“This is Cape Cod. Everyone who lives here should definitely embrace this special place. There is no other place like it on earth,” says David Shinn, owner of VU Design in Hyannis. “The light here, the natural environment is so spectacular. Each Cape home should reflect that beauty, but also be a place where you can put your feet up and relax.”
As he walks around VU Design’s airy, yet welcoming 4,000-square-foot showroom just off Hyannis’s Main Street on Bassett Lane, it is obvious Shinn loves the work he and a staff of three other interior designers do for homeowners on Cape Cod and beyond. “I hope our showroom gives customers the flavor of our design strategy, which is based on the value of approachable Cape Cod elegance,” says Shinn, who has over 25 years of interior decorating experience.
“We appreciate designs that are beautiful, but also functional in a kind of vacation-ready, laid-back style,” says Shinn. “There is an importance on the Cape for function over form. In most cases, your second home on the Cape will not be as formal as your main residence.
“You want to be able to come off the beach and throw off your sandals and put your feet up on the coffee table without saying, ‘Is this all right?’ You don’t need to be babysitting your furniture, but you still want it to look great.”
Shinn says VU Design carries dozens of “tried and true” lines known in the industry for classic elegance, yet durability. “All our designers have worked with these lines on a regular basis,” says Shinn. “These styles and fabrics work with what we are all trying to do, which is to balance top-quality furnishings with Cape Cod’s lifestyle needs.”
In a spacious meeting room with a sparkling chandelier, design books cover the walls from floor to ceiling. “These are some of the companies we believe in,” says Shinn gesturing to the books. “We like Cisco Brothers for furniture; Trowbridge of England does an amazing job with their print art work; we carry chandeliers by Chandi Lighting of California—the crystals on these chandeliers are from Poland and Czechoslovakia. These are all companies that are known for quality, yet take the traditional and give it a creative twist.”
Shinn points out several displays of gorgeous fabrics, from brightly colored nautical designs in primary colors to fine linens in subtle natural hues. “These fabrics—created by companies like Thibaut and Robert Allen—are vibrant, top-quality fabrics that have been great forever,” says Shinn, noting that such fabrics may range from $50 to several hundred dollars per yard. “Sometimes you have to help people understand the cost of fabrics that are classics, yet can transition into fun looks with a contemporary edge.”
Pointing out a line of cottage-style furniture with marvelous sculpted lines and seaside-hued limed finishes in one of eight rooms decorated in different vignette styles, Shinn stresses the importance of adding a touch of whimsy—or fun—to every design.
“Interior design should never be uptight,” says Shinn. “Homeowners should have some fun with our designs. Let us as designers go over the edge a little.” Shinn notes that while some homeowners are apprehensive about taking risks, VU’s designers are usually successful in convincing clients to think outside the box. “Ninety percent of the time, clients will see what we have done and say, ‘Wow! I could never have envisioned that, but thank you for pushing me into something so creative.’ It’s part of our job as designers to make that happen for our customers.”
Above all Shinn and his designers believe that each homeowner’s design should be unique, reflecting the customer’s personal tastes and definitive lifestyle needs. “I just don’t believe in cookie cutter designs,” says Shinn. “Each design should be different. Everything doesn’t have to match; I like creative, flexible spaces that really express the homeowner.”
Sometimes clients will be surprised by Shinn’s willingness to incorporate old family pieces that may have more sentimental rather than antique value. “Sometimes clients will take me to an attic or basement, show me an old piece, and say something like, ‘This was my mother’s. I know it is so fuddy-duddy or old-fashioned, but it is really special to me,’” says Shinn. “I tell them ‘let’s make it work somehow’ because it gives them good memories of someone very important in their life.”
This willingness to really listen to his customers and bend his ideas far beyond any blueprint has established a solid customer base for Shinn far beyond Cape Cod. “I have clients that I have grown with for 15 years,” says Shinn, whose experience includes interior decorating for many affluent Cape families and beyond. “Some of these people are very wealthy customers who don’t go shopping. I do all the choosing and shopping for them.” At the other end of the spectrum are customers with a limited budget who receive the same attention from Shinn and all VU’s designers.
