“Contextual Modern”  is a design approach that respects the history of the home and aims to complement it while incorporating modern design to support modern lifestyles.

Sink, grey cabinets, subway tile, open shelf, kitchen cabinets, black hardware, countertop

“Contextual Modern” is contemporary design that is inspired by the details and history of a home or project site, and we use this term to describe Et Alia’s approach to designing renovations of traditional homes. 

It is a design approach that incorporates clean, modern details that blend seamlessly with the older home styles found throughout New England, a region that boasts the some of the oldest housing stock in the country.



before and after kitchen renovation floor plans


The existing layout was a product of a very different time, and it was previously renovated without solving some significant functional constraints; the main challenge was that the layout was cumbersome, with the sink and dishwasher in a separate room from the range and refrigerator. The project goals were to create an open and efficient layout, improve the kitchen work zone, and add a much-needed first-floor bathroom, all within the existing footprint.

range between windows, subway tile, modern range hood, skinny shaker cabinets, grey cabinets


We often talk about an imaginary dial that marks the spectrum between traditional and contemporary design. The classic subway tiles certainly fall within the traditional end of the range. In contrast, the skinny wood trim, flush detailing, thin porcelain countertop, and minimal hardware all contribute to turning that dial several ticks toward the contemporary end of the arc.

“We scrutinized the details to balance the styles, merge old with new, represent the homeowner’s personal style goals, and attain a simple, clean aesthetic that fits comfortably within this 100+ year-old home.”


The range serendipitously fits between the existing windows at the center of the U-shaped work zone.

An efficient work zone was created with the refrigerator to the left, the sink to the right, and ample counter prep space between each major appliance.

grey skinny shaker kitchen cabinets, white subway tile, sink, range, range hood, modern, dishwasher
Modern kitchen with grey skinny shaker cabinets and stainless refrigerator


The existing plumbing stack was located in the removed wall and is just to the right of the refrigerator, concealed behind a tall but shallow storage cabinet, perfect for spices or canned goods storage.


Like many homes in the area, this back entrance serves as the main entrance for the homeowners, with access to a free-standing garage behind the house.

A solid wood bench top with drawer storage below provides convenient lay-down space for items like groceries and packages, and the drawers are perfect for keeping items, such as extra outerwear, organized and out of view.

view towards entry from kitchen with shiplap and built in bench
Entry bench with red door, window, shiplap, hooks


A new entry door with 2/3rd glass lite replaces a solid door, flooding the space with natural light while helping to create the illusion of a larger space.

Vertical wood shiplap clads the entrance walls, providing a durable lining to this high-traffic zone. The window and door trim is flush with the ship lap for a clean, modern detail.

A natural wood bead board ceiling was installed, recalling the existing natural wood bead board ceiling in the first-floor office space, and simple black metal hardware pulls it all together.


A new powder room was added to the entry behind a space-saving pocket door. The finishes of the entry that continue into this space include the wood ceiling, the vertical wood shiplap wallboard, and a wood countertop that matches the bench top. The walls are painted a dark grey in a play of contrasts between the entrance and powder room.

dark grey paint, small, powder room, dark room, bathroom, renovation
dark grey paint, small, powder room, dark room, bathroom, renovation


The dark grey powder room is wonderfully moody and accented with black metal hardware and crisp white porcelain fixtures. The custom wood countertop is shaped to reflect the vessel sink’s curve and cut back to accommodate the pocket door.

Code minimum clearances are held for the most efficient use of the available space while not compromising the other necessary functions in the entry way.

“The existing wall between the kitchen and living room is removed, bringing more natural light to both spaces and creating a more casual open plan to support the homeowner’s modern lifestyle.”

view towards living room from kitchen renovation
tall kitchen storage cabinets, grey cabinets, open bookcase, open shelving


The doorway to the basement was built out to provide a top landing and to hide the angled wedge at the ceiling (the underside of the stair to the second level), creating a nook for a tall pantry cabinet and open bookshelf.

Power receptacles were installed in the cabinet for the microwave placed on an upper shelf, and for small appliances at the counter level that can be conveniently used in place without relocating them.




PROJECT:  Kitchen and entry renovation in Lexington, MA
CONTRACTOR: Austin Roberts Construction
PHOTOGRAPHY: Sabrina Cole Quinn Photography

kitchen zones, kitchen storage, view from living room