HMFH Architects

Victorian Revival: 859 Mass. Ave. Featured in Multifamily Design + Construction

Building Design + Construction showcases HMFH’s renovation of the 1885 Victorian structure at 859 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, which has been fully upgraded to provide 10 units of emergency shelter housing.

HMFH’s renovation of this historic residence was one of the first projects completed under new, ambitious energy standards in Cambridge for city-owned properties. The design preserves the integrity of the original Victorian home and operates at near-net-zero energy use while serving a critical need.

Read the full feature in Multifamily Design + Construction.


Being true to the original design required extensive detective work. ‘Many of the buildings on the block from that era were gone,’ said [Lori] Cowles. HMFH designers pored over old photographs of the property to help choose appropriate detail features. ‘We were lucky that the city’s historical commission keeps good records,’ said Cowles.

Built during the late Victorian period, the original structure was not as ornate as those constructed in the high Victorian era, ‘with all the bells and whistles,’ said Cowles. Research showed that bright tones were not available at that time, so a muted tan and green color scheme was chosen.

Putting solar panels on roofs is almost always prohibited in historic building projects, but the project team got lucky. ‘Due to the shape of the roofline, you can’t see the panels from the street, so we were able to put panels on the roof,’ said Cowles. Solar thermal collectors mounted to the roof provide hot water.”