After eight years of living in the cramped quarters of an 1820s Federal home in Provincetown, Neal Balkowitsch and his partner, Donald Nelson, decided they needed to upgrade the house to make it more functional. “At first we just wanted to add a master bath and replace some rotting windows, but this quickly ballooned into a whole house renovation,” says Balkowitsch. The old place was small and dark with an unfortunate 1930s addition that had a crumbling foundation. The only way to the master bedroom was via the antique, ultra-steep staircase—and the lone bathroom was on the first floor. “Try climbing those stairs in the middle of the night half asleep,” quips Balkowitsch. Some of the old sashes had been replaced with a large plate glass window in the 1950s, rendering the original historical façade unrecognizable.
The couple drove around the Outer Cape looking at different renovation projects and liked the handiwork of Hammer Architects of Cambridge and Truro. After meeting firm associate Don DiRocco through mutual friends, the couple hired the firm to draw up plans for the renovations of the house.
As the clients and architects talked about the project and what needed to be done, it was clear that the renovation would entail more than just adding a bathroom and making cosmetic touches. The team needed to revamp the entire antique structure, which is located in a mews just off Commercial Street. “The house feels very removed from the hustle and bustle of that street, but has several close neighbors to consider. We wanted the renovation to be sensitive to the context and scale of the nearby houses,” says architect Mark Hammer, principal of the firm. “The couple definitely wanted more space to live in—the rooms were boxy and small and there were no real outdoor spaces to sit and relax.” The couple wanted to expand their living space, enhance the master bedroom, and add a bath upstairs. They also wanted to enlarge the feeling of the house by integrating the indoor and new outdoor living spaces. “There really was no backyard to speak of,” says DiRocco. “Just an old clothes line and oil tank—no one wanted to sit out there. It was completely unused, leftover space. The renovation turned the backyard into a wonderful asset.”
Among the most important consideration in the renovation process was the maintenance of the historical character of the original house. “This is a very tight community and we wanted to do the right thing,” says Balkowitsch. Instead of adding lots more square footage, Hammer Architects reconfigured the interior space to make it more livable. “We essentially kept the footprint the same and just added a room over the addition,” says Hammer. The Provincetown Historical Commission approved the plans on the first submittal.
The new expansive floor plan of the house required a complete gutting. “We took it down to the studs—but everything happened within the original footprint of the house,” says Hammer. The contractors removed walls to open up the living room to the dining area and kitchen, rebuilt the staircase to the second floor, and added a master bath and private deck off the master bedroom. French doors were placed in the living, dining, and master bedrooms to open the house to the newly reclaimed back yard. A screened porch with a roof deck was also added, and is the only space to go outside the original foundation.
Balkowitsch and Nelson love to entertain, and although not part of the original scope of the renovation, the kitchen was completely reconfigured with stainless steel appliances, new cabinetry, and a center island. Previously lacking a well-defined main entrance, the home also received a new kitchen entry, which is reoriented toward a new terrace garden with a pergola and side benches. “The builder Andrew Parkington, owner of Parkington Building and Remodeling, was wonderful to work with—he is really an artist at his craft,” notes Balkowitsch. “He had great suggestions on materials to choose and sourced old, reclaimed wide board floors and replicated wall paneling that we couldn’t save during the renovations.”