Calm seas and warm days inspire a couple’s design choices
In this issue of Cape Cod HOME, we celebrate color, most often represented by vibrant, attention-grabbing hues, but the understated elegance of neutral tones cannot be overlooked. A Falmouth home awash in soft grays proves that beauty comes in many shades.
A short, winding drive down Moorland Road, a desirable neighborhood in Falmouth, locally known as The Moors, a quaint home sits slightly back from the road, surrounded by towering evergreens and a bluestone terrace in place of a lawn. In the summer, pink, white and purple perennials accent the hardscape and surround the cozy outdoor seating area.
From their landlocked home in Ohio, Peg Cotter and her husband, Jeff Whittle, often dreamed of warmer days sailing on Buzzards Bay or windsurfing off the beach in Falmouth—the way the sky meets the water, creating a million different sparkling colors, every second a new shade. Purchasing a Cape home gave them the opportunity to recreate these dreams, bringing the serenity of the ocean straight to their walls.
For years, the coastal draw of Falmouth had the couple renting a summer home in The Moors, where they often fantasized about owning their own cottage. “When it came time to buy a house, we knew that’s where we wanted to be,” says Peg, but finding an available home in such a desirable destination was not without its challenges. “We almost gave up,” admits Jeff.
On a whim, Peg’s sister, Moe, ended up looking at a home before the “For Sale” sign was even in the ground. With electric blue carpets still intact and the homeowner’s belongings spread throughout, recognizing the potential of the space was no small task, but Moe rose to the challenge. “I could tell the house had good bones, even though it wasn’t cleaned out,” she says. Most importantly, the back yard offered enough room to accommodate Jeff’s boat. And with that, Peg and Jeff had a new home, and a new project.
Fifty years ago, a Cape home was something very different than what it is today. The house that Peg and Jeff bought, with its pine-paneled walls, shag carpeting and maze-like floor plan, fit the dreams of Cape Codders of yesteryear. “What we were looking at was a full Cape that was in disrepair. The entire house had to be re-engineered to meet current codes,” explains Senior Project Manager Mike Katon of The Valle Group in Falmouth. Together the team set out to turn the home into something modern, beachy and open—a Cape home for today.
Peg, Jeff and Moe divided the critical responsibilities of the project amongst themselves—Jeff coordinated the construction, Peg handled interior design, and Moe was designated as chief gardener. The result is a space overflowing with personality. There is truly something for everyone. For Jeff, nautical paintings by his aunt hang in the living room; for Peg, Mackenzie-Childs accessories add pops of color throughout the space; and for Moe, an expansive garden softens the bluestone patio, and pictures of flowers hang in her room as a defiant contrast to the ocean-themed artwork downstairs.
“We went through 33 sets of plans with our architect, Chris Warner, trying to achieve the most livable house we possibly could, given the existing footprint and the fact that we only wanted to extend the house on one side,” says Jeff. The other side of the house boasts a magnificent screened-in porch that the couple wanted to save, situated just above a steep drop-off of grade in the property, so the porch looks out amongst the trees. “People who visit the house call it the treehouse,” Jeff explains with a laugh. For a couple that spends their days on the water, a treehouse is likely a welcome change.
While the evergreen trees surrounding the back of the property provide wooded embrace, the landscape starts and ends there. Peg and Jeff have traded in rolling ocean waves for a sea of hardscape spanning the entirety of the front yard. “Neither one of us wanted to mow a lawn,” explains Peg, laughing.
As chief gardener, Moe—an avid HGTV fan—was in charge of the design of the bluestone patio. “We excavated this amazing wall in the front that had been completely covered in ivy,” she explains. “I remember a neighbor walked by and said, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know there was a wall there.’” Falmouth’s Rapoza Landscape extended the wall around the terraced space, matching the stone and the design so perfectly that you would never know they were built separately.
Complementing the hardscape is a myriad of plants. “Moe is a very accomplished gardener, and I think we used more species of plants on this project than any other,” says owner Paul Rapoza. Off to the side of the patio is a cozy seating area. The attention to detail in this space is unmatched—with rocks strategically placed to add natural seating options in addition to comfortable, cushioned outdoor dining and seating groupings. As a result, this part of the home has been transformed into a low-maintenance entertainment space that communes with nature.
“Furniture does a lot to soften the space. It’s just like the interior of a home,” comments Rapoza. “If you walk into an unfurnished home, it feels harsh, but furniture makes it warm and inviting. It’s the same with a patio when you add furniture and plants.”
