Should You Purchase and Remodel a Home in Back Bay, Boston?
Looking to buy or remodel a house in Back Bay?
Here’s our take:
Simply put, if you are professional living in or moving to Boston, Back Bay is where you want to be. If you have the opportunity to get in there, do so at once. Living in Back Bay is the equivalent of luxury courtside seats to all that is good in this vibrant, cultured city of Boston. Let me tell you, seating is extremely limited in this upscale, brick-lined neighborhood.
In a city teeming with life, culture, identity, and history, Back Bay stands out as an iconic locale with its own aesthetic and is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Boston. Back Bay is not a city or town in itself — but rather an affluent and intensely desirable neighborhood in the center of Boston.
Back Bay’s history and makeup
Back Bay spans an area of land that was once quite literally one of Boston’s bays and a part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Between 1857 and 1880 this area was filled in and reclaimed in an effort to provide a venue for luxury housing in Boston. This effort over several decades yielded an additional 450 finite acres that became what is today known as Back Bay. Prime real estate, if this has ever been true.
The planning of Back Bay was similar to starting with a blank slate — there was no existing city structure to build around, no foundations, infrastructure, or defining pre-existing conditions. There were no existing roads or structure of any kind, so planning was able to be done towards the ideal.
Think France…and that’s exactly what Arthur Gildman of the firm Gridley Fox James Bryant did. Greatly influenced by an earlier renovation of Paris, Arthur Gildman crafted Back Bay with wide, long parallel streets lined with trees — completely different from the rest of Boston at the time.
Back Bay is now considered one of the safest areas of Boston to live and is home to a large number of high-end restaurants, eateries, and coffee shops. It’s also filled with high-end residences, brownstone homes, fashionable shopping areas, and iconic business venues such as the John Hancock Tower — Boston’s tallest skyscraper.
Back Bay’s Layout
Back Bay is a rectangular grid of classic aesthetics with a regal undercurrent of power. To properly orient you with a quick mental tour, there are are five major streets running East to West:
- • Beacon Street
- • Marlborough Street
- • Commonwealth Avenue
- • Newbury Street
- • Boylston Avenue
Streets running North to South are titled alphabetically: Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, etc. through Kilmarnock street.
So the heart of Boston’s Back Bay is literally 5 streets wide by 11 streets long — an elegant neighborhood literally crafted from the Atlantic. That gives you an overview of the layout of Back Bay, this geographic area does extend out slightly from this rectangular center, but it is finite, exact, and well-planned. The vibe is one of upscale, comfortable sophistication.
Architecture in Back Bay
The Architectural Style in Back Bay is Mid-19th Century Revival combined with Late 19th and 20th Century Revival, as well as Late Victorian with rows of elegant iconic brownstone homes lining the streets. Envision beautiful brick townhomes in Victorian & Edwardian style.
The Prudential Tower and John Hancock tower lend a sense of business to parts of Back Bay as iconic skyscrapers and Boston’s largest towers — an elegant and longstanding aspect of Boston’s skyline.
Art and Culture in Back Bay
When you think fine shopping in Boston, one inevitably thinks of Newbury Street — Boston’s version of Rodeo Drive. A stunning display of high-end and luxury designer shops, Newbury Street is home to all major brands from Burberry to Valentino, retail stores and fine eateries, as well as many salons and day spas.
Colonial Boston consisted of smaller streets and thoroughfares designed to accommodate horse carts and men on foot. Think small and narrow. This makes for an inherent inner city roadway design that is not conducive to today’s traffic flow, causing congestion at times as in any major European City. Back Bay is the exact opposite — think space, traffic flow, and pleasant tree-lined streets.
Copley Square is located in Back Bay and was named after American painter John Singleton Copley in 1883. Up until this time it had been known as Art Square, denoting the cultural and artistic ethos of this section of town. Within Copley Square stands the Old South Church, the John Hancock Tower, and the Boston Public Library, among various other long-standing and reputable cultural institutions. There is an artistic, cultured, business vibe that is unique to this area.