“Whatever your style, or your budget, we will work to make your space beautiful and right for your life,” says Shinn. “That is the best thing about this business—surprising someone with a design that may have been hard for them to envision, but that makes them happy every day.”
With a new showroom on Main Street in Falmouth, Longfellow Design Build takes the guesswork out of new kitchen and bath remodeling projects. The company’s team of designers, along with software that produces three-dimensional renderings of how a project may look once completed, allows the staff at Longfellow to assist customers in every phase of the selection process—from the floor to the ceiling and everywhere in between. “We offer one-stop shopping,” says Mark Bogosian, owner of the company. “We provide assistance with everything from the initial design to the final coat of paint on the walls.”
Longfellow carries three cabinetry lines, each featuring an array of colors, and finishes, and price points. Gene Williams, the company’s showroom manager, explains that making choices on cabinets as well as tile, countertops, flooring, lighting, and wall colors, can be overwhelming for the average homeowner. Williams points out that these components often have the most visual impact on a project. Longfellow’s designers help customers make these choices, ensuring the finished product in each home is one that reflects the homeowner’s personal style.
Williams notes that this process may not even be the most important regarding the building of a new kitchen, or a renovation. “It is all,” he says, “about the layout.” Every kitchen, Williams says, should feature ‘a working triangle.’ “There should be a triangle between the sink, oven, and refrigerator,” he says. “In terms of placement, we know what is important. It’s all about the functionality of the kitchen.”
Bathroom projects can also be challenging, Williams says. “Bathrooms are the most unique room in the house to design,” he says. “There are so many different things to consider, such as whether the homeowner prefers cabinets rather than drawers for storage.”
With an endless variety of cabinetry, tile, and flooring options—as well as other features—Longfellow Design Build provides a complete package for any kitchen and bath project.
There is an element of artistry to landscape design that goes far beyond botanical knowledge and technical expertise. Distinctive artistic vision is what makes a designer’s work special—especially in the crowded landscape field on Cape Cod.
When you meet her, you know right away that Maria Hickey is not your typical landscape designer. She looks more like an interior decorator, or maybe the owner of an eclectic art gallery with perfect make-up, a mane of long blond hair, and sculpted nails. When clients first see her on a project—up to her elbows in dirt, a bandana tied around her hair—they often don’t recognize her.
This is a woman who runs her own business providing full-service design, construction, and maintenance services to more than 50 high-end customers on Cape Cod with the precision of a corporate executive. Her cell phone rings often with questions from her staff in the field. The workers send along photos of each project to be sure that Maria’s famous vision is coming to life with accuracy and efficiency—but most of all, with beauty.
Since childhood summers spent with a big family in the seaside haven of Menahaunt, Hickey has been a sponge for Cape Cod’s natural world. “One of my earliest memories is of the scent of rose petals from my grandfather’s Cape garden,” says Hickey, whose childhood surroundings also featured the family’s perennial and vegetable gardens. One of her aunts was a famous author and botanist, Ann Buckley. “When I was a little girl, I would follow her on garden walks. She gave me a notebook to write down all the botanical names of the plants.”
Hickey—whose specialty is exquisite English cottage gardens such as the one she designed for the entrance to Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich—came to landscape design by way of an unusual route. She took some design courses in college, but economic circumstances led her to a successful career in financial services, followed by marriage and motherhood.
It was when she was pregnant with her first son that she realized landscape design was her true calling. “At 28 weeks, I had a pulmonary embolism,” says Hickey. “I had to spend three months in intensive care, lying on my back. I had a lot of time to think.” For several years she was a stay-at-home mom of two young sons, directing her considerable creative and entrepreneurial energies into her children, the natural Cape Cod world around her, and into the Falmouth Garden Club.
