Building A Legacy of Love

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2023 /

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner / Photographer: Mike Crane 

Interior designer Kate Coughlin teams up with M. Duffany Builders to create a home for generations.

It isn’t often, but occasionally an opportunity comes along that has the potential to change the lives of those you love, and even generations beyond. That was the case when a family with roots in Osterville going back as far their childhood, had spent several years vacationing during the summer with their growing family. “This family had another home in Osterville but was looking for more space as their family was growing. I think a big reason the family settled on this home is because, as their children grew older, they could glimpse the future where they would all gather together as adults, with significant others and ultimately, hopefully grandchildren,” Boston-based interior designer Kate Coughlin says of her client who she counts among her close friends

The new home the family decided upon was a historic property in Osterville that Ron Girard, project manager at M. Duffany Builders describes as a significant one in terms of the history of ownership and innovation found throughout. The project focused on restoring and renovating the home built at the turn of the 20th century, with a strong commitment to maintaining as many of the original elements as possible, while providing 21st century functionality. Girard says the first order of business was to gut the entire home, down to the studs to remove all of the drywall and plaster behind and allow for squaring any of the walls and floors that had evolved over the past 125 years. The structure was then lifted and supported in order to provide a modern foundation under the 11,000 square-foot structure. “The house is now ready for at least another 100 plus years,” Girard says. “There are almost 100 yards of concrete in the footings, and five tons of Rebar (reinforcing Bar) in the foundation.” 

Due to the well-built and established layout of the home, very few modifications were needed to provide the modern enjoyment the house now offers, Girard says. “We didn’t use an architect on this project when we needed to re-work things, or establish some new built-ins or other augmentation. The client’s clear vision guided everyone and I would just do the drawings,” Girard says, adding this was a rare instance that an architect wasn’t involved in a project of this magnitude. “And working with the designer Kate Coughlin, when ideas came up, or the clients had specific requests, the two of us collaborated very well and between us we would come up with the design and finishes and present it to the clients and then allow our carpenters to craft it.” 

“It is their summer home, so there was definitely a focus on creating a lighter atmosphere than what you might find in a 125-year-old home.” ~ Kate Coughlin

Throughout the project, the priority to save and salvage as many of the original details was not only honored, but resulted in much of the success in crafting a home that allows its historic pedigree to shine through. Girard says the moldings, and other millwork were removed and restored whenever possible. When that wasn’t an option, an on-site woodshop was established in the basement where Duffany’s crew was able to quickly and easily reproduce the pieces for use throughout. “We reproduced most of the casings for the new doors and windows,” Mike Duffany, founder of the Falmouth-based company that celebrates 40 years in business this year. New windows, Pella Architect Reserve Series, were used throughout, matching the original home’s six-over-one and eight-over-one historic look. The front door—a massive, extra wide unit with curved molding—along with the two over-sized side lights, was removed and completely restored to modern functionality while still maintaining the 100-year-old wavy glass. Even the third floor’s original eyebrow window that gives the home a concurrent sense of history and whimsy, was replaced and Girard and his crew crafted a custom jam to accommodate the new transom window. Functional shutters from Mid-Cape Home Centers, complete with wrought-iron shutter dogs highlight most of the larger windows of the home and copper downspouts custom crafted by Cape Cod Copper Stand at the ready with dignity. 

Inside, Kate Coughlin set about creating the perfect space for this active family. “It is their summer home, so there was definitely a focus on creating a lighter atmosphere than what you might find in a 125-year-old home.” Coughlin characterizes her style, and really the reason her clients gravitate toward her design aesthetic, as “traditional with a contemporary flair.” 

The floors were painted white, as was some of the darker furniture, much of which has been passed down to the homeowners from previous generations of their own families. “I think that is what makes these houses stand apart from other homes,” Coughlin remarks. “You have inherited these pieces, which have a whole history of their own, and then the house is full of pieces that have been passed down from parents and grandparents, and now they become part of a whole new generation’s story. Where I come in is that I will refresh the pieces by recovering them with new fabrics, or paint them, and then pair those items with something a little bit more contemporary.”  Examples of Coughlin’s transformations are evident in distinctive items like the wicker chairs in the library which were once brown and now offering an inviting respite in their satin white facelift, as they are embraced by the millwork painted a high gloss blue sage paint that brings the entire room to life. In the living room, the newly upholstered twin sofas and ottoman feature white painted legs. 

Coughlin says the key to a second home lies in the choice of fabrics and other items that might be susceptible to wear. “In a second home, someplace that functions as a vacation home, it’s definitely more driven by entertainment. The best way to make that kind of lifestyle stress-free is to use family-friendly fabrics that are durable—that’s my job. Summer houses certainly require a lot of thought and I just want to have it built to last for generations to come.”

That is not to say Coughlin has designed a casual beach house. This home has the sophistication and integrity the homeowners desired resulting in plenty of style and panache. Various choices of distinctive wallpaper enjoy moments throughout the home, inviting guests and visitors to pause and take the rooms in with a bit more introspection than a less-adorned space. “So, I love wallpaper,” Coughlin confesses. “I think it is really a great way to add interest. In the living room for example, we have all this high wainscoting, and we were unsure about how to present artwork above it. So, I suggested if we add wallpaper, then the entire space comes together.”

Despite the large square footage of the home, it does not appear to loom over the site as many expansive homes tend to do. Instead, as Mike Duffany puts it, “It just hunkers down, as though it has been there forever, which it kind of has.”

Despite the large square footage of the home, it does not appear to loom over the site as many expansive homes tend to do. Instead, as Mike Duffany puts it, “It just hunkers down, as though it has been there forever, which it kind of has.” Coughlin’s thoughtful treatment of the interior spaces has prevented the home from feeling cavernous and disconnected. Instead, she has created cozy places for individuals to carve out their own place for reading or browsing their Instagram, and places like the kitchen and living room are spacious enough for a large group to gather and easily interact without feeling an eternity of spatial separation. 

No detail was spared and the surprises around every corner made for a very memorable project for everyone involved. “When we gutted the home, we found an intercom system in the walls,” Girard explains. “It was just simple, thin, tin tubing that allowed your voice to travel and echo so the residents of the home could communicate with the servants in other parts of the house. Someone would blow into the microphone, and it would come out the other end as a whistle. There was a small red indicator made from whalebone that would let you know someone was on the other end. The homeowner found the end pieces to complete the system online, so now it is functional once again.” All and all, this entire team is responsible for making this magnificent home functional, and beloved once again. 

Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod HOME.

Julie Craven Wagner

Julie Craven Wagner began her experience with Cape Cod Life in 2010 when she joined the sales team after 10 years of working with local businesses on the Cape and Islands with WMVY. In addition to sales, she is the Associate Publisher/Editor of Cape Cod LIFE, Cape Cod HOME, and Cape Cod ART. Growing up on the Outer Cape has given her a unique perspective of life on Cape Cod, from tip to bridge, and that is reflected in her appreciation and presentation of stories found within the pages of our publications. Julie lives in North Falmouth with her husband, Eric, and their yellow lab, Enzo. When she finds free time, she enjoys her Cape Cod life sailing on Buzzards Bay, spending time on the beach in Wellfleet, or exploring Martha’s Vineyard.