Copley Square is quintessential Boston. It’s where the Boston Marathon ends and is home to the BPL (Boston Public Library), a large and beautiful sanctuary offering 6.1 million titles. BPL is an educational resource hub for many of the prestigious universities and professional organizations in Boston.
MIT is directly across the Charles River and the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common are directly adjacent, providing beautiful cultured venues for walking, exercise, or taking one’s dog for a walk. The Boston Public Garden was created in 1837 and is one of the truly beautiful outdoor areas in all of Boston.
Back Bay Hotspots
There are many — here are a few of our favorites:
Grille 23 & Bar — 161 Berkeley St
At the intersection of Stuart and Berkeley, Grille 23 is one of my very favorites in all of Boston. Grille 23 has a classy, intimate setting perfect for family, meetings, or an interview. Grille 23 has been lauded in the Boston Globe, Zagat, Boston Magazine, and a host of others. It is quintessentially Boston. An independent Steakhouse founded by Marblehead native Ken Himmel in the 1980s, Grille 23 has perfected its service and experience over four decades; now led by 2nd generation restaurateur Chris Himmel. Think one-of-a-kind steak and seafood classics arguably the best in Boston and passionately sourced from the finest outlets in New England. Family created and owned, authentic, and with a one-of-a-kind vibe, Chris is often there himself. Grille 23 is a venue I would recommend 100 percent — you can’t go wrong with the 55-day-aged Tomahawk Ribeye Steak.
Oak Long Bar & Kitchen — 138 St. James St
With a farm-to-table approach, this venue is an incredible go to for breakfast or dinner. Oak Long Bar was voted #1 Hotel Bar by Boston Magazine and featured in Conde Nast Traveller, Boston Chefs, and others. It’s a beautiful setting both elegant and warm. The St. James Breakfast and Poached Peaches & Pancakes are items that you can’t go wrong with. (As a note, Oak Long is now open again as of Friday, 7 August following COVID-19 temporary suspension of sit-down operations.)
Thinking Cup Back Bay — Located at 85 Newbury St
This venue is just exceptional in all respects, from the coffee and ambiance to the delicious array of exceptional and unique foods. Thinking Cup proudly serves Stumptown Coffee (arguably the best coffee in the world per NPR, The New York Times, USA Today and Food & Wine Mag) out of Stumptown’s roasting facility in Brooklyn, NY. The vibe is comfortable and uplifting, and the food creative, original, and delicious — from my go-to salmon on a bagel to the ‘Jittery Hen’ sandwich, “Stumptown coffee braised chicken, house-made BBQ sauce, pickles and smoked gruyere cheese on sourdough bread.” Yes, please.
Atlantic Fish Co — 761 Boylston St
This is a fourth-generation family-owned enterprise which does pretty much ocean-to-table operation with simply amazing seafood. The Atlantic family has been providing great service since 1906 and sources fresh seafood from local New England waters. Atlantic is considered one of the 10 best seafood restaurants in Boston (that’s saying something). The New England clam chowder is amazing, as are Atlantic’s array of lobster dishes. You can’t go wrong with the Australian Wagyu NY Strip Steak followed by any of the amazing desserts — think gluten-free chocolate marquise with raspberry salsa or peppermint ice cream pie with chocolate ganache. Simply masterful.
Coffee Houses of Note in Back Bay (because we truly love coffee):
Tatte Bakery & Cafe — 399 Boylston St
This Boston creation is the creative brainchild of Israel-born film producer Tzurit Or. She started in her home in 2007 and has since expanded to 15 locations. The ethos and experience she is aiming for is that of a hug — we think she utterly nailed it. Tatte offers a homey and delicious all-day menu — the egg in a hole is an absolutely must: 2 fried eggs nestled in a Jerusalem bagel.
Pavement Coffee Boston — 736 Commonwealth Ave
Pavement has an exceptional array of both coffee and teas — definitely worth checking out.