“I started to create all these gardens and stone walls at the same house I still live in on Blacksmith Shop Road,” says Hickey. “Friends would say, ‘Can you come and do that at my house?’ So I would do their gardens and then I got heavily involved in the local garden club to fuel my passion.” Soon she was the club’s director of horticulture and then president, winning awards for her ideas, planting the seeds for her own company.
After a divorce, Hickey decided in 2005 to start her own company. “Soon I had people calling me from Penzance Point to Hyannisport, asking me to come and take care of their gardens. I did a lot of design work and it just snowballed,” she says. She studied under Robin Templar-Williams—a world-renowned British architect and lead judge of the Royal Horticultural Society—an experience that laid the groundwork for her widely recognized specialty in English cottage garden design.
In less than 10 years, Hickey’s company, Maria Hickey & Associates, has grown into a highly regarded full-service landscape design and maintenance company. In the summer months, the company employs a staff of 12, keeping a part-time staff of six busy throughout most of the year. Her projects have spanned a complete array of design and construction projects, including vegetable and kitchen herb gardens.
In January of 2013, her company won a Best of Houzz award for Landscape Design out of 124 million professional images submitted.
Hickey’s vision is expansive, encompassing entire properties with foundation plantings, patios, and stone walls, down to beautiful planters. Like an artist, she fills each canvas with signature colors, textures, and shapes given special distinction by creative whimsical touches that make each design unique for the individual client.
Since many of her customers own homes on the water, Hickey has become expert designing gardens that can endure—and provide all season color—despite harsh seaside conditions. “I am all about bringing in a lot of bloom, but 60 percent of our clients have tough seaside conditions, a lot of wind, exposure, and salt spray,” she says. “What we do is to design layers of plantings, starting with protective masses or structures, which are evergreens, and then we layer in the shrubs and flowers.”
Hickey explains that she often chooses blue-needled evergreens as the first “layer” of a garden. “Most people don’t know this, but the blue evergreens are twice as hardy,” she says, noting that one of her company’s specialties is working with local conservation commissions to plant native species in environmentally sensitive areas. She is a strong advocate of organic practices, believing in the importance of healthy soil enriched with lots of locally harvested soil amendments.
Such practices are a necessity for the health and strength of English cottage gardens featuring masses of flowers, such as stately Oriental lilies, cool blue spires of Agastache, bright masses of dahlias and colorful annuals that have become Maria Hickey’s signature. She laughs when she notes that the only problem with the Heritage garden is that people constantly pick all the beautiful flowers.
As she fields calls from her workers on a cold winter day, it is obvious that such artistry—combined with a desire to make the world around her more beautiful—is what really drives Maria Hickey. “I love to take either a clean slate or an existing garden and take it from drab to fab for the customer, adding in lots of color, fragrance, and beauty, to make it look like it’s timeless,” she says. “Regardless of a customer’s budget, we can work miracles. Every one of our projects is garden tour ready.”
Silk flowers and white porcelain mermaids. Blooming baskets of live Narcissus, candles, and sachets. These are just a few of the unique, inspired-by-nature gifts and trinkets that Harvest of Barnstable staff create by hand right here on the Cape. The company’s talented designers and craftspeople put personal care into each of the designs they complete.
Now entering its 32nd year, Harvest of Barnstable is located at 89 Willow Street in Yarmouthport. Products are sold in the charming shop as well as through fine gift stores, catalogues, and e-commerce stores. Gifts can also be purchased on the company’s website and shipped both across the United States and internationally.
Starting at a young age, Nantucket native Karin Ganga Sheppard was fascinated by the cones of yarn that could be transformed into beautiful items. Karin’s childhood dreams came true when she opened Island Weaves on the island in 2000. From luxurious, 100 percent silk wedding shawls, to “Madaket Mall Mats,” multi-color rugs carefully assembled from recycled jeans, khaki pants, and recycled towels, Karin’s hand-woven designs are stamped with individuality.
