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New Frontiers

An airy addition on the back of a historic house in Boise is a model of sensitive renovation, seamlessly melding new and old.

After nine years spent renting apartments in Boston and Chicago, Dan and Dana Zuckerman moved to Boise, Idaho, Dan’s hometown, in 2008. Drawn by the prospect of purchasing a historic home where they could raise their three kids, and by a unique job opportunity for Dan, an oncologist, the couple forewent the allure of a turnkey house in favor of a 1910 American foursquare that needed some TLC.

With the help of Portland, Oregon–based architects Heidi Beebe and Doug Skidmore, they created an updated addition—consisting of a master suite upstairs and kitchen, pantry, powder room, and covered patio downstairs—that’s perfectly integrated with the original house and vibrantly modern at the same time.

Dan: I’d been away from Boise for a long time and wanted to come back. I loved growing up here. We were happy in Boston, but there’s a lot of hassle we didn’t need anymore. Another reason we moved was a position at St. Luke’s hospital, where my dad works, also as an oncologist. It was hugely gratifying to come back to my hometown, to practice with my dad, and to take care of people who knew me when I was a kid. There’s a real sense of community for us here.

Dana: I started looking for a house while we were still in Boston, and I saw this one online and thought it was beautiful. I flew out here with my daughter, Stella, and just fell in love with it. I loved all the dark wood, and the rooms just felt very comfortable. But the whole time I was thinking, Dan’s going to hate this place. It needed work. In the ’50s or ’60s, someone did a terrible addition to the house that completely blocked any light coming in from the west side. Still, I saw it as a great opportunity to get to do something exciting.

Dan: I was admittedly a little resistant. I grew up in brand-new houses, and at the time I was just so mentally exhausted from being in Boston and working as a resident and fellow. The idea of having to deal with anything did not appeal to me at all. All I could see was work and money and time. But I came around. The new houses we looked at didn’t have the same charm.

Dana: After we bought it, we knew we needed some time to save up for the renovation. I got a notebook of graph paper and was constantly drawing. I wanted to completely open up the back of the house, and I wanted a kitchen with an island. I really wanted light. A lot of people in Idaho try to build their houses so they’re shaded in the summer, because we have really bright, hot summers. But I don’t feel like you can ever have too much sun.

After we had lived here for a year, Dan’s high-school friend’s parents invited us to dinner with their good friends, whose daughter and son-in-law were architects who’d recently started their own firm. Heidi, Doug, Dan, and I met and really hit it off. We liked their vibe, and they got our style. We four sat down and I said, “This is what I want.” Or, rather, “This is what we want.”

Dan: Yeah, well, I had three things I wanted: a Japanese toilet and a place in the dining room to store drinks, some kind of bar. Well, I guess that’s two things. I’m not that demanding. We have the same aesthetic, so I knew that whatever Dana liked was going to be pretty much in line with my tastes. Dana loves to go through the iterations and iterations. I just want, like at the optometrist’s, option A or B. Dana does all the screening and then shows me a couple of things and asks, “This or that?” It works very well.

Dana: Heidi and Doug took into account the scale and proportion of the existing rooms when designing the addition and carried the fir flooring and trim through to the new spaces. That’s what makes the addition feel like it’s part of the house. Together we all came up with the idea of a covered outdoor patio. We needed a way to extend the dining room without ruining its proportions, and we wanted accordion window doors that open. We also got a brand-new kitchen, powder room, and a whole master suite upstairs. We ended up rebuilding the garage, and Heidi and Doug designed the glass office attached to it. That’s my personal space. I’m a commissioner on Boise’s urban renewal agency and a member of the visual arts advisory committee, and that’s where I go over architectural renderings and documents.

Dan: Downstairs, almost nothing was touched in the old part of the house, with the exception of the renovated dining room and two built-ins, one for stereo equipment and the other for alcohol. Heidi and Doug built a wall that helps visually denote the transition from old to new in the house— it separates the powder room from the kitchen and has cubbies for the kids’ stuff. Now, when you come in through the front door, you have a line of sight all the way to the back of the house.

Dana: Even with the modern addition in the back, one of our favorite places to spend time is the front porch. Most of the year we sit out there and people stop by on their bicycles. Our neighborhood has that all-American Pleasantville feel to it, in a good way. The sky is blue, we’re reading the paper on the porch, and the kids are drawing with sidewalk chalk. Some days we’re like, “We get to live here? Really?”