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The design of the DiPasquale/McGrath home in Northampton is all about transparency

  • Large windows and doors make the home feel open to all. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • McGrath, Spencer McGrath, 18, and DiPasquale stand in their front yard. “We’re not a typical family and we confront that myth every day,” DiPasquale says. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The dining room is the family gathering spot for Michael DiPasquale, David McGrath and their children. the kitchen, seen in the upper right, was designed small to encourage dining room use. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Spencer McGrath plays the piano, to DiPasquale’s and McGrath’s delight. They encouraged both children to learn to play instruments. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The kitchen is at the top right of this photo. It was designed small to encourage use of the dining room seen in the foreground. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The house is dominated by big windows, like those in this screened-in back porch. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The family’s sleek, minimalist bathroom GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The dining room is the family gathering spot. “Now that we have somewhat adult children, this has been a great place for us to have adult conversations,” DiPasquale says. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Spencer McGrath plays the piano, to DiPasquale’s and McGrath’s delight. They encouraged both children to learn to play instruments. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Spencer McGrath plays the piano, to DiPasquale’s and McGrath’s delight. They encouraged both children to learn to play instruments. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • An office nook in the DiPasquale McGrath home. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael DiPasquale reads the paper and listens as Spencer plays the piano. Music is an important part of their family life. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael DiPasquale relaxes and listens to Spencer play the piano. The instrument is a focal point in the living room as music is an important part of the family’s life. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Large windows and doors make the home feel open to all. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Home of Michael DiPasquale, David McGrath in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The eye-catching porch, with 20 foot ceilings, dominates the rear view of the house. “Day or night I am on that porch looking up through the trees to the sky, “ DiPasquale says. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The home of Michael DiPasquale, David McGrath and their two children is a striking sight on Woodlawn Avenue in Northampton. It started out as a 1948 ranch house before the couple bought it in 2011 and renovated it. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • DiPasquale, who is an architect, developed a design with McGrath and architect Mary Yun to redo the house from top to bottom. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • DiPasquale, who is an architect, developed a design with McGrath and architect Mary Yun to redo the house from top to bottom. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Thursday, January 25, 2018

‘My friends ask, ‘How can you live in that fishbowl?’ ” says Michael DiPasquale of the Northampton home he shares with his partner of 28 years and their two children. The house is characterized by huge windows that allow curious onlookers to see straight through to the back yard. (And curious admirers are legion: Hardly a week goes by when someone doesn’t drive by slowly for a good look or tell DiPasquale how much they love the place while he’s shoveling snow outside. “It doesn’t take much for me to invite them in for a tour,” he quips.)

You’ve likely seen the house: A striking contemporary on Woodlawn Avenue, often outfitted with either a giant American or rainbow flag, right across from Childs Park. But the home’s transparency is wholly deliberate. “I don’t feel the need to hide away in my life anymore,” DiPasquale, an architect, explains. Nor does he feel undue pressure to conform to the traditional New England architecture prevalent in the neighborhood. “I’ve been pushed into enough normative boxes in my life. This house doesn’t fit in with all the others because it represents me and my family,” he says. “We’re not a typical American family, and we confront that myth every day.”

After adopting two children from China— one in 1998 and the other in 2000 — DiPasquale and his husband, David McGrath, felt they’d outgrown their home in Somerville. But there was more to it than that. DiPasquale says he found himself in a nesting phase, for one thing. Instead of working around the clock at the Boston-based architecture firm where he was an associate, he wanted to be home more with the children — Jason McGrath is now 20 and a sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, while Spencer McGrath, 18, is a first-year student at Vassar. “But I didn’t want to be marooned in the suburbs,” he says.

For a while, DiPasquale assumed his young family was limited to large cities to get the diversity they wanted. Then a friend suggested a liberal college town as an alternative. They explored Ithaca, Buffalo, DiPasquale’s hometown, and Northampton before settling on the latter.

McGrath, a physician, was game and found work locally as an internist, and they moved into a Victorian in the Smith College neighborhood. “When I have a suggestion — for better or worse — he encourages me,” DiPasquale says.

Then lo and behold, en route to Big Y one day, DiPasquale spotted a 1948 ranch house for sale on Woodlawn Avenue. The couple bought the place in January 2011 with the intention of renovating it in a mid-century modern style, and “right up until construction began, we thought we could salvage the home,” DiPasquale says. But the uninsulated house wasn’t up to it, and unraveled, more or less. They would have to start nearly from scratch.

Collaborative effort

Although DiPasquale now teaches urban design and regional planning at the University of Massachusetts, at that point he’d never actually designed a home. “I had always worked on commercial spaces and affordable housing projects,” he says.

During a snowstorm, DiPasquale was headed downtown on foot when he bumped into Mary Yun, then of Rice Yun Architects. She offered to weigh in on his initial drawings and ended up becoming a major creative force on the seven-month project. “She took what I had and improved it immensely. It was a real collaboration,” he says.

The back porch — a screened-in room with 20 foot ceilings, for example — was Yun’s idea. “Day or night I’m on that porch looking up through the trees to the sky,” DiPasquale says.

McGrath made his mark, too. “People think I’m the fussy designer and he just writes the checks, but he’s really a frustrated architect,” DiPasquale says of his husband. “He’s not a typical doctor. He’s very worldly and fun.” During medical school, McGrath took piano lessons, and now a grand piano dominates the living room. Making the instrument unavoidable was part of the plan. “We forced our kids to learn instruments,” DiPasquale says, “and now Jason plays piano and guitar and Spencer plays piano, guitar, and violin. It warms a parent’s heart when a child comes home from college and plays a piano.”

Kid-friendly magnet

Most of all, the couple wanted to have a dining room — not a formal place that only gets used on holidays, but a place to connect with their kids every night. In fact, they made it physically impossible to have a family meal in the kitchen, which only seats three. “I have managed to institute a family dinner for just the four of us,” says DiPasquale. “Now that we have somewhat adult children, this has been a great place for us to have adult conversations. After that, forget it, they scatter,” he says, laughing. “Their friends show up and tiptoe around me — I’m usually reading the newspaper with a fire going — and this swarm of kids walks by to what we call the playroom.”

The playroom — a throwback label from when the kids were children — was actually designed to work as a first-floor bedroom and bathroom should they need to accommodate elderly relatives. But for now, the room’s stocked with computers and guitars. And the home’s location — right by the high school — has always made it a prime hang-out spot. “This place is a magnet for my kids and their friends. We’ve got kids coming in and out of this house all the time,” DiPasquale says. The family dinners, a house full of music, kids streaming to and fro — that’s what DiPasquale prizes. “I’m all about meaning — that’s a word I use a lot. Living in Boston wasn’t that meaningful. It was fun for a while, but we didn’t need to go to another Pops concert. We wanted our kids to grow up in a place they could identify with — a real place, not a suburb.”

Katy McColl Lukens can be reached at katymccollwork@gmail.com.