by Katherine Hafner
Grow’s CEO combines new tech and old charm in a beautifully remodeled Ghent home.
Drew Ungvarsky presses against the ceiling-high glass doors in his new kitchen, using his whole body to slide them open. It’s called a NanaWall, a brand of folding accordion glass doors that when open provide a smooth transition to his new backyard, which includes a hydraulically powered movable deck and overhead pergola.
The modern kitchen, complete with a wine fridge and white quartz countertops, is the centerpiece of Ungvarsky’s freshly renovated home on Maury Avenue in the historic Ghent district.
Ungvarsky, CEO of Grow, a digital branding agency based on downtown Granby Street, bought the place in 2015 with wife Amber for a little more than $500,000. They’ve been pouring their hearts – and pocketbooks – into it ever since.
On the last day of official contract work, Ungvarsky makes his way through the rooms, excitedly discussing the before and after aspects of each.
The home, built in 1921, has three floors and almost 4,000 square feet – plenty for the family of four. The couple and their children, 7-year-old Austin and 2-year-old Annabelle, lived nearby in Ghent before moving in the spring.
The couple had gone on an extensive house hunt that
spanned nearly two years and 30 properties before they fell in love with this place, a brick home straddling the Victorian and Craftsman styles.
Inside, the Ungvarskys have turned it into a modern smart-home lover’s dream.
It was a “long road” of a year spent gutting and redoing the home, Drew Ungvarsky says. “We wanted to restore the house with as much historic character, but with a modern touch.”
That proved a bit of a challenge. “We’re never going to move in here,” his wife quipped at one point.
The house was essentially stripped to its bones inside, with walls knocked down to open up spaces for large, communal areas. Other work included ripping out carpet on the stairs, updating the bathrooms and adding distinctly modern touches: a floating closet in the master suite, a curbless shower in the master bath, and geometric light fixtures shipped in from Portland, Oregon. The heart of pine floors and most doors are original.
The Ungvarskys bid out the project nearly five times before finding a contractor they trusted to deal with both the historic and modern parts of the home. “It’s a dizzying array of detail,” he says, “especially when you pay attention to all of it, which is my personality.”
Then comes the fun part: the demo phase, a.k.a. smashing the walls to bits. Young Austin was a big fan of this stage. “He loved the fact I was telling him to kick holes in the walls,” his dad says. “But I remembered I had to tell him” when to stop.
“The demo phase is super exciting because you find new spaces. It’s so transformative,” he says. “But then there’s the boring phase: wiring, plumbing, and that takes forever.”
For his own fun, Ungvarsky, 37, used three-dimensional
modeling software to visualize designs throughout the home – think Joanna Gaines’ virtual modeling in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Using SketchUp, he could stand in a room, hold up his iPad, and fiddle with each detail, “down to each handle. ”
Technology is also a big part of the finished product. Embedded throughout the house are digital temperature adjusters, voice-activated speakers, linked smoke detectors, and remotely controlled lights and door locks. It’s “kind of like the Jetsons,” he says.
But he wants those controls to remain hidden. Your eye should be drawn instead to the beautiful fireplaces, or the hexagonal bathroom tile inspired by the Victorian era. “There’s nothing terribly overstated in this house,” he says.
The Ungvarskys aren’t the only ones to update the home: It was originally single-family and was made into a duplex at some point. Part of the challenge was converting it back.
After the place started to take shape, there was still more work: smoothing out drywall, rebuilding casework, and other tasks. With old houses, he says, you keep finding more to do.
And the final cost? “More than anticipated,” he says, laughing.
He walks back downstairs to the large living room, the details of which include Victorian-inspired floor vent grates and a refurbished fireplace. If you were “cool enough” at a Victorian gathering, you’d be invited from the first parlor into the second, he notes, and eventually maybe even into the dining room.
Nowadays, maybe you’ll be invited into the chic new kitchen and through the accordion glass doors for a glass of freshly chilled wine.