“Sweet” is the adjective Douglas Dick, principal of LDa Architects and Interiors of Cambridge and Chatham, often employs when describing the late nineteenth-century Hyannisport cottage he renovated for a world-traveling couple seeking a Cape Cod house to call home. With its semi-arched openings and octagonal tower, the cottage’s front façade was always charming. Despite low ceilings, the original master bedroom was cozy. The entire home was, in fact, “a sweet gem of a structure,” Dick says, and since its renovation, it has only become even more endearing.
A small cottage’s charm comes alive with big architectural and design concepts.
This seaside gem was built during the heyday of Hyannisport’s development as a tourist destination. This village of Barnstable would soon draw the Kennedy clan, making it nationally famous. While others at the time were raising grand inns on this pocket of land sitting where Lewis Bay empties into Nantucket Sound, the builder of this summer compound was designing a colony of Swiss cottages.
Before working on this cottage, Dick had renovated four or five others in the area and was familiar with the special qualities its residents cherished. “I really enjoy doing contextually inspired homes in unique landscapes,” he says. The opportunity to collaborate was a particular appeal of this project, the architect notes. “Part of the reason the clients selected us is that we are a firm that enjoys the collaborative process. It was appealing to work with the wife, who once worked as an interior designer. We defined the carpentry and the wife defined everything else from the furniture to the décor,” Dick explains.
Carrying out the architectural plans was Craig Ashworth of E.B. Norris & Son Builders, an Osterville firm with more than 85 years of experience known for expertise in historic renovations and for understanding Cape Cod’s iconic architectural style.
The wife’s relationship with the area runs deep. Her great grandparents lived in Hyannisport, and she grew up spending summers in her grandmother’s house nearby. The painting of a ship of a more distant relative, a captain who sailed out of Provincetown, hangs above the table in the breakfast nook. For many years, hers was a long-distance relationship with the Cape she loved, as she and her husband lived abroad. Eventually, the couple wanted to give their children a home base, a “heart home,” as the wife describes it, and they bought the cottage next door in the early 1980s. When their children became adults, they turned it over to them and bought its neighbor. Other family members also live nearby, including the wife’s sister, whose home is just on the other side of a shared “great lawn.”
Though their new cottage was in so many ways “sweet,” it was not necessarily livable. Most impractical, for instance, was the main staircase placed awkwardly right in front of the entrance where it not only impeded visitors, but it also blocked the view of the living room fireplace and divided the living and dining areas. “Before, when you opened the door,” Dick says, “you ran right into the first tread of the stairs.” Or, as the wife tells it, “The house had a charming staircase, but it was treacherous and killed two rooms.” A better-situated switchback staircase took its place, its newel post topped with the “mortgage button” of its forebear.
What was the dining room is now a sitting area, and the dining table now occupies the space where the staircase once stood. A diamond-paned window—a more weather-resistant replica of an original—fractures the light coming over a newly added built-in seat. “This renovation gave the family a more open and functioning dining room,” Dick says, “and the window seat with its lovely view creates a little moment. It can also serve as additional seating when the dining table is extended.”
In the living room, the fireplace received a new fossil-embedded gray limestone surround. Taking his cues from abutting homes, Dick replaced the “spindly brick chimney,” which, he says, rose at an “uncomfortable, non-vertical angle,” with a stone chimney. With the living areas now enjoying a more open relationship with each other, the need arose to link them. The bull’s eye trim, seen on the fireplace mantel and used sparingly before, was carried throughout the house as one theme. Another is the neutral palette the wife selected, with added grays, pale greens, and soft lavenders.
One of the goals for the renovation was to keep the impact on the front of the house minimal. From where the original, poorly placed staircase stood, to the back of the house, the structure was rebuilt from the foundation up, its integrity having been compromised by a series of what Dick calls, “bad additions.” A second staircase, linking the kitchen to an upstairs bathroom, was removed altogether. The second floor master bedroom, one of only two bedrooms in the original cottage, had been squeezed into a small space, while the back half of the second floor was used as storage. Mirroring elements from the front half of the house, Dick transformed that attic space into a master suite by adding 45-degree bays and raising the roof, literally, with a new tower element. “If not for the bays,” he says, “the bed would fill up the entire room.” A third bedroom was added, as was a third bathroom, all of which were outfitted in Waterworks tile in configurations the wife designed.
The original kitchen may have been serviceable in its day, especially given that guests of the Swiss Cottage Colony enjoyed meals in a common dining hall, but it in no way could accommodate the nightly preparation of the fresh vegetables from the family garden, or the catch of the day the husband, an avid fisherman, brings home. Just to reach the kitchen was an ordeal in itself and required one to pass through three doors.
The new L-shaped kitchen is both functional for every day use and perfect for entertaining, especially when the large pocket doors of the husband’s office are opened to proffer guests additional seating. Colorful fishing flies, which now hang here and there in the home, are expected to take over the office desk as the husband moves into full retirement. The kitchen’s Shaker-style cabinets reflect the wife’s preference for simplicity. “I like to edit rather than add,” she says, explaining her current design style. In selecting the marble for the island and counters, she could not help but fall for one called “Storm at Sea.” Dick extols its practical virtues: “It has a leather-finish texture, which is really lovely and functional. Dark marble often shows rings, but because of the textural surface, this marble avoids those foibles. It is a beautiful material and feels great.” Adding even more beauty to the kitchen is the breakfast nook, cozying up in the same spot as its predecessor. From this little bay, the couple can sip their coffee while watching graceful sailboats floating toward the Sound.
A small porch off the kitchen and a circular brick terrace, painstakingly laid out by hardscape contractor Gary Blondin, are new additions, perfect for intimate gatherings, but when the extended family and friends come together, an antique barn standing in the midst of the shared lawn shifts from storage space to special events venue. Another addition to this part of the house is a spacious laundry and mudroom, one of the key requests for the renovation. The new draping rooflines that shelter all of these spaces give the back half of the house the same captivating architectural interest enjoyed by the front.
Dick’s directive in updating the home included respecting its “wonderful diminutive scale,” and when it came time to furnish the new spaces, the clients chose cottage-size pieces that are big on charm. Some came from their global travels, like the petite Korean apothecary in the second -floor hall and the Asian chest sitting under a painting by English painter Haydn Cornner in the living room. Others are hand-me-downs, like several of the lamps that came from the wife’s grandmother’s cottage. A few items were picked up from Ebay, and still others, like some of the bureaus the wife had stripped and refinished by Dip ’N Strip in Hyannis, were left by the previous owners. The couple already owned many of the couches and chairs, but they received new life when reupholstered by Cape Cod Upholstery Shop in South Dennis.
The cottage’s square footage did not change much, but its character and convenience were decidedly enhanced. “This was not a project with big gestures,” says Dick. “We restored shine to a traditional cottage.”
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