The legacy of this historic home in Harwich Port gets a unique update

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2019 / ,

Writer: Elizabeth Hilfrank / Photographer: Dan Cutrona 

The legacy of this historic home in Harwich Port gets a unique update


Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2019 / ,

Writer: Elizabeth Hilfrank / Photographer: Dan Cutrona 

Building Upon a Legacy

A century’s worth of generations have shaped this Harwich Port cottage, and now its latest generation of ownership has put their own unique touch on the historic home

Steve Trowbridge’s life has taken him many places—from his birthplace in the Philippines, to New York for 13 years, to Dallas, Texas for much of his adult life. Yet wherever life has taken him, he has always found his way back to one particular place—Harwich Port. 

In the early 1900s, Trowbridge’s grandfather visited a friend in Harwich Port, and it didn’t take him long to fall in love with the area. Soon after that first visit, he bought an 1828 classic Cape Cod-style cottage to be a getaway from his teaching life at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. What was once a simple, standalone home, where everyone cooked around the fireplace in the keeping room and went outside for the bathroom, has since received a loving, distinct touch from each Trowbridge generation. With the help of Alison Alessi of A3 Architects and George Davis of George Davis, Inc., Trowbridge and his wife, Peggy, made their mark this past summer with a complete revamp of the 1950s kitchen.

The 1828 antique part of the home has largely remained the same over the past 100 years, and is fondly referred to as the “museum” by the homeowners. When Trowbridge’s grandfather remarried, he extended the home to have a separate kitchen space. Then, in the 1980s, Trowbridge’s father added the “annex,” which still followed traditional Cape Cod-style living. With Steve and Peggy Trowbridge now retired and hoping to eventually become year-rounders in Harwich Port, they decided to rejoin the oldest and newest spaces with a very modern kitchen and dining area. “We now have the very old, very new and sort of new attached,” says Trowbridge.

Due to zoning restrictions, the kitchen was the only expandable area of the property. The homeowners were very clear that they did not want to change the antique part of the home, so Alessi and Davis had to work together to creatively build a contemporary kitchen squeezed between two different centuries. 

“I think it helped that we weren’t the architects,” says Davis. “We do design work, so we had an appreciation for what Alison was trying to accomplish, and we wanted to honor it.”

“It was great working with George,” says Alessi. “We could collaborate on the details. You never know what you’re going to find in the walls, so you have to work together because it can get messy.”

The main goal of the project was to create a more comfortable gathering space in the kitchen. The original dark, galley-style kitchen could not accommodate all of the Trowbridges’ Southwestern guests that will be visiting Harwich Port every other week, starting this July. Alessi chose to add much more natural light through three large southern-facing windows over the kitchen sink. “As a connecting piece, there wasn’t opportunity for lighting on the side walls, so I had to keep the wall with the windows as open as possible, which is why I used open shelving rather than cabinets here,” Alessi explains. 

Davis and his team demolished about 300 square feet in the connector area, then added 600 square feet to the kitchen space, which now includes a center island with stools so people can gather, but opens out to a formal dining and living area—a style similar to the homeowners’ Texas home. In almost an ode to the original home, this new kitchen creates a sense of collaboration.

While the older parts of the home all have low ceilings—Alessi says the museum is only about 7 feet high—the architect sought to create a larger sense of space in the new area by building a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams. The openness of this room creates the kind of “chill scene” the homeowners requested. While this modern area is entirely open, a door blocks the kitchen from the museum in an effort to make a clear transition between the spaces. 

If the Trowbridges are to entertain as much as they anticipate, they need proper equipment, and they spared no expense in making sure they had everything they needed. For George Davis, Inc., this meant getting creative in fitting cooktops, a double oven, a pot filler, two refrigerated drawers and a wine chiller within the expanded, but still relatively small, kitchen space. “It was certainly a challenge to fit all the appliances they wanted into the kitchen, while still allowing room for storage,” Davis says.

With old homes come legends, and the legend of the front door to this Harwich Port home is one that ended up influencing the renovation. The front door is not at the front at all—rather it faces off to the side toward the south. While some believe the house was constructed this way so that it could get the most natural heat possible before gas or electric heat was available, Peggy says, “The story goes that when the house was moved from Barnstable to Harwich Port, the woman did not like her new neighbors to the north, so she faced the door away from them as a metaphor to giving the cold shoulder.” Whatever the reasoning, this door is no longer the welcoming door, and instead, Alessi designed a new, gabled entryway to the new living space. “The gabled entry now guides people into the newer part of the home, as represented by its taller entryway,” says Alessi.

Off the living room is a redesigned patio. With string lights and more open space, this patio serves as another entertaining outlet. To this day, a second building behind the house is reserved for kids, including the homeowners’ twin sons, as a spot to hangout in while the parents enjoy a breather. All groups reconnect again on the patio. 

Being such an old home, the renovation did not come without its fair share of challenges—the first being a strict deadline of July 4. But after some pipe restructuring, water damage restoration and fresh paint to replace lathered plaster, the clients had their home ready to enjoy by the holiday. “We dug up a lot of problems. There were no surprises because this is what to expect when dealing with old homes, but there were added challenges,” says Davis. “I like being confronted with a challenge that, at the start, you don’t know how you’re going to get through it.”

The project was successfully brought to completion thanks to the collaborative approach of Alessi, Davis and the Trowbridges. While the Trowbridges were in Dallas for the majority of the project, George Davis, Inc. consistently updated pictures of the project’s progress online, and the homeowners constantly provided feedback. And though Davis and Alessi may have had some stressful moments when dealing with zoning challenges, they did their best to keep the homeowners at ease. “Having renovated three other homes in the past, this was the least stressful one so far,” says Trowbridge. “Alison was so respectful and terrific to work with, and George was really great.”

 Trowbridge refers to his father as an “overachiever,” and their Harwich Port home was his sanctuary to unwind from job stresses. Growing up, Trowbridge and his siblings never lacked for adventure on the Cape, with sailing classes, tennis lessons and the like. It is with extreme excitement that Trowbridge brings his Texan friends to experience this part of the country that they have never seen before. “I’m thrilled to be the host that can share with them such a special space,” he says.

The Trowbridges refer to this home as a “labor of love.” Each time they come in the summer, they leave the cottage better than it was before, and this project is the first that will really transition the space full steam ahead into the future. As Trowbridge puts it, “She’s a brand new ship.”

One hundred years in the making, this home is not “out with the old, in with the new,” but rather “respect the old, add the new.” It is the Trowbridges’ hope that they will have countless adventures that bring as much joy to them and their guests as all of Steve Trowbridge’s Cape Cod summers have brought him for the past 61 years.

Elizabeth Hilfrank

Elizabeth Hilfrank is a freelance writer who lives in Mashpee. A Cape Cod washashore, Elizabeth writes most frequently for Cape Cod Life Publications in Cape Cod HOME. When she's not writing, she works as a video marketer for a tech start up in Boston.