A renovated family house in Osterville now offers space for multiple generations

A Place to Call Home, Winter 2016 Cape Cod Home | capecodlife.com

Photograph by Dan Cutrona

Each spring, David Herrlinger meets his neighbors to trim the 160 cedar trees that dapple the floodplain between their houses and Osterville’s North Bay. They gather with loppers and trimmers to prune the trees into balls of various shapes, like static planets ranging in size from Jupiter to Pluto, and perhaps an asteroid field. The annual ritual serves a few important purposes: it helps the neighbors maintain their views of the water by preventing the cedars from reverting back to natural states; it keeps the trees healthy and guards against erosion; and it bonds the men together throughout their hours of yard work. While Herrlinger’s cedars are nothing like a fence, his tradition of pruning shares much in common with the one described by Robert Frost in his famous poem “Mending Wall,” in which two neighbors rebuild the stone structure that divides their properties.

Just as Frost’s stone wall is an emblem of New England culture, the cedars represent an extended family: they grow in common ground with roots intertwined, yet each remains a distinct organism with its own branches and leaves. And if Frost’s poetry is iconic to the region as a whole, then the shared family home is quintessential to the fiber of Cape Cod, as ingrained in the sand as oyster shells. Which leads to the main reason for Herrlinger’s work each spring—the cedars, an archipelago of landscape that both protects the property and enhances its views, complete his family’s recently renovated home.

For every extended family that shares a house, the chief challenge is the same: how can everyone fit into one confined space, especially once the family expands beyond the nuclear with new generations of children? Many families separate as their living spaces fail to fulfill the needs of their various parties. The Herrlingers, however, dedicated their recent remodeling project to repurposing their house in such a way that each family member could feel perfectly at home.

The original owners handled their space dilemma in a different way: they had enjoyed the luxury of owning a neighboring house, which has since been moved farther across the street. Helen and David Herrlinger report that the parents inhabited the back property while the children and grandchildren stayed in the other. This seems to explain why the original kitchen lay just inside the front door. One can imagine a son or a daughter calling across the yard to a parent, asking, “How many cups of sugar do I need for these cookies?” With the two houses paired together as they were, form followed function, but once the separation occurred, the kitchen’s layout became rather odd, and in need of an update.