An elegant new beachside community reflects the Cape’s cottage colony legacy.
One of Cape Cod’s most striking cultural markers—the beachside cottage colony—was born a century ago. The quirky little communities started as tent sites and slowly evolved over decades, as tents set on platforms before finally becoming simple wood-frame summer cottages. The lifestyle was predictable and breezy, with the same families returning every summer, leaving their winter homes and worries behind.
Some of these old-style cottage communities are still standing, especially in the Mid-Cape area. In our data-driven world, their value is clearer than ever: Open to sun and sea breeze, the clustered cottages represent a simple seasonal lifestyle, where tracked-in sand and wet swimsuits hanging over porch railings are part of the charm.
Heritage Sands, located on Nantucket Sound in Dennisport, is the first new oceanfront cottage colony on Cape Cod in 50 years. Taking a page from the original cottage colony history, developer Rob Brennan and his business partner, Mark DeWitt (the property’s former owner), created Heritage Sands to reflect the same pleasing aura.
Cottage colonies have a long local history, Brennan says. “Summer was about being in a community,” he says. “Dennisport was the epicenter.” The new Heritage Sands cottages, on eight acres of beachfront, are clustered around green common spaces connected with shell-laden paths.
The community’s configuration mimics the old-style colonies, where families bonded, socialized, and grew together, summer after summer, says Douglas Kallfelz, AIA, a principal of Union Studio in Providence, the architectural firm that designed Heritage Sands. When Kallfelz and his business partner, Donald Powers, were approached about the Heritage Sands project, Kallfelz says, first on their to-do list was to see the old existing colonies.
“The incredibly dense, waterfront cottage communities are very unique to the Cape,” Kallfelz says. “When we were looking at designs for Heritage Sands, we looked at some and saw what really characterizes these communities. Then we layered on our own thoughts.”
Of the 63 cottages planned at Heritage Sands, about half are built. The one-and-a-half-story cottages are arranged in several groupings, with each having its own common green space. “This creates a sense of identity and space,” Kallfelz says. “We also used those green spaces to bring views of the water back into the depth of the neighborhood.” A swimming pool and central building, due to be completed this summer, form a central “hub” and will help build community, Kallfelz adds. Paths provide beach access to all residents, just as all cottages, depending on their distance from the ocean, have at least a sliver of water view.
Clad in gray cedar shingles with white trim, the Heritage Sands cottages reflect classical forms and simple lines, something Kallfelz and Powers were committed to. “Sometimes people forget that the best neighborhoods, the ones we cherish, are made of great solid principles of form, scale, and simple craftsman detailing, the kind that architects used to do,” Kallfelz says. “They can be elegant and beautiful, and still simple.”
The interior of the cottages, which range from 900 to 1,350 square feet, are washed in sunlight that filters in through deep windows. A model cottage, with interior design by Angela Hamwey of Mackenzie & Company (formerly mackenzie & mae) in Hyannis, shows the potential for creating upscale, but simple relaxed spaces. Fabrics and finishes are presented in eye-pleasing natural shades, set off by simple furnishings that have a touch of soft luxury. Homeowners choose their custom interior finishes when they buy the property, Brennan says.
The cottages start as modular structures and are designed to withstand storms, with steel straps bolting the homes onto foundations, Brennan says. Windows also are designed to withstand hurricane winds. Since it lies in Dennis’s seasonal resort district, cottage owners can use their cottages April 1 to Oct. 31, and four days a month in the off-season months.
The Heritage Sands property originally was Grindell’s Ocean view, a worn recreational-vehicle park that held almost 150 RVs and 15 cottages. Brennan and DeWitt oversaw the construction of a new, more environmental wastewater system for Heritage Sands. They also backed off a sensitive sand dune, revegetated parts of the property, and had concrete slabs removed, all positive changes for the sensitive coastal area.
The first cottage colonies far precede today’s world of planned communities and environmental sensibilities. Phyllis Horton of Dennisport, a 12th generation Cape Codder, remembers riding her bike from her Main Street home to the beachside cottage colonies that peppered her area’s beach line when she was a child. She recalls how the colonies evolved from campsites to platform tents, and, finally to simple cottages that were placed in no particular pattern. Almost all the land was considered common space.
Horton, who turns 88 this summer and is the curator and archivist of the Dennis Historical Society, says the original colonies were a way for working people to take time by the ocean in the summer. “They were people not of great means,” Horton says. “The first campers were usually schoolteachers.”
“The whole area was full of cottage colonies,” Horton says of Dennisport. “The same families came back year after year. It was nice to see them come back.”
For more information, visit heritagesands.com.