Home Team: Behind the plate with Catherine and Jason Varitek

During his fifteen-year career with the Boston Red Sox, Jason Varitek earned mythical status in the hearts and minds of the Fenway Faithful. A lunch-pail ball player short on words, Varitek epitomized the grittiness that New Englanders came to love in other Boston sports icons like Larry Bird and Bobby Orr. Whether it was stuffing his catcher’s mitt in Alex Rodriguez’s face and igniting a bench-clearing brawl with the Yankees or jumping into the arms of closer Keith Foulke after capping off the Red Sox’s first World Series win in eighty-six years, Varitek forged unforgettable memories for Red Sox nation that stretch from Lansdowne Street up to Down East, Maine. And yet despite enjoying a familiarity with the fan base that remains as strong as ever, there is a side of Jason Varitek that few have ever seen—at least until now.

“We’re huggers,” Catherine Varitek laughs before pulling each member of our team into a warm embrace and then parading us into her home in Hingham. “I thought I’d whip up a fresh arugula salad with some grilled shrimp for the photo shoot … you said a ‘summery recipe,’ right?” Catherine flashes a dazzling smile and glides behind a cutting board where a stack of fresh dill awaits her knife. “I designed most of this myself,” she says, gesturing to the rest of the kitchen, “sketched up all the cabinets on the plane from Georgia.” She pivots and pulls out two narrow drawers flanking either side of her sixty-inch, six-burner Wolf stove, revealing swiftly accessible cutting boards and knives. “We started with the kitchen and then just ended up doing the entire place,” she continues. “We still haven’t touched the basement where Jason’s man cave will be with all his baseball memorabilia … there’s a ton of it.”

As if being called in from the bullpen, in walks “The Captain” himself, Red Sox Hall of Famer and two-time World Series champion—Jason Varitek in the flesh. “Thanks for coming,” he says, extending a hand as big as a lion’s paw. In the pantheon of Fenway favorites, Varitek’s name resides alongside the likes of Fisk, Pesky and Evans. Fans so love this retired catcher that when the manager position opened up unexpectedly this offseason, they chanted his name as the heir apparent. Instead, Jason wished to spend more time with his family, which is exactly what he’s doing today by helping take care of his youngest daughter, Olivia, who is home from school with a 102-degree fever. He calls the youngster off the couch, where she’s curled up with the family’s two labs, Cola and Luna: “Come shake these nice people’s hands.”

Olivia Varitek pads across the bleached walnut floor and then nestles shyly against her father. “She’ll warm up,” Catherine says. “She’s actually a great cook herself—right, Liv? Maybe you want to whip us up something later?” If being one of the few players to play in the Little League World Series, the NCAA College World Series and the MLB World Series is Varitek’s claim to fame, cooking and entertaining are Catherine’s. Born and raised in a big Greek family on Cape Cod, Catherine opened her first restaurant at the age of twenty-six. “I learned everything from my grandmother,” she says, pointing her knife to another cutting board carved with some intelligible script. “That’s one of her recipes … in Greek, of course.” Cooking for dozens of family and friends is Catherine’s greatest joy, so when she and Jason purchased their home in Hingham three summers ago, they were determined to renovate the space with entertaining in mind.

  “Yeah, I’ve always loved having people over,” Jason says, when asked if hosting was a familiar role for him before meeting his wife seven years ago. “Of course, the food was never as good. I’d just throw some meat on the grill.” All this talk about food has got everyone hungry—and Catherine seems to sense it. “I’m ordering us lunch,” she announces. We instinctively protest. After all, we’re here to photograph their home—not mess it up. But Catherine insists, sliding a take-out menu across the counter. “I’d cook for you all myself, but I know you want to keep the kitchen clean for the photos.”

As Catherine orders a spread of food, we start setting up tripods, lights and scrims to photograph their exquisitely designed home. There really isn’t a need for additional lighting as the space beams as bright as Catherine’s smile. The kitchen is undoubtedly her kingdom, which she has strategically designed as tight and efficient as drum set. “It’s like my grandma taught me: You want to have everything at your hands,” Catherine explains. “So if I am standing at the stove, which my kitchen is based around, I can reach for everything to my left and right by habit.” She pulls out the drawers where every item has a designated spot. “We wanted to utilize and maximize every single space.”

