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Collecting the Cape

To accomplish this goal, the owners and architect spent many hours driving around the area looking at houses. They combed Route 6A for ideas and inspiration, taking notes on various types of traditional homes, debating which features would work best given the parameters of the existing structure and its placement on the lot. They studied chimneys, shingles and shutters, half-Capes, three-quarter-Capes, and full Capes, and they paid close attention to barns. The process developed into something far more than simple research; it came to resemble an archeological dig as they uncovered ideas and concepts that would all factor into one final, cohesive exhibit.

The owners had been living in their Brewster home for more than a decade prior to their decision to renovate; “It wasn’t really a summer house, more a second home,” explains the owner, who also lives and works in the Philadelphia area. “Our three adult children were in their late 30s and early 40s, and we have five grandchildren. We simply needed more space; the original three bedrooms were no longer enough.” One of the goals of the project was to create additional room for the extended family, but to do so in a way that would preserve the nature and appearance of the house. In other words, Lichten would need to design an addition that would serve a function without jumping out and overwhelming the character of the home. The house faces west on a quiet side road and was a 1930s full Cape: a simple, symmetrical design with a low roof and a pair of windows flanking the front door. Since the desire was to maintain this style, Lichten was limited by height as well; an addition that stood much higher than the original would draw attention away from the historical facade. The second-story ceilings in the pre-existing house are only seven feet in height, but Lichten and the owners desired more headroom, so there was no way that the new wing would line up exactly right. Lichten’s solution was to create an open porch with a slanted roof along the north side of the house, in the back. “This masks the difference in height,” he explains. “All the new bedrooms upstairs have sloped ceilings, too.” Because of this, he carefully designed windows to bring in more light and to create the feeling of additional space. “To create headroom without making a looming wall on the south side of the house, we have some crazy gable stuff going on,” Lichten notes, half-jokingly. “Getting the ceiling and windows to work was a nightmare, but features such as the quarter-round windows in one of the new bedrooms are really cool.”

In addition to the new wing on the south end of the home, Lichten and the owners attached a screened porch, stretching east into the back yard, that also serves as an entryway. As is the case with many Capes, nobody really uses the front door. “The owners wanted an outdoor room,” says Lichten. “It was important to be able to sit out there.” In their reconnaissance adventures around Route 6A, he and the owner looked at many different porches to see what would work best for them. They didn’t want something too large that would throw off the balance of the home, but it had to be big enough to meet their goals. The question was, as Lichten says, “What is ideal for a screen porch?” In this case, the size is cozy but spacious enough to include both a sitting area and a dining area, well-suited for family gatherings, though not really appropriate for a big party.

Another major component of the renovation is the barn, which actually was a follow-up project, completed a couple of years after the main house. Throughout the entire process, says Lichten, “We focused on Cape vernacular—things like the oyster shell driveway, the doors and windows, and the cedar shingle roofing.” The barn fit into this scheme, and was originally conceived of as a place for the owners to retreat to when their children and their families arrived. The owners also wanted this building to function as an actual barn—for storing boats, bikes, a car, gardening tools and the like. One of the challenges was to ensure that the barn looked natural, as though it belonged there, as though it had always been there. Lichten explains, “We didn’t want it to look ‘designed.’ Getting it to work and not feel self-conscious was tough.” As with the renovation of the house, the barn project involved a combination of research in architecture books and a lot of time driving up and down Route 6A, where once again the owners and architect collected ideas that would inform their plans. While fitting in with the Cape style, Lichten notes,  “It’s also a reference to the mill buildings in New Bedford and Fall River.” The living space is upstairs in the barn, but the owners decided that they would use it as a guest apartment rather than move out there. It features elemental materials such as teak cabinetry and copper counters, faucets and sinks. The owner recalls, “We picked up the idea for the copper counter from Fin, the restaurant in Dennis.”

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