“I use a lot of recycled materials in my rugs, but don’t have to gather these materials anymore,” Karin says. “Sometimes I go to unlock the door of my studio and there will be bags of old pants and products waiting for me. It’s great to live in a small community where people know what your work is!”
It is a beautiful summer day on Cape Cod. You are relaxing with friends outside on sophisticated, elegant furniture.
Such scenes are part of the reason why Rick Concordia, owner of Casual Designs of Cape Cod, has had such success selling fine outdoor furniture. At two locations in Harwichport and Mashpee, homeowners flock throughout the year to buy furniture from distinctive manufacturers like Lloyd Flanders, Brown Jordan, and Gloster to set the stage for their perfect Cape Cod moments.
Casual Designs celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. “We offer high-end casual furnishings,” says Concordia. “Everything we sell is for outside, although we do sell furniture and accessories for sunrooms and sun porches, too.”
Concordia notes that Casual Designs’ strongest sellers are wicker, teak, and poly-resin furniture. “Teak is just a huge seller,” he says. “It weathers to a beautiful gray, just like the cedar shingles you see on Cape houses.”
Wicker has come a long way. “There are so many great wicker choices,” says Concordia. One Casual Designs mainstay is the Lloyd Flanders line. “This is wicker that is very authentic, but is a stainless strand with a fiber wrap around it that comes in many different finishes, which can be painted.” Concordia notes that homeowners can also opt for poly-resin furniture. “If you are looking for that wood look in colors, go for poly-resin,” he says.
Concordia says his employees are key to Casual Designs’ success. “We have a broad range of companies, manufacturers, and products, so we need a knowledgeable staff,” he explains, noting that the company also offers in-home design services. “We can go to the home with product books and samples. Some of the manufacturers have tools on the computer and we can place things to scale.
“A lot of people go on a resort vacation in the winter and they show us pictures and say, ‘That’s what we want at the Cape,’” says Concordia. “We are happy to make that happen!”
Working in the swimming pool and spa business for more than 25 years, Chris Dittrich has seen many changes during that time in terms of what clients on Cape Cod want.
Today, Dittrich, the owner of Shoreline Pools, Inc. of Harwich, says many customers on the Cape want larger pools. However, while requesting an increase in surface area, many are also asking for pools that are shallower, say four to five feet deep, so the entire space can be used for volleyball and other games. Coinciding with this, the company is fielding fewer requests for both slides and diving boards. “People are trending toward shallower pools,” Dittrich says, “so they can utilize the entire body of water for playing games and doing laps.”
Regardless of the size or scope of a pool project—large or small, deep or shallow—Dittrich says his company can tackle the job. “We do it all,” he says. “We specialize in complete project management from landscaping to hardscaping. We want to keep everything under one roof and make it easier for the client.”
“We are all custom,” Dittrich adds. “The biggest side of our business is the service side, not only during the build process but for many years after.” In addition to installing custom pools and spas, the company offers repair services, renovations, pool openings and closings, liner replacements, leak detection and repair, and acid washing. The company builds cabanas, too.
Dittrich says 80 percent of Shoreline’s installations are custom pools, and 20 percent are custom hot tubs. The other side of the company’s business involves the ongoing maintenance of these pools and spas. “We specialize in openings, closings, and weekly maintenance,” Dittrich says. “That way, the clients don’t have to worry about their pools at all.” To ease the homeowner’s burden, Shoreline provides pool maintenance during the week. For those with summer homes, when the homeowner shows up in May or June, their pool is waiting for them, crystal clear, and ready to be enjoyed.
The company is busy during the spring and summer, for sure, but Dittrich says the winter can be busy too as this time is used to secure permits for the coming season.
Shoreline Pools has been in business for nine years, but Dittrich’s experience in the field dates back to the mid-1980s. Growing up, he worked in the industry with his father, the late Todd Dittrich. “I’ve been in the pool business since I was 9 years old,” Dittrich says. “I’m the only second-generation pool builder on Cape Cod.”
