher.)

A large half bathroom and laundry room complete the main living area.

Back up through the foyer, a few steps lead you to the main hallway, which in turn opens to three bedrooms and a full bath. A second full bath is included en suite for the master bedroom. All bedrooms feature the cathedral ceilings afforded by the post-and-beam construction. And one of the bedrooms opens up via sliders to use the top of the family room as a deck of sorts. In fact, the seller informs us that the construction of the below structure was designed to support a future deck (as with all such features, a buyer would be responsible for performing his/her own due diligence to verify).

The house had a new roof put on in 2009. There is a two-car garage with plenty of storage. But if you are a pack rat and still can't find enough room for your "I'll get to it someday" restoration project of broken Eames chairs, or your collections of moldy Dwell magazines, there is an additional storage shed.

(click any image to enlarge, if your browser allows)

The Neighborhood

Most people in Lexington know the area as Turning Mill, but it started out being referred to as Middle Ridge. Though it is now a large area of eight or nine streets, it started down here around Demar, with Techbuilt houses designed by Carl Koch, before growing further north and west and incorporating other modern designs, most notably, the Peacock Farm-style house plan designed by Dan Compton and Walter Pierce, who founded Lexington's Peacock Farm neighborhood on the other side of town. There have also been some Deck Houses built. The expanded part of the area is now referred to as "Upper Turning Mill."

Residents love the area due to its proximity to Estabrook Elementary school (adjacent) and because it offers membership in the Paint Rock swimming pool. It also borders the vast Paint Mine conservation area, with beautiful walking trails. The Lexpress bus runs through. And a quick zip takes you down backroads to Whole Foods, Staples, Super Stop & Shop, Marshalls, and so on in Bedford, or back the other way into the center of Lexington. And it is not far from Route 128.

The Architect

There is an understandable reluctance on the part of everyman to
build his counsel of nuts, bolts, and chromium. The industrial
revolution will help us realize our dreams if we can handle it, but we
haven't handled it too well so far. Although it is pathetic to think
we can escape the pressure of competitive business, the battle of
home-office transportation, and a compulsion to drive ourselves too
far, too fast, too much, by escaping into fantasy in the shape of an
eighteenth-century farmhouse, it is understandable that we try.

In our general progression of skills, building somehow lags far behind. Not 50 years behind, perhaps -- but not much less, at that. It goes still by hammer and handsaw -- agonizingly slow, inefficient, and more wasteful of money and people than we can any longer afford. The greatest irony of all is that it is so set about by habit, prejudice, false enthusiasm, and obsolete local constrictions that in a land of free enterprise the look of our urban landscapes is as comfortless, imitative, and repetitive, often, as any dictator could wish.

Carl Koch, preface to At Home With Tomorrow, 1958

Middle Ridge was originally "conceived and designed in 1955 by architect Koch as a neighborhood of Techbuilt homes." Koch had already had successfully designed the first modernist development in the Boston area, Belmont's Snake Hill (1941), Concord's first housing development, Conantum (1951), Weston's Kendal Common (1950).*

Koch came to the region when he attended Harvard School of Design, during "the confusing period between Beaux-Arts Eclectic and all-out Modern."*** It was a period (circa 1937) that overlapped with Gropius' time at the school, but for the most part, it seems Koch regarded his "contemporaries" the school as "leaderless or rudderless." More significant in the development of his own professional philosophy and style was a six-month tenure he spent in Sweden with Sven Markelius (1940-41), "which left him with an enduring admiration for the Scandinavian approach to life, democracy, and architecture."*** Certainly one can easily observe the themes of what is typically regarded as the Scandinavian aesthetic -- simple, clean, and functional design.

The eight-house neighborhood of Snake Hill, it seems, was an experiment in creating inexpensive housing for his own family. It is set on winding road high on a hillside off of Route 60 in Belmont.

A lovely Ezra Stoller shot of a Snake Hill home

In 1947, he designed the Acorn House (later merged with Deck House). His aim was to create well-designed and stylish housing for a good value (i.e. inexpensively) for middle classes by producing a modular construction system, manufactured in a factory controlled environment, which could be transported to a building site and assembled in a few days. However, the Acorn house was met with "resistance from local governments" and building code problems. **** More on Acorn history, by Lloyd Alter here.

(By the way, it seems Mr Alter's piece on the demise of Acorn/Deck/Empyrean (sourced liberally from the Boston Globe article linked at bottom) might have been, well not premature, but new life has been given to the first two brands, with a newly resuscitated Deck/Acorn.)

Far more successful were the Techbuilt houses, which, while certainly progressive architecturally, were more in line with prevailing trends and tastes. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, over 3000 of these houses were built, utilizing six different models. At least three were built in New Canaan, Ct., that other hotbed of Northeastern modernism, but it seems as though Lexington and Concord have the highest concentration and the highest amount of Techbuilt homes still preserved today.

Sources include:

*Lexington's Historic Survey of neighborhoods and housing stock

**Modernism 101

***McCallum, Ian (1959), Architecture U. S. A., New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp., pp. 170–174 via Hathi Trust



Boston Globe, "Prefab Pioneer Folds" Ted Seifer, December 24 2008


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. The architecture of the house is beautiful I wonder do Palm Springs Midcentury Modern Homes also do these kind of architecture.

  2. Really great photos! Seems like Lexington has some beautiful homes that have been on the market recently. I sell real estate in Wayland Massachusetts, and it's always great to see the interior and exterior of homes in other nearby towns. Thanks for the great post.