A shingle-style home on the banks of Oyster Pond allows an extended family to enjoy common memories while providing some solitude and privacy as well.By Mary Grauerholz | Photography by Brian Vanden Brink
Tucked along the rolling waterline of Chatham’s Oyster Pond Harbor, this two-story shingle-style home sits like an elegant sentry, ever watchful over an endless blue stretch of water and open sky. The house so naturally comingles light, line, and form that it looks like it could have been here forever.
That’s exactly the way the homeowners, John and Bonnie Roussel, and Bonnie’s parents, Vic and Joan Anderson, have felt about their summer house since the project began several years ago.
All have a long history with Cape Cod. John had been coming here from New Hampshire throughout childhood. For Bonnie and her parents, they’ve had a lifetime of extended visits to this seaside community, starting with family vacations at a cottage colony in South Chatham. When the Roussels moved to Chicago, where John works in food service, the couple felt a strong pull back to Chatham. “We wanted to get back, get closer to family,” John says, especially so the Roussels’ son Jamie, 17, and daughter Jillian, 15, could spend more time with their grandparents.
Around this time, the stars aligned. As the Roussels began thinking of their ideal summer house, Bonnie’s parents were nursing a dream to relocate from Brewster to Chatham. It was a perfect opportunity to create a home for everyone. “We wanted a multigenerational house, to get something where everybody is comfortable,” John says. It was clear that this house would have to do much more than provide shelter; it would be a melting pot of summer memories and all the traditional high-season activities: swimming, fishing, cooking, and spending time together.
The family hired Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders in Chatham. Both John Roussel and principal John R. DaSilva have emotional connections to shingle-style architecture. Roussel’s ancestry traces back to French Quebec City, where shingle-style structures—with their emphasis on horizontal continuity and a pleasing flow of spaces—appears in spectacular French mode; DaSilva is the author of Shingled Houses in the Summer Sun, a widely-acclaimed book on the topic.
Although American in its roots, shingle-style is sometimes influenced by French farmhouses, DaSilva says. At the Roussels’ front entry, a beautifully simple blue door, tucked in at the side of the porch, is set off by hydrangeas and Black-eyed Susans. Supporting columns are topped with ornamental touches resembling Acanthus leaves. The porch’s red cedar siding and the shining mahogany in the porch flooring and bench give a welcoming, warm air.
The house is a celebration of natural beauty. With banks of wrap-around windows, virtually every room has a spectacular view. Walls are washed with natural subtle colors that change tone with the movement of the sun. Open spaces, simple decorative motifs, and clean-lined accoutrements keep the attention focused on the world outside.
In the summer, the house is full of activity, and the family often has guests (among other things, the Roussels regularly host baseball players from the Chatham Anglers; Jamie is the assistant manager of the snack bar). Most high-season days are filled with full-on family celebrations, with cookouts and boat trips where John and Jamie tool around in their Boston whaler, sometimes finding that night’s dinner. From the home’s windows, the family can see the oystermen of Chatham Shellfish Company working the waters. “There’s nothing like having fresh food like this,” John says. “When you live in Chicago, you don’t have that chance.”
When the Roussels told DaSilva about the many roles the house needed to fill, the architect and his team knew that shingle style was perfect. “It’s loose enough to allow a house a unified character, but also break into smaller pieces,” DaSilva says. This was perfect for the three-generation Roussel household.
The first floor is anchored by the great room (what some might consider the living room) on one end and a separate wing for Bonnie’s parents on the other. “From the start, it was important for everyone to have some privacy,” Bonnie Roussel says. “The in-law suite was the ideal solution. It created a retreat for my parents. It’s not to say the grandkids are off limits; often we’ll find everyone together, cozied up in the suite watching TV.”
Those rooms and the rest of the main living spaces in between — kitchen, dining room, study, and sweeping waterfront porch — face the water and boast glorious views. The great room and the surrounding space on the first floor is the nexus of the Roussels’ family life. While some families would divide that part of the house into a living room, dining room, and kitchen — with more formal places for entertaining — the Roussels and Andersons treat it as one free-flowing family-oriented space.
The space, with a hefty fireplace of New England fieldstone, has a simple decorative motif of sharp angles, repeated in the bookcases, audio-visual electronics cases, windows, and window seats.
One of DaSilva’s main challenges was to design a house where the living spaces are all in back, for views and privacy, but to have a front that is animated and welcoming. DaSilva and his colleagues accomplished it by containing the spaces that don’t require a water view — garage, mudroom, laundry room, and stair hall — in the central gambrel-roofed portion. They then placed the two wings away from the central mass, rotating the rooms for the awesome views. From the exterior waterside of the house, the side wings appear like artful octagonal pavilions.
The second floor features several bedrooms. In the basement portion of the house, there’s a large playroom with walk-out access to a terrace and swimming pool. Designed in free form by Hawk Design in Sagamore, the area is positioned to offer protection from the wind.
The most visible tip-off to the family’s and DaSilva’s similar style and life philosophy is on the roof, where a mermaid weathervane gazes dreamily over Oyster Pond and beyond it, Nantucket Sound. The whimsical copper weathervane, fabricated by metalsmith Tom Huckman, symbolizes the romantic air that falls like a veil over the house.
The story began, DaSilva says, when he got an email from John Roussel, saying that he and family were thinking of names for the house. “That kind of gave me a little creative project to tie something textual into the visual,” DaSilva says. DaSilva sent a suggestion, Maison Sirene d’Huitre, which means “House of the Oyster’s Mermaid,” and a fictional bit of lore about a mermaid who keeps constant watch for her lover, sometimes coming off her perch to cavort with oysters in the night. “He really loved it,” DaSilva says. The two men sent the legend back and forth, developing the storyline, until it felt just right.
The story is like the home. “It’s something they’ll have the rest of their lives,” says DaSilva, “and their children will have for the rest of their lives.”