A charmingly reimagined West Dennis cottage epitomizes Cape Cod through and through
What does it mean to live on Cape Cod? Beach days. Harbor sails. Main Street strolls. Lobster rolls. This all might sound cliché, but it’s all inextricably part of the Cape Cod experience. And these quintessential Cape experiences speak to a larger truth—that Cape Cod living is easy-breezy living, the kind of living that relishes in and celebrates life’s simple pleasures.
A Cape Cod home, then, should reflect and encourage this type of living. That’s exactly what designers Sarah Waldo and Peyton Lambton of Washashore Home set out to accomplish in the renovation of a classic Cape-style cottage in West Dennis. The home was simply outdated, as it hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1956. Dark, yellow-varnished knotty pine paneling throughout made already modest spaces feel even smaller, and the vibe was more 1950s cabin than Cape Cod cottage. For the design team and homeowners Linda and Marty, it was important to maintain the 600-square-foot home’s distinct charm all while hitting the proverbial refresh button for a lighter, more open feel.
“We wanted them to have that original Cape feel and not just bulldoze the house and give them a completely different feel,” says Lambton. “They bought this house for a reason—because there was something charming and exciting about it. It just needed to be reworked with the layout and freshened up.”
How this Cape home’s fresh start came to fruition is actually quite serendipitous. “The day we closed on the house,” Linda recalls, “it was the off-season, so it was pretty quiet on the Cape, and we had always wanted to try this restaurant on the other side of Dennis.” That restaurant was Gina’s by the Sea, and it just so happened that Waldo had plans to dine at Gina’s that same night. Linda and Marty crossed paths with Waldo that evening and they struck up a conversation, the couple commenting on the old pine paneling in the restaurant. “They said, ‘What do you think about that? Because we just bought this little cottage…’” recalls Waldo. “She came to the house the next day,” says Linda, “and she was so wonderful. We just loved her ideas. We’re very fortunate to have met her.”
The project posed a unique challenge for Waldo and Lambton, having never taken on a house this small before. But their vision for the home was clear from the very beginning—a vision of a contemporary Cape that leveraged its existing footprint and materials. “I think a lot of people would’ve walked into the house and been like, ‘Aah! It’s so much work!’” Waldo says. “Or think that they have to tear it down,” adds Lambton. Not a single wall here was taken down, and a good portion of the original wood paneling got a second life.
“One of the things we felt really strongly about was using that old, dated pine paneling in a fresh new way,” says Waldo. “Sarah and I are both really drawn to a rustic-coastal vibe, so it’s mixing the old with the new,” explains Lambton. Contractor Jeff Keefe and his company Keefe Construction carefully extracted the paneling off the walls, sanding down the boards and painting them white, reincorporating the pine panels along the walls of the guest bedroom, in shiplap style, as well as in the hallway. Keefe then personally sourced additional knotty pine, choosing wood with less than 1 inch-thick knots—any thicker, he says, and it wouldn’t paint well. This pine was then whitewashed and incorporated throughout the rest of the home as feature walls, wainscoting and in ceilings. Linda admits she was a bit worried at first that it would all look too white. “We kept saying, ‘The subtle tones will come out,’” recalls Waldo. “I’m so happy we trusted them,” Linda says, as the home now feels bright and airy yet still cozy-cottagey.
What it doesn’t feel like, though, is a tiny house. “We wanted to make the rooms as spacious as possible without changing the footprint,” says Keefe. To open up the interior, Keefe vaulted the previously drop, cardboard-tile ceilings above the formal living room and kitchen, allowing the spaces to be open to one another. In the kitchen, comfy banquette seating, in place of a formal dining table, helps enable the flow between the two spaces, and a large picture window offers a resplendent view of the pond just beyond the backyard. Vaulting the ceilings also allowed for gable windows, for more natural light, and created space for a loft that sleeps two, perfect for accommodating Linda and Marty’s grown sons when they come to visit. The design team extended living space by transforming the screened porch—which had an existing block foundation—into a four-season TV room, complete with banks of divided lite windows on all three sides and exposed beams, kept their natural wood color to contrast the whitewashed paneling of the walls and ceiling. A cozy spot to lounge on a lazy Sunday, the four-season room also opens out to a large deck for summertime entertaining.
Above the master and guest bedrooms, Keefe installed 2 ½ by 4 ¼ inch hemlock beams, topped with ¾ inch southern yellow pine, which also serves as the floor of the sleeping loft above. “What that did is create a lofty, post-and-beam effect in the bedrooms and gave a little more headspace,” Keefe explains. “But to achieve that,” he continues, “I had to put a structural ridge in that basically spans from each gable end—so there’s one big post in the middle then the beam from either half supports the whole roof structure.”
Additional restructuring included the fireplace chimney. The original fireplace, Keefe says, was undersized and not optimally functional, so it was opened up and redesigned so a wood stove could be installed. To Keefe, not only is the wood stove a more efficient heating element here, it also adds traditional charm. “We also brought in some old brick that’s original to Cape Cod and refaced the fireplace with that,” Waldo notes.
In selecting interior furnishings, Waldo and Lambton found an understated approach to be most impactful. “We didn’t need to go overboard with the nautical nods. You can do it in a very subtle way and still get that vibe,” says Waldo. “One of the things we really pride ourselves on is making our projects feel authentically Cape Cod, that you get that feeling the minute you walk in the door without it being advertised.” Soft-toned linens from Design Works in Yarmouth and armless living room chairs from Elburne in Dennis help create that easy-breezy feel desired. “That’s another nod to the Cape, using furnishings and pieces that are from local stores. It just makes it that much more personal to the Cape,” says Lambton. “We love working with local shops and store owners to source furnishings,” Waldo adds. Beachscape paintings by local artists were sourced from Harvest Wine Gallery as well as Design Works, and for an added pop of color, Waldo and Lambton chose a blue and white, circular-patterned tile backsplash for the kitchen. Knickknacks were kept to a minimum, says Waldo, and stain-resistant, slipcover Sunbrella fabrics were used for the couches. “With a Cape house,” Waldo says, “you don’t want to be spending your time dusting and cleaning.”
Though it’s impossible for Linda to choose her favorite feature of the home, she says she loves the original cast-iron sink and tub in the retiled bathroom, as well as the lighting elements the design team chose. “I love the lighting,” she enthuses, especially the vintage chandelier in the living room and the ship’s bell design of the sconces in the loft.
“Sarah and Peyton were so nice to work with—we especially loved their plan to keep the cottage charm,” Linda says. “We completely trusted them. It was amazing to watch their vision come to life, and the end result was even better than we imagined.”
“It ended up being a really fun project and one that the homeowners really gave us and the builder carte blanche,” says Waldo. “When we were installing everything, we were sitting at the kitchen table and we were both like, ‘We could live here! This feels good!’” And that feel-good kind of vibe is just what Waldo and Lambton had envisioned for this Cape Cod getaway. “It’s summer on the Cape—we wanted them to be able to come down on the weekend, throw open all the doors and windows, and just enjoy and relax,” Lambton says. To Waldo, “We wanted it to be a house where they could walk in and it would feel like a breath of fresh air.”
Well, mission accomplished. “Oh my gosh,” Linda says with amazement, “every time I walk through the doors I feel a sense of peace and calm.”