Couples and long-time friends (from left) Harris Paseltiner & Hannah Ratcliffe and Don Mitchell & Katie Fleming each recently bought their first homes — just miles away from each other. Both residences were constructed over a century ago and had the perfect mix of charm, location, and space where their pets Albus the dog (pictured) and Roger Williams the cat (seen below) can roam freely.

At Home in New England

Two musically-inclined couples and longtime friends harmoniously uncover their first homes—just minutes apart—through the same broker team.

Words: Dan Michel
Images: Lara Kimmerer

How did four college friends find their place in the world—and within the same vibrant neighborhood? They entrusted their inaugural home searches to Compass agents John Bigelow and Bruce Irving.

When musician Don Mitchell and his wife Katie Fleming, a facilitator at Boston Public Schools, were ready to upgrade from their apartment, their biggest obstacle was trying to narrow down their priorities. After a carefully-curated, four month search with John and Bruce, they found a pale yellow, 118-year old, a gem with original molding and high ceilings in Waltham, just west of Cambridge. “The home was bright, airy, and rich with character,” says Katie.

Months later, Don’s bandmate, Harris Paseltiner, and his wife Hannah Ratcliffe, a research specialist at Ariadne Labs, tapped the same agent team to help find their first home as a married couple. With John and Bruce’s guidance, the couple discovered their own abode: a white, two-story home built in 1903. They were drawn to its rich hardwood floors, three-season porch, and original fixtures, but after realizing it was situated just a few miles from their friends Katie and Don, it was a done deal.

Less than a year after moving in, both couples are enjoying their new neighborhood — and the proximity to their neighbors. Harris and Don’s indie folk band, Darlingside, has found great success in the U.S. and abroad, which puts them on the road much of the time. “When the guys in the band are traveling, the ladies all come over and hang out,” says Katie. “It’s really great to have a gathering place for your community and the people you love.” When everyone is back in Massachusetts, they spend time visiting with each other, exploring the area’s many parks and trails, and finding new ways to add personal touches to their historic homes.

The whole crew gathers in Don and Katie’s kitchen reminiscing on their serendipitous journeys home.

Hannah and Harris, how did you find this home, and what about it appealed to you?

Hannah: This market is tough and things go really quickly — for way over asking price — and it can be discouraging. But Bruce and John made the process really fun for us. They asked smart questions, and they helped us create our budget too. Even if we toured a place that wasn’t quite right, we’d still learn something about what we liked and didn’t like, and they’d add that to the Compass database to fine-tune our search.

Harris: We really loved how John and Bruce used the Compass Markets app to instantly pull up numbers on any given home and its surrounding area. All that information led us here.

Hannah: Places within our price range were either new condos that didn’t have any soul, or older houses that needed lots of work. So when we got to this one, we noticed it had been well-maintained, even though it’s 115 years old. It has lots of quaint features, like an old farmhouse sink in the kitchen and ceilings with curved edges upstairs.

Harris: My favorite details are the bullseye moldings and essentially untouched pine and fir floors in a deep orange-red. All these accents are original, which make it feel really special. The neighborhood is situated on rolling hills and surrounded by greenery, in a close-knit community where people are outside all the time and kids are playing nearby.

Don Mitchell and Katie Fleming sit with John Bigelow in their sunny dining space. Both musicians, Don and Katie keep an old radio, a record player, and other personal mementos from their wedding late last year.

And how was your search experience, Katie and Don?

Katie: It was love at first sight for us. The home was built in 1900, and retains its charm with original molding, a built-in hutch, and floorboards constructed in elaborate patterns. It also features beautiful, high ceilings that open up the space. We love hosting friends — including Harris and Hannah — for dinner parties, especially in spring as the lilac trees in the backyard are blooming.

Don: At first, I thought the house was out of our league. So, I loved it, but I didn’t let myself get too attached. It’s a single-family home — rare to find in this area in our price range — and close enough to Katie’s daily commute to Boston, which was a big factor. It has a yard, a front porch, and a little brick patio where we could have a cooker. I liked that the layout is quite straightforward too. The upstairs has two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a big storage area, all of which were selling points.

Katie: Bruce was such a strong advocate for our needs throughout the entire process. It was very clear that he was invested in our long-term happiness. Every few weeks, he would ask, “what’s your preference of all the spaces you’ve seen, and why?” He was there to help us translate the language of real estate. It was a little bit like house therapy.

Don: Bruce was so good at narrowing our priorities, entering them into the system, and getting us new listings as they came in so we could view only the best. And because we hit that nice intersection of winter and spring, there were a few more houses on the market, but without hordes of buyers like in the summertime.

Both couples juxtapose their eclectic artwork and decor with their homes’ century-old interiors — striking the just the right chord of vintage appeal and modern style.

How have you injected your personal styles into your home decor, Katie and Don?

Katie: We’re both musicians — we met through choir in college — so our instruments, like Don’s guitars and my piano, are as functional as they are decorative. We have a record player and a collection of records we found at Stereo Jack’s in Cambridge. Out back, we have a variety of perennials that were gifts from friends, as well as a raspberry bush and our very first herb garden!

Don: Before moving in, we refinished the floors and painted the upstairs bedrooms. We also added small, intimate knick-knacks like an old radio from the ’70s we found at a vintage store. It has the nicest sound once it warms up. But for the most part, we’ve kept things how we found them. Now, we’re in the process of slowly making it our own. For instance, Katie’s been working on a new subway tile backsplash in the kitchen.

And how did you spruce up your space, Hannah and Harris?

Hannah: We have an eclectic, funky style. I grew up in Austin and I’ve incorporated a lot of the city’s spirit into the home with rugs, blankets, and art. One of our favorites is a large painting, hung in our dining room, of a rustic barn and orchard in by Peter Batchelder from Willamstown, Massachusetts, which is where we first met in college. Hanging our art made the place feel like our own. We also set up the back bedroom as a reading nook where Harris could practice his music.

Harris: Some of my favorite things we have are gifts from family, like our solid walnut bed frame, which was a wedding present from Hannah’s parents. We also hung this very cool, large Mexican folk art painting of a lizard on the wall. Hannah gave it to me as a present years back — adding a bit of Southwestern flair to our East Coast space.

This three-season porch was a big draw for Harris and Hannah. In the spring, they’ll replace the glass with screens and use it as a gathering place for friends.

Katie and Don, do you have any big home improvement projects coming up?

Katie: We’d like to paint the living room a different color. We also have a lot of plans for the garden this summer. For the first time last year, we were able to grow our own herbs, tomatoes, and some amazing hot peppers. Soon, we’re going to make a raised bed so we can grow even more.

Don: Hanging more of our instruments indoors is a top priority for now. But thinking long-term, there’s a really nice storage area upstairs — we call it the Harry Potter room because it has a slanted ceiling like in the books. We talked about knocking down the side wall up there, and making that into a third bedroom at some point in the future.

So, Hannah and Harris, are there any new projects you’re considering?

Hannah: On the inside, we’re still trying to curate more unique pieces and artwork — especially for our walls — to make the home feel more personal. But we’re really excited to start utilizing the backyard and front stoop once the weather gets nicer. We’ve never had those amenities before, so we’re excited to start enjoying them come the warm seasons!

Don and Katie named their cat (seen above) after famous American pianist Roger Williams. Originally adopted in California by Katie, the cat enjoys climbing the stairs in his new home, rolling around in the grass in the backyard, and perusing Compass.com for architectural inspiration.

Want to work with Cambridge agents like John Bigelow and Bruce Irving? Compass partners with you, providing expertise on the Cambridge-area real estate market and connecting buyers and sellers with homes they love.

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