Summer 2013

Harmony of Light & Space

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2013 / ,

Writer: Susan Dewey / Photographer: Brian Vanden Brink 

Polhemus Savery DaSilva design and build a unique coastal home for a Chatham Family that flows inside and out.

Polhemus Savery DaSilva design and build a unique coastal home for a Chatham Family that flows inside and out.

Photo by Brian Vanden Brink

A family with three school-age children wanted to build a new home not far from Chatham’s Lighthouse Beach. They knew they wanted accessible open living spaces with easy connections between outside and inside spaces, but they were unsure how to express their vision. They turned to the well-known Chatham firm of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders (PSD) to articulate the reality of their dream house.

“The homeowners didn’t start with a vision that was definable,” says John DaSilva, AIA, PSD’s design principal. “They had images of various elements and a wish for casual, relaxed family living. It was our job to come up with an architectural solution that matched their inner vision—even if they couldn’t exactly articulate what they wanted at the outset.”

DaSilva explains that PSD chose to create a home that is distinctive and meets the needs of a growing family, yet is well integrated with the surrounding neighborhood. “The neighborhood is a mixture of newer Shingle style homes, older summer cottages, and mid-century Capes and contemporaries,” says DaSilva. “We felt an appropriate character for the house was somewhere between the first two—not as grand and formal as some of the Shingle style homes, but not as diminutive and seasonal as the summer cottages.”

PSD is well known for designing and building homes with distinctive, highly original details that give each house notable character and charm. Sensitive integration of interior and exterior spaces—particularly in picturesque Cape Cod surroundings—is also a cornerstone of PSD’s design/build philosophy.

Polhemus Savery DaSilva design and build a unique coastal home for a Chatham Family that flows inside and out.

Photo by Brian Vanden Brink

Although the property is not on the water, the architects made every effort to design the home with views to the ocean from the second floor, across two other properties and a spectacular expanse of dunes and beach. A decision was also made to have the actual living spaces of the home be at the back of the house, opening out with an expansive horizontal stretch of large windows to a beautifully designed and landscaped pool area.

“The windows are a double-hung design, which the homeowner felt were most like ‘home’—they specifically requested this style of window,” DaSilva explains, noting that the ability to listen carefully to each homeowner’s requests and ideas is also a PSD trademark. “The two-over-two design of the windows was a PSD idea. Both the windows and the muntin bars dividing the panes are over-sized as they might be in a child’s drawing. This helps make the house full of light.”

Continuing the whimsical, summer cottage appeal of the home, PSD worked with the homeowners to design shutters with a special seaside touch. “The owner requested starfish cut-outs and PSD created the shutters by tracing photos of actual starfish, then cutting the boards directly from the drawings with a digitally controlled machine,” says DaSilva.
The large flowing expanse of the back of the house is grounded by an over-large gambrel roof with a projecting center bay at the front of the house. “The gambrel wraps around all four sides of the home. Other than one huge window in the front bay, all the second floor windows are in dormers,” DaSilva says, noting that at the house’s back and end areas, dormers wrap the corners, capturing ocean views for two bedrooms.

Polhemus Savery DaSilva design and build a unique coastal home for a Chatham Family that flows inside and out.

Photo by Brian Vanden Brink

“The house actually has more roof than wall, giving it—along with the horizontal extension implied by the large overhangs and the solid carved mass implied by the hipping gambrel—a wonderful earth-bound stability,” DaSilva notes.

The large overhangs also shade the numerous windows from the sun, and the big sheltering roof makes the house feel cozy yet grounded at the same time. “The horizontal and vertical balance of this house is reminiscent of classic New England summer homes,” DaSilva says.

Principal living spaces line up along the back of the house. “The living room is at one end and runs the full depth of the house, exposing it to all-day natural light from the east, south, and west,” says DaSilva, noting that ancilliary spaces like the powder room, mud room, and entry hall make up the remainder of the floor plan at the front of the house.

Throughout the home, the attention to detail PSD is known for can be seen in such structural elements as raised ceiling shapes that create defined centers for the otherwise open living, kitchen, and dining spaces. “The raised ceiling in the living area is clad in V-groove paneling in a checkerboard pattern—a casual variant of a classic summer cottage ceiling,” DaSilva says. A built-in bar by Classic Kitchens of Hyannis occupies one end of the dining space, and simple but substantial wainscotting and chair rails ring the first floor service spaces.

Unique customized features also include a dramatic ceiling in the master bedroom. “There are four bedrooms in the house, but the master has the best view available on the site. We added a cathedral ceiling to make the space really special,” DaSilva says.

As is often the case in the fragile physical surroundings of Cape Cod, the year-and-a-half-long project of designing and building the home was not without environmental hurdles. “The property is in a conservation district, so it required Conservation Commission approval. It is also non-conforming to current zoning regulations, so it required Zoning Board of Appeals approval as well,” says DaSilva, noting that PSD’s CEO, Peter Polhemus, has decades of experience with permitting on Cape Cod.

Polhemus Savery DaSilva design and build a unique coastal home for a Chatham Family that flows inside and out.

Photo by Brian Vanden Brink

“Peter was able to assemble a great team with an attorney, a civil engineer, an environmental consultant, and a landscape architect working for the necessary permits. At the same time, we worked with the landscape architect to add indigenous plant species to the property, moving disturbed portions of the property away from wetlands and lifting the house above floodplain level,” says DaSilva. “It was a win-win situation for both the homeowner and the Cape Cod environment.”

While the home is not a certified “green” house, its high efficiency, tight-house components, and nitrogen removing septic system make the house significantly more ecologically sensitive than the house it replaced. “PSD has an integrated design and construction process, where high-quality design, thoughtful management, careful communication—including sincere listening—and precise attention to details all receive equal emphasis,” DaSilva explains, noting that there were few surprises during the home’s design and construction period.

The homeowners are thrilled with their completed dream house, as is John DaSilva, who happens to live in the same area. “I live nearby and pass the house several times a day going to and from work. I never get tired of looking at it,” he says. “The house looks great in any season and under any weather conditions. The front of the house faces due west. Late in the day, it gets a golden glow that highlights the gable end with its big window and welcoming porch. The house is dramatic, but also pleasing; special but also familiar; timeless—but also of its own time.”

Susan Dewey

Susan Dewey, former associate publisher and editor at Cape Cod Life Publications, lives in Centerville where she grows vegetables and flowers for Cape farmers' markets, designs perennial gardens for her son’s company, Dewey Gardens, and enjoys living on beautiful Cape Cod year round.