The Variteks downsized from an 11,000-square-foot home in Georgia to this 6,000-square-foot home in Hingham. While 6,000 square feet is nothing to scoff at, the couple says the original space felt much smaller when they first purchased it. “The ceilings in the kitchen were seven-and-a-half feet tall,” Jason says. “I didn’t even need to be on my tippy toes to touch it.” What started with blowing out one of the walls in the kitchen and switching out the cabinets turned into knocking down all the walls, ripping up the floor and raising the ceiling. “We brought it down to the studs,” Catherine says. “It turned into a rabbit hole of renovations.”

Drawing on years of paging through design magazines and lessons from past renovations, Catherine envisioned their first floor to feel refined, but also not overly precious. “I wanted it to be transitional with a little mix of contemporary and traditional,” Catherine says. “I wanted it bright and open, so you could see what was going on from anywhere on the first floor.” With that in mind, the living room, dining room and kitchen all feel self-contained, while also part of a big, unified space. Jason insisted on a certain symmetry to these three sections, with all the lines matching up perfectly.

“Catherine carried the bulk of the design, while I carried the bulk of the details,” he says. He scrutinized the number of recessed lights, made suggestions for the bathroom and streamlined the functionality of the kitchen by having all the electrical sockets hidden from view. When the kitchen’s quartzite countertop broke during the installation while Catherine was away, Jason was forced to select a replacement to keep the project on track. “I was scared to death because Catherine had picked the specific color and I’m not overly picky when it comes to colors,” he laughs. Despite his trepidation, Jason not only decided on a solid replacement, but he also chose the massive pieces of soapstone used for the fireplace. “I had to match up the veins so it looked like one big piece of stone,” he explains. “Now it’s all about maintaining and cleaning—that’s my job.”

To the right of the kitchen, a more casual media room has custom shelves holding family photos and an assortment of baseball mementos, most notably two World Series trophies that are displayed behind glass on either side of the television. Hanging from the vaulted hand-painted silver-leaf ceiling is a dramatic Chanteuse Chandelier from Currey & Company, which gilds the lily when it comes to the first floor’s exuberant lighting.

In fact, the only dark space on the first floor is Jason’s office, a simple yet handsome study displaying some of his most memorable trophies. There’s his Red Sox Hall of Fame plaque, his Silver Slugger trophy, his 2005 Gold Glove Award and four framed jerseys each signed by pitchers whom Jason helped throw no-hitters. “When we were moving in here, I was taking that out of the box and the two baseballs fell off the trophy … and I threw them away by accident,” Catherine whispers, nodding to the Gold Glove award, “so I just got two baseballs and spray painted them gold!” The focal point of the office is a simple wooden desk. “Made that myself,” Jason says. “I built it from pieces of wood from our old house in Georgia.” He runs his hand down the desk to a small sign that reads BEHIND THIS DESK. THE MAN. THE MYTH. THE LEGEND. “I’d love to get rid of this for the photo,” he says, snatching it. “Catherine got it for me as a joke.”

Fifteen minutes later, we congregate around a long wooden table where Jason has returned from picking up our lunch and unpacked containers of salad, fish tacos and one serving of pasta. “Who got the Bolognese at 10:30 in the morning?” Catherine laughs. “Oh, wait, that was me! I’m sorry gluten-free people … I don’t even care … you just have to eat what you like.” Catherine is fast-talking, fun-loving and instantly likeable. “Liv, you having lunch?” In walks Olivia Varitek proudly bearing a board of charcuterie of her own creation. There are skewers with orange slices and cheese. She places the board on the table and then offers everyone some homemade lemonade. Clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to hospitality.

And that’s really the story behind this home in Hingham. Yes, every detail is thoughtfully designed, strategically placed and entirely custom. But it’s the warm, fun energy that the Variteks fill their space with that defines how they live. More often than not, high-profile photo shoots are tense and time-restricted, with photographers and crew tiptoeing around their subjects reverentially. By contrast, Catherine and Jason Varitek couldn’t be more accommodating. They are truly consummate hosts, and when it comes to making a house a home—that’s really the name of the game.

Find Catherine’s Greek Shrimp and Arugula Salad Here

Written by Robert Cocuzzo

Creative Direction by Sharon Bartholomew

Photography by Dan Cutrona

STYLING BY Roberta Sobran Of Delicious Designs

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