Commanding the Land

Poised above Pleasant Bay, an elegant rebuilt cottage turned tragedy into triumph with a thoughtful design.

By Laurel Kornhiser | Photography by Dan Cutrona

Cape cottages often have a fairy tale quality to them. They are charming, colorful, a bit whimsical, casual, cozy, and compact.

When Coleen Pelletier met with Peter Polhemus and John DaSilva of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders to plan the new home that would take up residence on a property she and her husband had bought eleven years before, she conjured a “cottage by the sea.” She was not yet thinking fairy tale; she was envisioning a house that fit the land, a place that belonged, and a retreat evoking a vacation state of mind. When construction was complete, and she first stepped across the threshold, the words that entered her mind were “fairy tale.”

Just as fairy tales tell a simple story that is big on meaning, this modest home makes an impact that belies its size—by design. John DaSilva calls it a “small house with a big scale. It’s almost like we took a dollhouse and blew it up to life size.” As with any good story, the magic is in the details. The imagination is fooled into thinking this home lives larger because of its oversized windows and muttons, large-scale working shutters, steep roof lines, large chimney cap, grandly gracious driveway, and arches flanking the entry porch, which not only suggest greater depth but also cast doubling shadows.

This beguiling cottage is a happy ending to what started as a tragedy. One winter, several years after Pelletier and her husband bought the property, the pipes burst in the existing house, and by spring, mold was in full bloom, rendering the house unsalvageable. The house needed to go. What remained was the priceless view. The property sits atop a hill overlooking Crow’s Pond in the foreground, Pleasant Bay beyond, and then out to the broad Atlantic Ocean. The challenge for DaSilva and Polhemus became planning a home that soaked in the views, that fit a tight footprint, and that satisfied stringent local architectural and conservation restrictions.
“It’s a pleasure to design a small house that has a big job to do in terms of sitting and character,” says DaSilva, who wholeheartedly embraced the task. “It was satisfying to command that spectacular hillside over Crow’s Pond plus the long distance prospect. To respond with a small house was a big challenge.”
Given the restrictions, an architect may have been tempted to construct a Cape Cod-style home on the property. Certainly it would “fit,” but as DaSilva says, “In terms of relating to the specific site and context, that would be a lost opportunity.” The gabled home DaSilva designed sits at an angle to the street, but not to the view. “It’s the first house on the peninsula between Crow’s Pond and Ryder’s Cove,” DaSilva says. “It welcomes you. In fact, it is tilted, which gives a more frontal view as you approach the neighborhood.”

Just as the exterior suggests a size that exceeds its measurements, so, too, does the compact interior feel spacious, starting with the two-story foyer, where one first glimpses the pond and bay. Two of the three bedrooms—one for Coleen’s son and one for her friends who visit frequently—occupy the second floor, while the master bedroom shares the first floor with the open kitchen/dining/living area. Enriching the open living experience are the screened-in porch, a generous mahogany deck, a second-floor balcony, and a fire pit patio on the lower slope of the property. “Part of the reason we were able to capture the view with a modest-sized house is because of the extensions,” says Polhemus. “With the screened porch and deck, it is almost like extending arms that reach into the landscape. It feels more substantial and grounded.”

Pelletier, who owns a more formal home on a golf course in Plymouth, MA., relishes the peace these spaces grant her. With a cup of coffee in hand, she relaxes in her wicker chair on the porch, watching the boating activity on Crow’s Pond. Often her son is one of the boaters plying his Boston Whaler out on the bay. Sometimes Coleen goes for a cruise with him, maybe catching sight of the dozens of seals basking along the Chatham shoreline or gliding over to the elegant Wequassett Inn to meet friends for lunch. On days when she returns from shopping in town, she is welcomed home by the cheerful blues and whites that prevail throughout the cottage. “I’ve always enjoyed decorating,” says Pelletier, who put together the interior design of the cottage alone. “I know what talks to me. I know what feels good.”

While her winter home in Plymouth is more formally attired, she went for a lighter mood in her Chatham cottage, surrounding herself by much beloved objects, such as those displayed on built-in shelves next to the fireplace—blue and white plates from Chatham pottery, blue glass from Ireland, a collector’s “wave” bowl by Lenox, Swarovski crystal pieces, all Pelletier says, “having to do with living by the sea.” Carrying this sea theme further are the shells that abound in the cottage— sitting as sculptures on crisp white shelves, embedded in the blue and white tiles surrounding the living room fireplace, evoked on the backs of the dining chairs, interspersed along the kitchen backsplash, and carved as a motif over the kitchen sink.

The kitchen, designed by Classic Kitchens and Interiors of Hyannis, exemplifies cottage charm. Glass-faced cabinets display Pelletier’s collection of Claire Murray Cottage Collection dinnerware and the Tiffany Hydrangea set her son gave her as a Christmas gift. While the living room fireplace is surrounded by featherboard, the kitchen cabinets, with pull-out drawers for easy access, are bead board. The centerpiece island makes serving a group in this guest-friendly house easy. “I wanted a large island mostly to use as a service area,” says Pelletier. “My son, his friends, my friends, all just pick up food and go out to the porch or the deck or to the fire pit patio.” When it is time to move inside, her son and his company often head to the finished lower level for a game of pool or a refreshment from the bar. A pull-out sofa offers additional accommodation for overnight guests.

When it is time for her to retreat, Pelletier heads to her very feminine master bedroom, decorated in soft creams and shades of pink. Floral fabrics, a marble-framed fireplace, and a delicate crystal chandelier hanging over the luxurious Jacuzzi tub make her space an elegant escape.

Pelletier has achieved her dream of a cottage by the sea and says that the minute she crosses the Sagamore Bridge on her way to Chatham, she feels like she is on vacation. As she pulls around to her garage, she passes by her favorite flowers, peonies, roses, rose of Sharon, and the birches and Japanese maple trees she helped manager J.T. Newton of Hawk Design in Boston choose for her landscape. Like the home’s design, the landscape, too, seems larger-than-life despite conservation constrictions and limited space. A broad bluestone path and sweeping bluestone driveway with a center grass strip suggest the entry to an estate.

“Hawk Design did a great job making a tight site feel gracious,” says DaSilva. “Though a shallow site, there are two ways in and out.” To keep the feeling from becoming too formal, Coleen has added windowboxes, whose plants she switches out each season, including tulips and daffodils for spring, a full flourish of flowers for summer, and pumpkins for fall.

Having lived with the house through all four seasons now, Pelletier is positive there isn’t a thing she would do differently. For a home construction project, that is truly a fairy tale ending.