Inside, the home is just as warm and well thought out. Peg and Jeff’s years of sailboat racing, and the meticulous action of tuning a sail just right has given them an unparalleled attention to detail that comes through in every aspect of the design. For example, the outlets in the house all have the screw heads vertically oriented. A charging station, complete with a bright red custom cabinet, sits at the ready in the hallway. The Pinterest-inspired mudroom has a place to hang salty sailing gear and store sandy sandals. The laundry room features a spacious countertop for folding clothes with a view of the towering trees in back. As Moe puts it, “They thought of everything.”
“Jeff’s an engineer, so he’s very detail-oriented, and I’m like that as well,” says Katon. “We were able to tinker a lot with the mechanical systems.” Soon, the lower level will feature a Tesla Powerwall to act as a generator in case the main power ever goes out. Upstairs, Jeff designated a closet, with a louvered door for ventilation, to house the electronics of the home and conceal the wires that are all carefully organized and hidden away. Katon and Jeff also got crafty with heating vents that run along either side of the fireplace and are subtly hidden by vertical wall panels.
The coordination of gray accents and walls—including paint colors in Cashmere, Horizon and Stonington Gray–throughout the house bring a soft, sophisticated feel that ties the rooms together and complements the oak flooring. Every room is cloaked in a subtly different shade, that softens or brightens as it is influenced by the natural light provided from the French doors off the porch or the light tunnels in the ceiling, the same way a wave crashes through shades of blue and green and gray. The result is that every day the family wakes up to a slightly different color. On a sunny summer day, the living room walls look almost seafoam green. On a snowy winter morning, they border on a rich gray-blue.
“Some of our main goals were to have an open, airy, Cape Cod feel,” explains Kimberly Calabrese from Main Street at Botello’s in Mashpee, who coordinated the countertops and cabinets for the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms. “We wanted the space to be welcoming as well as entertaining–somewhere where people can sit back and relax, but that also functions well.”
Peg’s goal was to create a minimalist feel, but one that still captured the atmosphere of living in a gorgeous Cape setting. “I wanted people to come into the home and sit anywhere and not feel like they had to worry about anything precious,” she says.
Calabrese started in the kitchen, choosing quartz countertops with grains and flecks of sea foam and aqua that complement the fluid tones of the rest of the house. “This is not the typical white countertop you’d find in a Cape house,” Calabrese notes. “It has some movement and flows really well.”
The downstairs hall bathroom is built entirely around a Mackenzie-Childs sink that Peg had stored and moved with her for years since acquiring it from a barn sale, trying to find the perfect home for it. The sink is shaped like a fish and finished in a multi-colored checkerboard pattern, a difficult piece to work around since the pattern is so vivacious, but it’s one that captures Peg’s personality so perfectly. Calabrese helped her pick a dark countertop that complements the sink. Jeff customized a mirror frame from Mackenzie-Childs tiles, and Peg selected matching light fixtures. The finished project is so vibrant and full of heart that it’s easy to forget this is the smallest room in the house.
For Calabrese, it’s difficult to choose whether her favorite room is the spacious kitchen, the Mackenzie-Childs-inspired bathroom, the charging station in the hallway with the eye-catching red custom cabinet, or the functional pantry area with a spot for each of the family’s cats. “With dealing with many clients over the years, I find that some of my ideas that I think are going to work may not be right for each client. So I take their ideas and put it all together in a way that functions well for them,” she says. “Everyone took their time and put themselves into this project to make the clients happy.”
For Laureen Marks, in-house designer at Pottery Barn in Mashpee, Peg and Jeff’s easy-going attitude and inclination toward creativity made capturing their vision simple and enjoyable. “They were just pleasant to work with,” recalls Marks, who selected furniture, like the slip-covered sectional in the living room and the dining room table and chairs, that is flexible and comfortable enough for entertaining family and friends.
“You’re starting from a blank slate and filling all of those spaces with pieces that are going to function, be pleasing to the eye, and be comfortable for the client,” explains Marks, who also appreciates the warmth of the gray walls. “I think the neutral color palette brings a sense of calmness and tranquility to the space.”
Katon explains the nature of this project best by saying, “The home is exactly who they are as people.”
Just as the ocean is ever changing, so is design, but in a world influenced by the latest trend, this couple has created a home that is undoubtedly a classic. The opening lines to one of Jeff’s favorite poems, John Masefield’s “Sea Fever,” aptly captures the image he and Peg brought to life in their serene Cape home:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.