You can take the girl away from the Cape, but…
It has the trappings of so many other Cape Cod houses: glorious views out to the ocean, a wooden “Buzzards Bay” sign over the secretary, glass lamp bases filled with shells, a copy of this very magazine on a little antique chest purchased in Sandwich.… But wait! Magenta bougainvillea cascades down a wall in the side yard. Route 6A is nowhere to be found. And the sun is setting over the ocean rather than rising there. What’s going on?
We’re on the southern California coast, about 20 miles north of San Diego. Then why all the references to the Cape in the decorating? “The Cape speaks to me,” says the owner, a retired pediatric nurse. “I’m just mesmerized by the sun coming up over the Atlantic. We don’t get that here. And I like the history there. I like the maritime tradition.”
The story of how this born-and-bred California girl came to love the Cape is a story of friendship. Her youngest children, twin boys, decided they wanted to go to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. “I said I better go look at this school,” she relates. “I searched and searched for a place to stay and found a restaurant with an inn upstairs called The Beachmoor.” The converted mansion was right on Buttermilk Bay, which is part of Buzzards Bay.
“We hit it off right away with the couple who owned the inn,” says the homeowner. “The wife introduced me to everybody. I was taken with her warm, wonderful hospitality. And she kept an eye on my boys when they were in school there.”
The “boys” are now 34, but the homeowner and her husband have remained very close with the Beachmoor’s proprietors, Rita and Rob Pacheco. So much so that Rita and Rob go out to California to stay at the “Cape house” for a couple of weeks every year. “They usually come out here in March/April, when it’s still chilly on the Cape,” the homeowner says. “We go out to visit them in the fall, when it’s still warm on the Cape.”
When they come East, the California couple usually rents a house, where they entertain not only Rita and Rob, but also other friends they made while the twins were going to college at Mass Maritime. “These are people who live in Sandwich, West Falmouth, Bourne,” the homeowner says, “and I usually pop in and say Hi, or we have them to dinner. I like to have a kitchen wherever I go.”
But their most enduring and tight-knit Cape-made friendship is with Rita and Rob themselves. “Our husbands play golf,” the homeowner says. “They really get along—and Rita and I go to estate sales and get into mischief. And do projects.” What kinds of projects?
“All kinds of crafts projects,” she says. “Things like paper art. And we go to the beach to scavenge around for sea glass, rocks, driftwood. If you know Rita, you know she’s a major collector of anything in nature. We also take little side trips. The last time I was there she took me to a magnificent Portuguese market in Fall River called Portugalia. We bought food and decor from there.”
One Portugalia piece on display in the California home is a blue-and-white-striped ceramic bowl that sits on a kitchen counter. The owner keeps lemons in it that she picks from a tree she planted in her garden. A teapot purchased from a church thrift shop in East Falmouth sits on one of the stove burners nearby.
The homeowner and her husband have actually had their Pacific-view residence since 1987 and raised their family there. They are the third owners of the house, built in 1943. When they bought the place, it was only one story. It had been constructed on piers—vertical pillars with beams on top—so that if waves came crashing in during a storm or if the tide overreached, water would travel underneath and out to the other side of the building. But in 2005, when her husband sent their eldest son under the house to check on the piers, he found the place was slanting on them rather than sitting upright.
“We had to take the whole house down,” the owner says. In the reconstruction, they followed much of the original architectural design. They stayed with the board and batten detailing on the walls (which works as well with a waterfront setting out west as it does in the east). They also kept the original footprint. “The windows are where they were,” she points out. “The fireplace is where it was.” But in rebuilding, she explains, “we popped up a second floor.” That really opened things up.
For instance, what is now the dining room, with coffered ceilings and beautiful wood-paneled walls, used to be the primary bedroom. And what was once a galley kitchen now has ample elbow room. There’s also a butler’s pantry with a fridge that has a door to the outside. That way, the owner says, “You can come off the beach, grab a drink, and not go through the house with sandy feet. Caterers use it, too. We’ve thrown a lot of parties here; I raised a lot of people’s kids at this house because they all wanted to be at the beach. The parents would bring me pallets of food to cover their children so I wasn’t always at the store feeding everybody.”
Along with the butler’s pantry, “We also have heat in all the rooms now, and air conditioning,” the owner says. Before, it really was more of a rustic oceanside cottage with all the children crammed into bedrooms at the back. Only the bedrooms had heat, and it was single-wall construction with single pane glass in the windows. “It was cold in the winter,” the homeowner says.
