A New Home’s Old Soul

A couple eschews the casual beach theme to incorporate a more formal premise.

By Scott Lajoie | Photography by Dan Cutrona

Some retirees see a transition to Cape Cod as a perfect chance to start anew. Build or refurbish the traditional shingle-style home and decorate it in the classic beach theme—a welcome change from the many years of living more practically—and oftentimes more formally—in an urban or suburban setting. But these Chatham homeowners, who had vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard as their children were growing up but eventually wanted to settle on the mainland, didn’t want to abandon all the memory-laden furniture and accoutrements they had accumulated over the years.

The couple started the design of the house when they began working with Boston architect Kent Duckham, who has completed a few houses in that area of Chatham. “But we feel that the seeds of that design were well before that—probably more than 20 years ago—when my wife bought her first William Morris chair,” says the husband.

It started with the stellar location. They purchased a little Cape with “some poorly done additions” facing the ocean in Chatham. When time came to raze the house, Duckham designed a gambrel (utilized quite a bit in Chatham to meet restrictive height requirements) that fit modestly into the landscape, but provided enough square footage for visiting guests and family. Their further challenge was to build a house that allowed for their formal tastes but also took advantage of their unimpeded views of the Lighthouse Beach dunes and surf beyond.

The husband is an engineer by trade and wished for symmetry. With the exception of a third chimney, the façade to the water is symmetric perfection, and battens up well to the elements and the ferocity of the occasional nor’easter. The symmetry allows for the indoor space there to be divided into three distinct rooms, two sitting rooms and a formal dining room with waist-high built-in cabinetry, columns, and subtle arched walkthroughs. The homeowners decided against one expansive contemporary great room not because of privacy issues (one can easily call out from one end to the other), but because they wanted the visual appearance to be something a little more formal.

The street-facing side, however, is hardly symmetrical, with a gambrel portico set within a gambrel dormer. A section branches off at an angle to house a two-bay garage (there is a third bay in a guest cottage closer to the street) and offices on the second floor. Duckham is known for incorporating a staircase into the foyer on the other side of the portico. It winds up to a second floor balcony that has some asymmetrical curves leading to a small desk and chair.
One can’t help but notice the beautiful Oriental rugs. “We have a few from our parents and have purchased the rest of them over time,” says the wife, a teacher and a painter. “They work really well in a climate like Cape Cod and they are easy to clean. One in particular used to be in my husband’s nursery when he was a baby. The rugs add a real punch of color with the walls and most of the furniture being neutral.”

The highlight of the house’s furniture is the Morris chairs, which are not bulky and oversized like most of the furniture you see today. They have ornately decorated wooden arms, but are surprisingly comfortable. “I love William Morris’s philosophy to create lovely pieces of furniture for the masses at reasonable prices,” she says. “The carved wood adds a real artistic dimension to each piece, but they still recline.” She explains they are easy to keep clean, and with only two cushions she can change up their look inexpensively.

The kitchen is the wife’s love. She has lived in many houses where she had no control over the layout. For this house, she finally got the U-shaped layout, the dual fuel stove, drawers to supplement the refrigerator, warming drawers, a steam oven, and the dishwashers she wanted. But she didn’t want the amenities to look too modern; she selected Carrera marble and quarter-sawn oak to give her kitchen a “timeless” look and feel.

The husband started collecting maps and navigation charts when they first fell for Chatham, given its heralded waterways and the unique history of the cuts and accretion over the last 200 years. He was particularly interested in the work of Chatham native George Eldridge, the cartographer who drew the first navigation charts of local waters where the husband fishes.

While Duckham designed a home that has numerous spots where the couple can sit comfortably and soak up the view—be it from one of their formal living spaces, the master bedroom, or the beautiful stone patio on the south side of the house—the design of the interiors bring a sense of history. “We have always been interested in older things and the historical nature of the Cape,” says the wife. They are happy that their house, and the décor within, reflects that perfectly.

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