Renae’s Place

This renovation and addition converts a historic 1880s residence into ten units of emergency housing. A central design challenge was achieving the City of Cambridge’s ambitious sustainability standards while restoring the original building’s historic character.


Cambridge, MA

Size (renovation)

6,000 sf

Size (addition)

500 sf





Energy Use Reduction

61% from baseline code

Walk Score


“The beauty and functionality of the building let families know that they are valued members of our community. Achieving such a high level of sustainable design and returning the building to its true historic character are additional community benefits that the City, HMFH, and all our team participants can be proud of.”

Ellen Semonoff | Assistant City Manager for Human Services

Embracing Historic Character

The design team worked closely with the Cambridge Historical Commission to replicate key original building components while significantly improving energy efficiency. The walls and roofs are detailed to maintain the historic mansard roof profile, cornices, and trim, and the highly efficient, triple-glazed, tilt-turn windows are detailed to resemble traditional double-hung windows.

“Anytime a residence, especially one as distinctive as this, is converted to office or commercial use there is a loss of original features and character. Fortunately, the house was solidly built, and we were able to restore it for another century of use.”

Lori Cowles | Principal, HMFH Architects


The LEED Gold certified building is well-insulated for energy efficiency as well as noise reduction from Massachusetts Avenue and the subway that runs beneath the street. New exterior siding is made of fly ash, a byproduct of burned coal, which is both sustainable and fireproof. Shared kitchens feature induction cooktops, and solar- thermal collectors heat running water. Along with goals to improve the building’s sustainability, the safety and comfort of residents was imperative. Operable windows, accessible bathrooms, a common play area for kids with private outdoor space, and shared lounges maximize residents’ comfort while maintaining their security.

  • Preservation Award, Cambridge Historical Commission, 2018
  • Photography, Bruce Martin and Ed Wonsek