The house used to feel boxed in, too. The kitchen had been closed off from the living room. And there was no easy egress to the back porch and the beach just beyond. “You had to go through a door in our bedroom to get there,” the homeowner says.
Now, inside and outside come together more easily. For instance, whether from inside through large windows framing the ocean or right outside, the home’s inhabitants can see whales breaching in the Pacific as they make their way from Alaska to the Baja Peninsula during the winter months. “We always watch for the first ones routing south,” the homeowner says. The view is even better from the primary bedroom, now upstairs, which has a fireplace just above the one in the living room. The couple can get cozy while viewing the activity in the ocean.
Rita helps decorate by way of gifting her own New England treasures, or scouting for the homeowner between visits. In general, the homeowner is thrilled with the touches Rita has added to the residence. “She has such a gifted eye for decorating. It’s just been so impressive,” she says.
One of Rita’s touches is the large, round table featuring a historic ship’s wheel under glass in the home’s dining room. It’s a piece that originally anchored her restaurant as The Captain’s Table, a place of honor and distinction for those fortunate enough to be seated there. “She gave it to me,” the owner says. “I used to admire this when I went to hang out at The Beachmoor, to eat there. Rita would do so many creative things with this table—wonderful food presentations, all kinds of spreads. It was near the piano.”
Rita has also helped fill the home with one-of-a-kind pieces, like the grouping of whale figurines that sit atop a ledge on the ornate cased opening between the living room and dining room. Likewise, the two pieces of driftwood art that now grace the porch were gifts from Rita to the twins. She gave the family some of the driftwood art inside the home, too.
A painting of a clipper ship under the light of the moon that hangs in the living room was a piece Rita had commissioned specifically for her friend. Another clipper ship painting came from a fundraising auction hosted at The Beachmoor that the homeowner attended. Since so many pieces were chosen by Rita or with her help, it should come as no surprise that the homeowner calls her house Beachmoor West. Even the “Buzzards Bay” sign comes from the original Beachmoor.
There are many other Cape-sourced decorating touches as well, including occasional pieces from Acushnet Antiques. One is a little two-tiered serving table with a painting of Nantucket on the top tier. The Windsor chairs around the dining table and elsewhere in the home are also antiques, having been purchased from Sandwich Antiques. “We don’t have quite the wonderful antique shops that you have in New England, which is why I buy out there,” the homeowner says.
One Cape Cod shop she likes in particular is the Spotted Cod in Sandwich, where she has purchased items ranging from a French glass vase that she keeps on the countertop to ceramic ware and other decorative touches.
The home’s first floor is further made into a New England-like haven with beadboard facing on the kitchen cabinetry, lighthouse keeper pendant lights hanging from the living room ceiling, and blue, red, and white throw pillows with images of anchors, whales, and the words “Cape Cod” sewn into one of them. Some of the home’s fabrics are courtesy of Burke Decor, a home furnishings company owned by the homeowner’s daughter. There’s even a lovely golden retriever named Rosie; the golden is one of the two most popular dog breeds in Massachusetts.
Upstairs, the homeowner has claimed a large, airy landing at the top of the staircase for herself. She calls it Mermaid Cove. Situated in the middle of the upstairs rather than on the ocean side, the Cove allows you to catch the view only if you are standing in one particular spot that has a sight line through a large picture window in the primary bedroom. That’s just the way she likes it, calling the spot her “little area to read, to write. That ocean is a pretty big distraction,” she says. She also likes that Mermaid Cove is “on the second story, away from all the confusion of kids [such as her grand-children] coming in and out.”
There are plenty of Cape and Cape-like accoutrements upstairs, too, including a cranberry harvest scoop with children’s blocks in it. And the blue-and-white themed secondary bedrooms have Cape-affiliated names—the Maritime Room, the Hydrangea Room, and so on.
Sometimes when Rita comes she’ll move things around—on her own—or add a new effect—on her own. That’s perfectly okay with the homeowner. She relates that “Rita had a dear friend who on her 101st birthday said the secret to her longevity was, ‘Decorate! It keeps you young.’ I think Rita and I live on that principle.” And also on the principle of a close, abiding friendship and the joy and meaning it brings to life.
Larry Lindner is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.