From the inside out, this Chatham home is seriously playful
While strolling through Chatham one day in 2012, Helen and her husband Ethan happened to come across a house for sale that caught their eye. It was less the house that captured them and more the property itself. Sited at the high point of the neighborhood, the land gently slopes up from Nantucket Sound, with just two rows of houses between it and the water, creating a promontory feel.
Chatham is near and dear to Ethan, who grew up spending every summer in town, and, because of Ethan and their own trips together there, it is a special place for Helen and their three children. So it’s no surprise, then, that he and Helen didn’t let the opportunity slip away to have their very own vacation home in the coastal community they love.
The couple enlisted Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders (PSD) to replace the existing house on-site with one that could comfortably accommodate the active family of five and their friends. “We’d been admiring their work for years, so we knew we really wanted to work with them,” Helen says. To Helen, a PSD house is classic yet fun, and has a distinct presence, which is exactly what she and Ethan were looking for. “Design-wise, we wanted it to be playful,” she says. “We told John to run with it.”
John DaSilva, design principal of PSD and lead architect on the project—which he dubbed “High Point”—worked to achieve that sense of playfulness in the exterior, starting with the façade. Staggered rooflines, a curved bump on one side, and a swooping roof above the screened-in porch play off of the sloped nature of the site and give the house a unique geometric form and whimsical character. DaSilva describes the façade as “balanced asymmetry.” “The entry porch, the over-scaled window above it, and the windows to the right and the left of the entry porch are symmetrical, and they are powerful enough in their symmetry to allow everything that’s around them to be asymmetrical,” he explains, noting the gambrel nature of the roof and the off-centered front door.
Two columns, set flat against the house, flank the arched front entry porch. DaSilva calls these type of columns “carpenters columns.” “It’s a column but at the same time a representation of a column,” he says. “It’s like a drawing of a column made into an actual architectural element. That’s friendlier and less formal, and a little more endearing than a traditional, classical column.”
From the right side of the exterior, a corner of the master bedroom sits above the screened-in porch’s projecting roof. That roof, coupled with the pyramid-like one atop the master, conjures up the image of an Asian teahouse. To DaSilva, High Point is a perfect example of associationism in architecture, meaning a building can elicit subjective associations with other objects or other ideas brought about simply by looking at the building. “When looking at this house, you can see various different things. You can see a teapot. You can see a tugboat—the house has motion. You can see a dancer with one hand up and one hand down. You can go on and on,” DaSilva says.
To create the accommodating program the homeowners needed, all while best taking advantage of the site, PSD created a site plan for High Point different than that of the average house. They oriented the two-story structure so that its mass stretched from the street side back. This allowed for generous yard space—completed by Arlington-based landscape architecture firm Terraink in conjunction with PSD—on the south/right side of the house, and created a prime position for the master bedroom on the second floor. From the master, a bay window calls attention to the panoramic views of the ocean beyond. “It’s sort of the bridge of the ship, if you will,” DaSilva says, reinforcing the tugboat interpretation of the home’s structure. The cathedral ceiling of the master adds to the dramatic impact of these idyllic views.
An open kitchen, dining and living space constitute the south-facing side of the first floor. A swath of windows, each with chunky muntins, floods the connected space with natural light. In an effort to create separation between the rooms, DaSilva designed a series of arched and semi-arched openings into the living area. “You can sit in the family room or in the dining room and feel that you’re in a little more cozy space, but there’s easy access to social interaction,” he says. Plus, the semi-arches “inflect the space outward, making it feel a little bigger.” French doors adjacent to the kitchen offer access out onto the terrace—complete with a fire pit—making outdoor entertaining a breeze.
The terrace can also be accessed from the screened-in porch, located off the kitchen. “I consider porches to be partially interior spaces and partially exterior spaces—they’re really of both worlds,” says DaSilva, and he tends to use, as is the case here, cedar V-groove boards throughout as paneling. “It’s an exterior material—cedar boards can stand up to the weather—but it’s relatively smooth like an interior plaster wall.”
Across from the family room on the first floor is a guest suite, and upstairs there are two more bedrooms in addition to the master suite—a boys’ and a girls’ bunkroom—as well as a study. The house also boasts a finished basement, serving as a rec room and also offering more spaces for guests.
Bold bursts of color throughout the home complement the playful nature of its architecture. Interior designer Robin Pelissier chose accent pieces in colors like aqua, yellow, orange and fuchsia to help create spaces that fit the vibrancy of the family’s carefree lifestyle. “They wanted something that could be sandy feet friendly, but at the same time something they could use all year long and feel as welcoming in the wintertime when they have a fire in the fireplace as it is during the summertime when they’re action-packed with a lot of activity,” Pelissier says. “We wanted to make it feel like a special retreat where you can go and relax and really know that you’re away from home.”
Having previously worked with Helen and Ethan, Pelissier knew the couple would be open to color, and more than just the typical blue-and-white aesthetic. One of Helen’s favorite finishes is the pale aqua, seaglass-esque subway tile for the kitchen backsplash. Pelissier carried that blue-green pastel tone to the exterior shutters—complete with charming starfish designs—and even subtly complemented the seaglass look of the tile with glass lamps and vases throughout the interior. Bright aqua dining room chairs add vitality, as do the pillows sprinkled throughout the spaces. The yellow and ocean-blue pillows evoke the sunshine and water that surround the family in the summer, and the orange pillows bring a sense of warmth.
“We kept the paint color in the rooms downstairs very sedate, very serene, very quiet and light, but we used the accessories as our color because they’re easy to change out to fit the season,” Pelissier notes.
The bleached-sand color of the oak flooring, paired with sisal carpeting, encourages that barefoot lifestyle the homeowners seek. Comfy couches and armchairs, upholstered in indoor-outdoor fabric, further allow for casual, comfortable living. “Nobody has to feel like anything can’t be sat on, or jumped on,” Pelissier remarks. “Everything has a light, sort of fanciful, playful feeling, but at the same time it’s hardy enough to really be quite cozy.”
During the project, Pelissier and her team surprised the homeowners with some sentimental décor. “We had asked for some family pictures that they love, and then, without them knowing, we had those blown up and framed in these reclaimed wood frames,” she says. These oversized photographs, picturing Helen and Ethan’s kids enjoying life on the water, adorn the wall going up the stairway and add a personal, custom touch to the home, which delighted the homeowners.
Since the home was completed in 2014, Helen admits her college-age children have reaped its benefits the most, as they stay there often with their friends. Once her third child graduates from high school, she says she’s looking forward to her and Ethan spending more time enjoying Cape Cod life at their beautiful Chatham home.
Reflecting on the home overall, she says, “The quality is amazing… I love it all. I guess my favorite spot really is the master bedroom. It has a nice little sitting area where you can just open up all the windows and look out at the ocean.”
If the light’s just right, it’s easy to mistake the natural-colored shingles of the house’s façade for being pale pink—as if the house is blushing. High Point’s charms are never ending. To DaSilva, it’s “a house that’s very serious about not taking itself too seriously”—a home that brings joy, and offers a friendly embrace. “It’s hopefully the kind of place that makes you smile,” he says, “that gives you happy memories.”