Grand living on Great Island
Architect Doreve Nicholaeff successfully makes a 9,000 square foot house feel like a home by providing individual spaces for an active family.
Anyone who has ever looked out across a famous city or iconic town from a high perch knows how entertaining and diverting roofscapes can be. Imagine having your own beguiling roofscape, with the added perk of a panoramic view of Nantucket Sound. Such is the envious situation of this 9,000-square-foot shingle-style home designed by architect Doreve Nicholaeff.
Though the complex roofscape is the result of some rigorous geometry and careful configuration, it was born simply enough. When Nicholaeff, principal of Osterville’s Nicholaeff Architecture + Design, was approached by a Boston-area couple to design a home for them that would accommodate gatherings of their large multi-generational family, while providing smaller spaces for work and quiet activities, she faced a challenging balancing act. “My clients are very family oriented,” she says, “but they also wanted everyone in the family to have their own spaces.” That meant not only incorporating an extensive family room and dining area, a kitchen large enough for a small athletic team and several outdoor congregating spaces, but also seven bedrooms, an office and library alcove for the husband and an art studio for the wife. Added to this proposition was the need to house above ground what is normally relegated to the basement since this Yarmouth home is located in a flood zone.
The home’s exterior embodies this dynamic contrast of public and private spaces and expansive and intimate scales. The front façade is fairly traditional, with an embracing entrance that offers a human-sized welcome, achieved through cascading gables, twin dormers and a protective arched entry. The waterside is bold and broad, with walls of banked windows taking in the surrounding dunes, marshes, beach and ocean. “The back of the house is designed to maximize the views and to relate to the landscape,” Nicholaeff explains. “We oriented the house to follow the natural curve of the water’s edge.” Inside, the family and dining room are positioned to take advantage of the seascape, while the kitchen “is angled so that it is more separated.” The turn is mediated by a circular oak bar, which acts as the hinge or pivot point.
In the yard, innovation and juxtaposition once again find harmony. Manicured lawns and planted beds are flanked by moors brimming with a profusion of wildflowers scattered by seed by the homeowner. Twin sheds joined by a bridge and topped with a cupola bank off to the southeast side, and it is there that this home’s HVAC systems and a golf cart used to get around the surrounding neighborhoods are housed. On the southwest side, a long covered porch with concealed Phantom roll screens overlooks the flat, sprawling green lawn and gardens. It was such a porch as this that inspired the whole design of the new house. “The property had an existing house that was moved,” Nicholaeff says. “It had a covered porch, and my clients wanted to repeat that idea and orientation because they wanted to take advantage of the afternoon sunshine.”
This porch’s placement was the initial factor that determined the home’s site and configuration, and with so much to pack inside, the interiors quickly became deep and dense. The challenge became how to organize and connect the many rooms upstairs and down and ensure they all had access to the exceptional Cape Cod summer light. The solution became the home’s defining dramatic feature: a central two-and-a-half-story galleria, which draws and disperses light into the interior from its window-studded roof. This galleria acts as an architectural firmament, expanding the central energy of the house while directing the flow to all of the spaces.
This multi-faceted home creates a variety of experiences both inside and out. A typical Cape Cod day for this family with adult children may involve the simplest and best summer has to offer. A short stroll over a granite block bridge, which traverses a wetland created by Duxbury landscape architect Dan Orwig, leads to a grouping of white Adirondack chairs on their private sandy beach. After a day of sunbathing, a rinse in the outdoor shower may be in order. While some may practice chip shots on the sprawling lawn, others rest in Adirondack rockers. When cocktail hour arrives, the husband stands in one of his favorite spaces (other than his driftwood-inspired office or among his library stacks, that is): behind the bird’s nest bar, inspired by one he saw in Washington D.C. From there, he serves drinks to family and friends, who gaze at the views beyond.
Some may take their cocktails to the large outdoor hot tub for a relaxing soak while dinner is prepared either in the indoor kitchen, with its crisp white cabinetry and contrasting black honed jet mist granite countertops, or perhaps on the grill in the outdoor kitchen. When it’s time to eat, the family gathers around a large Restoration Hardware farmer’s table, illuminated by a contemporary Artic Pear Wave chandelier found at Ochre in New York City by the home’s interior designer, Karen Quinn of Connecticut. After dinner, a few wander to the patio to watch their favorite program on the outdoor television, while others opt for different choices of viewing in the comfort of the family room, where what looked like a mirror over the marble fireplace becomes a television at night, transforming the family sitting area into an indoor theater.
Furnishings are from a variety of sources, some new, some antique, and some transplanted from the couple’s suburban home, but nothing is ornate or fussy. The living room is “fairly dressed up,” Quinn says, but the Perennial and Schumacher fabrics are sturdy indoor/outdoor selections. There are standout pieces, like the Belgian table in the entryway, but Quinn, who has worked with Nicholaeff on several projects, says the house is the star. “Doreve’s houses don’t need a lot,” she says. “They are so interesting, and as a designer, I have to let the spaces be the artwork and let the views be the artwork.”
The C2 Salt Water wall color used throughout the house unites the spaces, furnishings, and fabrics. Choosing the right shade was paramount, Quinn adds, as there are no natural breaks in the walls; all of the major public spaces are connected. Given the prominent role of the color, it was important that it be interesting, with added drama provided in its contrast to the handsome walnut floors, whose color will lighten and become more blonde over time. The wall color also exhibits changing moods. “It is different from day to night,” Quinn says. The general goal for the interior design’s palette, she adds, “was to keep the colors light—sand, water, sky. We used those colors so that when you open up the door, everything just flows outside.”
The house feels like a perfect summer day—open, bright, breezy, calming. It has room for everyone and their activities, but is also comfortable when it is just two: “They are a close family,” Quinn says, “but we also needed to design the spaces so when the couple is alone, the spaces don’t feel cavernous. They still feel intimate.”
Even when the house is full, there are still places to get away. Those seeking quiet can retreat to a second-floor deck and look out at the ocean or watch the group below gathered around the fire pit chatting and listening to the wind play the sea grasses. The more intrepid souls, meanwhile, make the three-story journey up through the heart of the house, and emerge from a small door to meander around the circular rooftop path where the ocean views are epic and the roofscape, with its curving passageway is endlessly beguiling. When they are satisfied with the play of architectural shapes, they gaze up in silence at the natural firmament and get lost in constellations that seem so much closer from this special vantage point.