Transportation in Back Bay
Back Bay is home to four train stops on Boston’s Green Line: Arlington, Copley, Hynes Convention Center, and Prudential. Additionally, there is the Back Bay station on the Orange Line which is also an Amtrak Station.
Back Bay and Boston are cycle-friendly, with a large expanse of cycling lanes and more being added. Cycling is being built into the ethos of Boston — a more European feel where one can cycle to work, the grocery store, market, or simply throughout the city for enjoyment and exercise. Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, makes Boston’s cycling planning clear here https://www.boston.gov/departments/boston-bikes/better-bike-lanes.
Ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft also both operate throughout Back Bay and Boston.
Logan International Airport is 4.5 miles away from Back Bay, which translates into a 10-15 min journey by car depending on time of day and traffic. Logan is one of the world’s largest international airports from which you can access virtually any carrier or destination. Logan is the 16th largest airport in the US and offers direct flights to areas throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Boston has a New England vibe truly like none other — all four seasons are on magnificent display.
Expect hot humid summers, snow in the winter, and a one-of-a-kind fall — explosions of glorious color as the leaves change. Back Bay has an array of beautiful trees as part of its elegant ethos, ranging from Japanese Maple, Dogwood, and Magnolia to Crabapple and Cherry.
The fall is exceptional with a sweater-inducing chill and tang of woodsmoke in the air — there is truly nothing like it. This presents an opportunity to layer fashionably and students, professionals, and the eclectic mix of Boston residents can be seen in an array of comfortable fashion. As Back Bay is right on the water, it can get chilly at night and you can feel the presence of the nearby Atlantic.
Schools in Back Bay
Internationally renowned Berklee School of Music calls Back Bay home.
Some additional local educational resources in Back Bay:
- • The Learning Project Elementary School
- • The Newman School
- • Commonwealth School
- • John Winthrop Nursery School
- • Muriel S. Snowden International School
Back Bay Real Estate
These are real estate offices I suggest to contact when interested in purchasing a home in Back Bay.
Campion – Luxury real estate professional Tracy Campion is Boston’s leading residential agent — brokering over 5.3 billion in sales in the last 15 years. She’s Boston’s leading woman for Back Bay and a prominent figure on the Boston Real Estate scene.
Other Back Bay Real Estate Agents
- • Sothebys
- • Keller Williams Realty
- • Compass
- • Berkshire Hathaway
- • Coldwell Banker Residential
- • Hammond Residential Real Estate
- • Redfin Corporation
- • Bowes
- • Advisors Living
Home Remodeling Trends in Back Bay
Design-Bid-Build is the process which has been introduced over the past 150 years or so whereby you hire an architect to draft plans and design your project. You then have it bid out to contractors seeking to perform the project.
This approach has many liabilities for the client due in no small part to the fragmented spheres of responsibilities. There is no single person or entity fully accountable to the client for the entire project’s success. Thus you can have impractical and expensive design work, impractical planning, numerous change orders, shoddy craftsmanship, and projects which are off-timeline and over-budget. In the end the client can be left damaged. You may have experienced this in the past.
Design-Build is clearly the way to go if you want to save on time and money, reduce stress, and eliminate a fragmented sense of project responsibility. Design-Build is a model which stresses single-source accountability with the creative design, planning, and remodel executed start to finish by one firm.
Design-Build is turned to by professionals, families, and individuals as the cutting edge of efficiency, aesthetics, practicality, and accountability when it comes to designing and remodeling a home. This approach packages architectural design and interior design services with highly-skilled and artisan-level building and remodeling services. This natural synthesis makes for a simple, efficient, and accountable creative process followed by a streamlined and responsible execution process. This reduces cost, time of execution, and client stress throughout. In the Design-Build modality, the client is dealing solely with one fully accountable firm.
Back Bay is elegant and cultured with a Colonial aesthetic and flair. It has a defined sense of sophistication, education, beauty and comfort — in my opinion one of the finest areas one could choose to live in the United States.