Summer 2011

Made in the Shape

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2011 / , ,

Writer: Lindsay Williams

Sperry Fabric Architecture offers simple solutions for those less-than-perfect days when you just can’t stay inside.

Sperry Fabric Architecture

A tent provided by Sperry Fabric can ensure protection against weather and the elements for a Cape wedding or event. Photo courtesy of Sperry Tents Seacoast

Enjoying the outdoors from the comfort of your backyard is a prized pastime for Cape Codders of all stripes. Of course, whether it’s a blazing noontime sun, a chilly ocean breeze, or a soppy summer shower, staying comfortable in fickle conditions is always a challenge in our region.

Fortunately, awnings, canopies, and other varieties of fabric architecture offer practical, artistic solutions to protect against the elements. By employing state-of-the-art technology—many fabrics are resistant to heat, UV rays, mildew, and water—and a modern design sensibility, awnings and canopies are functional solutions to weather woes—and a nice home addition that’s easy on the eyes.

Sperry Sails, a family-run sail loft located in Marion, Massachusetts, has been in the business of building sails and custom fabric structures for 35 years. The company’s tent and awning division, Sperry Fabric Architecture, was created in response to increased demand for residential and commercial awnings and canopies. “Fabric structures can be incorporated into any outdoor space not only as shelter, but as part of the surrounding architecture,” says owner Matt Sperry, who acknowledges that collaborations with artists, architects, and landscapers lead to fully integrated structures that match a home’s aesthetic.

Sperry Fabric Architecture

Sperry’s sleek yet functional designs are the perfect way to add shade to an outdoor space without taking away from the aesthetic of your home. Photo courtesy of Sperry Fabric Architecture

Sperry’s sleek, aerodynamic designs are strongly influenced by his nautical background. “My passion for architectural fabric structures came from my beginnings as a sail-maker. I was taught the art of sail-making and design by my father, and I began using these techniques within other fabric structures,” he explains. Of his latest designs, Sperry says, “The use of marine rigging and sailmaking techniques makes for a very strong, graceful, and refined canopy.” The benefit of custom design work by a craftsman, he adds, is that the fabric structure can stand out as much or as little as a homeowner desires.

One of the more common fabric architecture selections for a home is a tension awning (sometimes called a shade sail). The tension between cloth, posts, and non-intrusive anchors on a home’s walls keeps the awning aloft, requiring minimal framing. Tension awnings are crafted in a variety of shapes and their corners can be fastened at varying levels, creating a slight twist in the fabric. This twist is multifunctional—it assists in shedding water and adds interest and artistry to the project’s finished appearance. A tension awning communicates modernity with purposeful understatement.

A frame awning is comprised of a cloth shell over a wooden or metal structure, and two of the most popular types are pergolas and window awnings. A pergola is a latticed framework that typically covers and delineates seating areas. While it provides partial shade by dappling incoming light, the addition of a fabric cover can lend full shade as well as protection from rain. A classic window awning lowers air conditioning costs by shielding against the sun’s heat and glare. It also prevents substantial amounts of pollen and precipitation from entering a building.

Sperry Fabric Architecture

Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Chatham relies on Sperry’s designs to keep their outdoor spaces looking photo ready. Photo by Warren Jagger; courtesy of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders

For a more substantial option, canopies provide a classic, festive look, and can either adjoin a building or stand alone, supported by center and perimeter poles. Finishing a canopy with sidewalls and either clear vinyl or screened windows eliminates the threat of pests without hindering views. Canopies with clear sides are often commissioned for waterfront properties.

Fabric architecture has its place in business as well as residential settings. Architect John DaSilva, design principal of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders, incorporated fabric design into a pool complex at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Chatham. The area features a canvas-covered bar, many large lounge umbrellas, and private cabanas that provide shade for relaxing by the pool. DaSilva explains that fabric structures for a retreat of this nature are perfect because they can be removed easily. Once the season is over, says DaSilva, “the fabric comes down and the structures are no longer buildings. Their framework remains open to the weather.” Stored fabric, unlike permanent structures, is safe from storms and easily repairable.

With a portable and malleable medium, Sperry Fabric Architecture produces many such seasonal canvas creations. To achieve optimum results, Matt Sperry emphasizes individual communication with each client. “We enjoy working directly with our customers to come up with a solution that not only functions well but looks beautiful,” says Matt. “Form and function are treated equally rather than designing toward one or the other.”
No longer confined by the whims of Mother Nature, homeowners can once again enjoy the outdoors thanks to the flexibility and durability of fabric. With modern designs and expert collaborations, a fabric structure can turn an outdoor space into an extension of home.

For information, on Sperry Fabric Archiecture, go to

For information on Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders, go to

Lindsay Williams is a freelance writer based in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

Lindsay Williams