Summer 2011

Love at First Sight

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2011 / , ,

Writer: Nancy E. Berry / Photographer: Eric Roth 

A labor of love, Brenda Lee transforms a tired old Cape cottage into an enchanting home.

Brenda Lee transforms a tired old Cape cottage

The bright yellow siding and vibrant garden colors hint at the vivid spirit of the house’s interior. Photo by Eric Roth

At the end of a lane in Hyannisport, Brenda Lee found the home of her dreams. Dubbed Sunset Cottage, it was a small, well-worn home in need of a lot of TLC. It was also a home that had been in another family for generations, and they showed no signs of wanting to sell. But the location of the cottage took Brenda’s breath away. “It was really love at first sight,” she says. “I felt that some day, I would live in this house.”

Brenda Lee transforms a tired old Cape cottage

Sunset cottage homeowner Brenda Lee and her cat stop for a photo amidst the home’s whimsical garden. Photo by Eric Roth

Fifteen years ago, while away on a trip to Italy, Brenda and her husband, Peter, heard from the owners of the cottage that they were interested in selling. “We bought the house immediately,” Lee says.

The couple lived in Sunset Cottage for one year before they bought any furnishings. “I wanted to learn the character of the house—to let the house speak to me,” says Brenda. The home, which most likely dates to the late 1700s, was moved to its Hyannisport water-view location in 1948. Because this is a period house, the rooms are smaller and ceilings are lower, so furniture had to be scaled appropriately; many of the pieces that Brenda and Peter purchased had to be custom-made to fit the small spaces. They also bought antiques for the house, which are typically more diminutive than their modern counterparts. But the couple wanted to preserve the character of the house as much as possible. “So many people would have torn down this old treasure and built a massive home, but that was never our intent,” Brenda says. “The home is special just as it is.”

Brenda Lee transforms a tired old Cape cottage

Floral patterns and antique pieces give nod to the cottage’s tender old age. Photo by Eric Roth

One aspect of the house that Brenda did change was the use of more vibrant colors. “I’m not afraid to use color, and I wanted there to be a surprise in every room,” she says. Brenda is an expert at mixing and matching colors: She designs many of the pieces for her very successful wholesale clothing company, Cupcake International, and gathers many ideas for the use of color during her international buying sojourns. “The kitchen had 1940s red Formica counter tops,” she explains, “so I played off that red.” The floor has vinyl tiles with one of the squares representing a red, white, and blue nautical flag. (The Hyannisport flag is also represented). The kitchen walls are a nacho cheese yellow and the decorative trim around the cupboard and window was hand-painted in the 1940s by artist Peter Hunt. The first-floor bath is hot pink and yellow, while the pantry is painted white with a cobalt blue floor. “The blue reminds me of the color found on the Greek island of Santorini,” notes Brenda.

Brenda Lee transforms a tired old Cape cottage

Lee added color to her kitchen by using vinyl, nautical floor tiling. Photo by Eric Roth

In the guest bedroom, there is a large antique bed, which was once owned by Kermit Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt. Brenda painted the bed a bright glossy red. “I’m not sure if Kermit would approve,” she jokes. She also hand-painted the table in the room. In the paneled living room, Brenda adds color through the use of upholstery and fabrics. Jewel tones of deep blue, striking reds, olive greens create the desired effect. “This room has a fireplace and we use it during the winter months,” she explains. “I wanted it to be warm and cozy.” The one room she chose to leave neutral is the master bedroom. “I wanted our bedroom to be serene and relaxing,” she says. Although the colors are neutral, the room is rich in texture with silks, fur, organza, and cottons.

The exterior of the cottage features just as much eye-popping color as the home’s interior. The house’s shutters are painted a turquoise blue while the front door is rose pink. A profusion of perennials, which Brenda planted herself, dominates the front garden. On one side, a view opens up to Nantucket Sound and the backyard resembles a tropical forest: a lush paradise surrounds an in-ground pool, which is guarded by a 1,000-pound stone statue of Buddha. A tiki umbrella and mimosa trees offer shade to the patio. “We really wanted to preserve the landscape as much as possible,” says Brenda. “I don’t believe in taking down trees just so I can show off our view.” Instead, trees are carefully trimmed back to create a canopy over the yard, keeping it cool during summer months. “The sunsets are really magnificent,” says Brenda—hence the name of the cottage.

Fifteen years after moving in, Brenda’s love affair with the cottage is still going strong. This truly is a love story with a happy ending.

Nancy E. Berry is a freelance writer living in Yarmouthport.

Nancy E. Berry

An accomplished journalist, Nancy Berry lists “former editor of Cape Cod HOME” among many credentials. She is currently the editor of Northshore magazine which is based in Andover, Mass.