Intersecting Lines & Life

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2020 /

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner / Photographer: Eric Roth 

Doreve Nicholaeff’s thoughtful design creates homes of distinction, including her own.

An examination of the Cape’s coastline reveals some spectacular architecture that is ingeniously conceived to best take advantage of the views, manage the shifting topography and settle into the surrounding environs always with the goal to create uniquely defined shelter for those fortunate enough to have staked their claim to unparalleled real estate. One of the most influential innovators of those sandcastles is found in the quaint village of Osterville, where a talented architect is quietly imagining how her clients might live and thrive in a space created especially for them. Doreve Nicholaeff, principal of Nicholaeff Architecture + Design, found her way to the quintessential coastal community from the other side of the world when a grant for advanced study brought her from her home of South Africa to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The uniquely talented architect who has made her mark upon the landscape of New England, settled in a modest home only steps away from Main Street. Despite being surrounded by such New England archetypes, Nicholaeff set about transforming a familiar Cape Cod ranch-style home into an intriguing abode that appears more like a cozy cottage in the Cotswolds in old England, than a familiar structure found in virtually every neighborhood in New England.

The construction of additions, along with the application of sublimely inspired gables, and lush gardens full of roses that spill over onto private terraces are responsible for the subtle charm that emanates from the exterior of the home. “I bought this house 25 years ago. I was going to renovate it and sell it and move on, but that’s just not me,” Nicholaeff explains. “So I created this home for my seven-year-old son and myself. At the time I gutted the house, I kept the walls, the foundation, the chimney, the rooflines. I honored what was there, because it was very sweet. And then over the years as my son grew up. I created spaces for him and spaces for me as well.” Another function of the addition was to create a courtyard to catch sun-filled afternoons and as Nicholaeff puts it, “to create a happy house.”

Nicholaeff re-appointed the entrance of the home from the bulls-eye center commonly found with a ranch to the corner of the new addition, cloaked it under cover and supported it with a column, thus providing one of those subtle design elements her clients enjoy; the entrance is now a warm embrace. 

Inside, the interior is anything but cloyingly sentimental. Nicholaeff has applied her brand of clean lines, open spaces and a certain new modernism to her design work, and her home reflects a microcosm of her overall aesthetic. “For me, since it is my year-round house, I did not go down the road of creating a ‘coastal style’ interior, which my clients are often looking to achieve,” she explains. “Instead, it is far more reflective of what interests me. I have a lot of African art, artifacts, textiles and elements of history surrounding me. It is true to me.” Nicholaeff may think her design strategy differs from that which she offers her client, but in fact, understanding what is important and appealing to the families whose homes she takes from inspiration to reality, is intrinsically her greatest talent.

A sophistication of line that defines her work is found throughout her home, yet on a markedly different scale than applied to the oceanfront masterpieces she creates. Where others might have reflexively added doghouse dormers, the gables that Nicholaeff incorporated into the former ranch’s humble roofline appear to have matured from the roofline as though they were somehow in the home’s original DNA. When asked to describe her design aesthetic, Nicholaeff reflects, “For me, I actually like doing more modern, clean work. Living in New England for the past few decades has influenced my respect for what people want, and how they want to live in this chapter of their lives.” However, it would be short-sighted and uninformed to assume she is designing for a moment in time, because the underlying element, both for her clients, as well as in her own surroundings is Nicholaeff’s ability to create timeless spaces that anticipate and respond to how their inhabitants live and evolve.

The evolution experienced in Nicholaeff’s own home has been subtle, like her adroit touch in all of her designs. Tabacco-hued hardwood flooring grounds the entire living space and provide a perfect counter-balance to the creamy white walls, millwork and old world sumptuous rugs. “I do like modern things, but I like comfortable, warm modern things,” she says when defining her balance with austere perception of modernity. The polish that Nicholaeff naturally exudes clearly inspires the environments she creates and her home reflects that kind of well-loved patina and glow a classic marble statuette might cast in the right light. Nicholaeff, who carves out precious free time to draw and paint in her small studio adjacent to her work space, says “What excites me, in architecture; drawing; and painting is the composition.”

Her deft understanding of line is the underlying power source in any of her designs. “It’s how the line creates the plane, how the planes create the space and how the space in its three-dimensionality evokes the atmosphere and creates function. That for me is where I go with design. I don’t go with ‘the style.’” She goes on to say, “How the building sits on a piece of land, how it relates to its neighbors, and more importantly, how our clients live is all part of the exploration of design.”

The lines that ultimately become treasured homes for Nicholaeff’s clients are just an extension of the lines she has etched in her own life. Criss-crossing the globe as a young disciple of history and architecture, and now presiding over a boutique firm in bucolic Osterville, Nicholaeff defies her spritely demeanor with a keen and focused command of how to masterfully create a home of discernment. “It’s how all the pieces go together. How does the inside relate to the outside? How do the outside elements become incorporated with the inside of the structure. There are so many ways to achieve successful design,” she adds. “How do you get there? This has been my way.”

Visit Doreve online at nicholaeff.com!

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.