A family moves from one home to another, taking their belongings and their memories
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The process of creating a home is the deliberate layering of materials and story, and certainly a very personal one. We collect items, accrue memories, inherit belongings, and accumulate treasures. As we look around our homes, images of where and when we added this piece of furniture or that painting to our environment often spur happy recollections of our lives. And when we relocate to a new home, new layers and forms take shape as we find ourselves reinterpreting our belongings and grant positions of prominence to things we may have almost forgotten. We are nothing if not minimally an odyssey of collections gathered along the way; a mosaic of memories.
This holds true for Jean and Bill Romeo, who purchased a special home on the Cape after several years of renting seasonally. One of their seasonal rentals was a particularly charming antique once occupied by writer Margaret Stanger. A bit of a local hero, at least in the local literati and bird-watching circles, Stanger penned “That Quail, Robert” in the 1960s while housesitting for a previous owner. The summer after nestling into the 1730s antique with their family of four as renters, the Romeos embarked on their search for a seasonal home of their own and happily discovered the Stanger house was on the market.
The decision to purchase this historical home involved a commitment to undertake a major renovation. The Romeos carefully restored the original charm and historic elegance to the structure. Builder Mark Nickerson of Orleans seamlessly integrated the new spaces with heart pine floors, millwork and paneling from a time when Cape Cod was still a relatively new colony, as well as multiple fireplaces throughout the home. Mid-Cape Home Center in Orleans became a key contributor in the remarkable transformation. “We were referred to the Orleans Mid-Cape location and worked with kitchen designer Becky Stoltz. She and the team were just fantastic to work with,” Jean Romeo says. Nickerson removed walls and thereby converted a closed-in galley kitchen into an open and interactive, functional space that integrated perfectly with the newly freshened living areas.
Just like the underlayment of a complex painting, the home’s architectural foundation, with all of the old world charm cherished by the Romeos, was set; now it just needed an artist’s brush work and palette. Enter Marsha Malone, owner of Nautique in Brewster, who applied her artistic touches by accessing one of her greatest tools, her color paint box, and with it brought the almost 300-year-old home into the present. A seating area consisting of a slipcovered loveseat and club chairs, grounded in a green hue akin to under-ripened pears, highlighted with teal blue, freshened the warm sitting room and immediately informed guests they were in the presence of the fun and sun found on the Cape.
The Romeos’ love of summer activities like sailing and beach-going came through, translated through the use of natural and nautical accessories like an oversized driftwood bowl, lamp bases constructed of natural hewn rope, and multiple weathered tables from the Nautique Sail Loft Collection, Malone’s signature furniture line. “Bill walked into our showroom and saw an oversized, pedestal dining table that I had coaxed our cabinetmaker into making for another client,” Malone recalls, “and immediately knew that was exactly what he had been looking for. I thought, ‘Oh, no, our craftsman is going to kill me.’ That piece involved layers and layers of wood to make the base since we don’t have a lathe to create something so massive. Now I had to ask for another one! But that’s what we do for our clients.”
A large dining table is a cornerstone of how this family lives. They are an active, multi-generational family that gathers together on the Cape in order to spend precious time together, from hours on Nauset Beach to dusk-imbued dinners with friends and family. Malone succinctly sums up the experience of ensuring a home reflects its owners: “What I do is not just a job. I really feel like I create places that welcome the owners, their family and their friends. But beyond that, it becomes the backdrop to where they make memories, and laugh and sometimes cry together. It needs to be a safe, comforting space that ultimately brings them joy.”
This family also indulges in another favorite pastime of Cape residents: the casual but serious exploration of the myriad art galleries that dot the various Cape communities. Their collection of art—found and procured while seeking out events like the Wellfleet Oysterfest, or just strolling through the Cape’s villages—adorned the walls throughout the home. Like many people who truly enjoy their found treasures, the endless opportunities to gaze upon a painting, a sculpture or a unique piece revives memories of the day leading up to the moment the art created a milestone in their life.
As is sometimes the way, life takes a turn. The Romeos family was growing up; the kids were in college and frequenting the Cape with adult friends. Jean and Bill were looking down the road to a distant future that would likely find them spending more time on the Cape than not. Despite the exquisite renovation accomplished at the Margaret Stanger home, and the perfect environment they had achieved with Malone’s help—not to mention their beautiful collection of art—the fact was that the home lacked sufficient storage. It didn’t have a basement, or a garage, and the closet solutions allocated during the Colonial period fell quite short of today’s needs. After significant consideration, a decision was made to sell the home.
The Romeos quickly found another home just a few miles away, allowing them to continue to enjoy the same beaches, harbors and villages they had come to love. One significant difference, however, was left to be addressed: the new home was a contemporary Cape, built by Eastward Companies just a few years earlier. Would the deliberately chosen furnishings and artwork transition to this new space, and how? It is not uncommon for homeowners to take in their surroundings with new inspection as they prepare to move from one space to another. A move to a completely different house naturally triggers questions about how furnishings and accessories will fare in the new space: How will that painting that is so perfect over the fireplace work in my new home? Will this seating area fit in the new living room?
Chalk it up to the provenance that the Romeos possess an understanding of what they like, what they love and how they want to live. This is a family that embraces their life with joy and gusto and lives in the moment, a phrase that has become a cliché, but is more of a credo for the Romeos. It also didn’t hurt that Malone whipped up another masterpiece for an open and spacious living room. As the couple moved in to their new home, the art they loved found new inspiration in unexpected places as it joined new elements in new environments. The bold color combination that grounded their formal living room in the antique easily became the focal point of a cozy jewel box of a room that has become the social hub during every gathering—partially due to the functioning beverage bar that draws people in during parties.
The Romeos have all of the space, storage and convenience they will ever need in their new home—but they also have the warm atmosphere they had achieved in their former home. And despite living in a fairly new home, they are surrounded by a solid tale of history as they move amongst their belongings and beautiful art. Everything has a story, and stories are layered in light, nuance and memory.