People who have never been to Cape Cod can still envision a haven of tidy little clapboard houses, a sight so familiar to many that people from all over can picture what a “Cape” house looks like. From Florida to San Diego, you can find Capes in almost any neighborhood. The first Capes were built centuries ago to survive tough winters like the one that we are slogging through as I write this during the eighth winter storm we have endured this year.
Sitting beside a living room fire on a wild February day in our 250-year-old Cape, I try to imagine all the people who lived in this house before us. We are lucky enough to know who lived here for most of the last 100 years because my husband’s family has owned the house since the 1920s. We have heard that the house was owned for a long time before that by women—but we have not traced the home’s complete history all the way back to Captain Bearse, who built the house in 1730.
Still, I am grateful to those unknown Cape Codders who cared for this sturdy, compact home. It is built low to the ground with a crooked staircase to the second floor, which is tucked under the eaves for warmth. Every room in the original house hugs a big center chimney that still draws effortlessly. A mile from the ocean, the house faces south, placed there to capture every bit of sunlight on long winter days.
This house—just like the handsome new Wellfleet home featured in this issue—was built to make the most of the physical world around it, to exist in harmony with nature. Of course, our Captain Bearse wouldn’t know what you were talking about if you told him that his house had an environmentally sensitive footprint. But there is something wonderful about the fact that the Los Angeles architect who designed this issue’s sophisticated, yet comfortable Wellfleet home on the dunes returned to the wisdom of those who first loved this wild, fiercely natural place.
As the wind howls, I know that soon great grandmother’s lilacs will burst into bloom along our driveway, sweet promises of yet another spring unfolding outside our back door. The more things change, the more they stay the same—at least for those us lucky enough to live in a home of any kind on Cape Cod.
Associate Publisher & Editor,