Room to Grow

A neighborly architect designs an addition for the family next door—twice—and makes great friends along the way.

It happened over the course of about 20 years, and along the way came five kids, two dogs and the addition of more than 3,000 square feet of living space. Through working together, Christina and Tom Haralampoudis and their next-door neighbors, architect Jeff Gertler and his wife, former Olympic figure skater JoJo Starbuck, became best of friends.

The story starts in 1992, when Tom and Christina married and bought a perfectly nondescript split-level home on a wonderful tree-lined street in Madison. Although they never imagined they’d raise a large brood there, they found themselves already bursting at the seams by 2000 with two children, Elena and Gus. Good thing their next-door neighbor is an architect. Gertler, principal in Manhattan-based Gertler & Wente Architects, and Starbuck, were casual friends with Christina and Tom. But it was when Tom approached Gertler, asking him to design an addition to accommodate their growing family—Christina was then pregnant with their third child—that the friendship really began to flourish.

Gertler was happy to oblige. “The original plan was to remove the awkwardness of the split-level,” he says. “We demolished the entire left side of the house and then rebuilt it to create one level.” Other improvements included a new kitchen, second-level master bedroom suite and an entire refacing of the exterior. “The result was a modern shingle-style home,” Gertler says.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just the adults who were growing closer. The children—Gertler and Starbuck have twins, Abraham and Noah, the same age as Elena—found that they, too, liked hanging out. “It’s funny what good friends they’ve all become,” says Christina.

But the story doesn’t end there. Christina and Tom soon had another, then yet another child—five in total—and they outgrew their home again. Tom, who is in the import-export business, and Christina, a lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom, didn’t want to leave the neighborhood they’d come to love. “We have a really great street,” says Christina.

So in 2009 work began on a second addition. This time the focus was on the right side of the house. “We demolished the back half and the right side,” says Gertler, which allowed room for an expansive great room, a three-car garage, two more bedrooms, laundry space and mudroom. While Christina’s dream was a large kitchen and eating area that flows into the family room, Tom’s was a large garage for his classic cars. They both got their wishes.

“Everything just works so well,” says Christina. “It’s a little bigger than we expected, but we have a big family, and now we can all hang out together.” Their style of entertaining runs to casual gatherings. “I’m not into dinner parties,” she says. “We’ll have over three families with 15 kids. And everyone fits—the flow is perfect.”

Now, at nearly 7,000 square feet, the house is ideal for this family of seven. “There’s no formalness to it,” says Christina. “Our style is pretty simple—nothing is off limits.”

The two couples continue to be great friends, enjoying events like New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday together. “All the kids and adults get along great,” says Christina. “The kids don’t even migrate downstairs to the basement. They like to be with us.”

“The joke around the neighborhood is that I’m the second person to know that Christina is pregnant,” says Gertler. “Tom will call me to see if I’m interested in putting an addition onto their house, and I ask, when is Christina due. It’s happened twice now. If the neighbors see me with a tape measure at the house, they know Christina is pregnant.”

Photos by Laura Moss.


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