With 22 employees on staff in season, Dittrich says he thinks he is also the largest pool builder on the Cape.
“We service Cape Cod up to Boston,” he says. “We deal with everything from regular ‘mom and pops’ to the extreme high-end homeowners and builders.” The company works with several different homebuilders, but one thing remains the same on all projects: Dittrich is there. He is on site for every job, overseeing the work being done. Additionally, rather than juggling multiple projects at once, the company works on just one at a time. “And when it is complete,” Dittrich says, “we move on to the next one.”
Dittrich shares some of the trends he’s been seeing a lot lately. For example, he says pool sizes are growing. “People are trending toward larger pools again,” he says. “They are getting much bigger.” In addition, he says about 80 percent of the new pools the company installs also include custom automatic rolling covers. “It is huge on safety and super energy efficient,” he says. “Everything from the pumps to the heaters. Everybody is very energy conscious now.”
A number of customers are also transitioning from freshwater pools to saltwater, he adds. “People are wanting to get away from harsh chemicals,” he says. “The saltwater is an easier process.”
One unique recent project involved the installation of an indoor 7- by 45-foot lap pool. The contractor on the project was Cape Associates, Inc. of Eastham and the residence was a summer home in Provincetown.
During the 19th century, ships’ names were often carved and painted on wooden signs and displayed on the vessels. Since shipwrecks were common, the signs often washed ashore and ended up as exterior home decorations in Cape villages. Interestingly, these quarterboards were first carved in the town of Chatham.
“Past and present Chatham is tied together by the tradition of quarterboards,” says Bob Lacy, owner of the Chatham Sign Shop on Kent Place. “A visitor roaming the town’s back roads can’t help but notice how many houses have quarterboards. Some are old, some are new, but the names are all interesting.”
In business for more than 25 years, the Chatham Sign Shop offers quarterboards—as well as a variety of other carved wooden signage—in a range of traditional sizes, styles, colors, and shapes: from small oval street numbers to family name signs featuring a custom design.
Working together, Angela and Peter Kimball form the successful team behind AP Kimball Construction of Yarmouthport. “Our husband and wife team gives both a female and a male perspective,” Angela says. “Peter focuses on construction and I lead the customer through the design and construction process, from choosing finishes to fixtures. Multiple perspectives help develop a better product for our clients.”
While AP Kimball does take on some new construction projects, the majority of their work is in the remodeling field, especially when it comes to kitchen renovations. “There isn’t a lot of land on the Cape to build,” Angela says, “but there are plenty of homes that need updating. We have a lot of clients who are retiring and want to make their summer home into a year-round home. That’s where we come in.”
Nothing provides the finishing touch to a home’s exterior like custom-designed and crafted shutters. When it comes to manufacturing and installing this important decorative item, Brewster’s Seaport Shutter Company is a leader.
Founded in 1992, Seaport custom-makes and installs wooden shutters using quality materials meant to withstand Cape Cod’s environment. “We manufacture our shutters using high-end, kiln-dried red cedar, with a low-moisture content—less than four percent. Then we apply five coats of paint to the shutters,” says Lauren Huard, the company’s sales director. She says the combination of the quality wood along with multiple coats of paint, results in a long shutter lifespan—even on homes by the water.
Huard, who works at the company alongside her parents, says Seaport Shutter is a bit different from its competitors because the shutters, whether for the exterior or the interior of the home, are tailor-made for each customer. “We also continue to service the customers even after installation,” she says.
The company offers several different shutter styles. “We are known for our flat panel style with a custom cut-out, or applique, that can be made in a variety of designs. This offers our customers the opportunity to add character to their shutters,” Huard says.
Like the exterior shutters, Seaport also custom-makes interior shutters, coming into the home to measure, install, and service the units. “The interior shutters are manufactured from a furniture-grade hardwood and receive five coats of oil-based paint that can be customized to match any color,” Huard says.