Cape Cod Home / Summer 2018 / Home, Garden & Design, People & Businesses
Writer: Chris White / Photographer: Richard Hilgendorff
A remodeled nest of a home on Scorton Creek takes a cue from its serene setting
Unlike many other migratory bird species, the bald eagle often builds a nest designed to last for years. The male and female construct their abode together, weaving sticks in the crooks of the strongest tree they can find, up high in the super-canopy of an area where they’ll have the finest of views; and they always build near water. Their work often takes up to three months to complete, during which time the two birds bond—and perhaps dream of the family they will raise together. While the outside of their nest may appear like a rugged pile of sticks, the eagles are painstaking in their efforts to create an interior “egg bowl” that is soft, homey, and even pretty. They use various grasses, mosses and their own downy feathers to craft the most comfortable living area for their fledglings, and they decorate their nests with sprigs of fresh greenery throughout the summer.
Should their mating prove successful and lead to the births of eaglets, the eagles will usually return to their nests year after year. Surely, they will need to renovate each time they migrate home, but they will retain their space. As the couple continues to add additional sticks over the years, eagles’ nests typically grow to about 6 feet in diameter, but some expand to even greater dimensions; the largest on record, found in St. Petersburg, FL, measured nearly 10 feet across and 20 feet deep. Its estimated weight was over two tons. Because of its scale and intricacy, the bald eagle’s nest even has its own name, an aery.
In recent years, the bald eagle has made a comeback on Cape Cod and in Southeastern Massachusetts. Birders spot them at local ponds and estuaries; this past February, the Cape Cod Times ran a photo of an immature bald eagle flying above Scorton Creek in Sandwich. This is an ideal location for these magnificent birds, one with ample forested areas alongside a protected waterway, with Cape Cod Bay just across a barrier beach.
While there may be no actual aery in Scorton Creek yet, a recent home renovation in the area shares some similarities with the work of bald eagles. The home takes advantage of spectacular views, and, appropriately enough, its location is on a street called Nesting Way. The homeowners purchased their abode with the intention of using it as a second home, one to which they could regularly migrate from New York City and New Hampshire. However, a job change led to them selling their place in New Hampshire, purchasing a condo in Boston for work and renovating here in Sandwich. They had owned the home for a year before they began in earnest; the project was massive, one that would require a complete rebuild to create the kind of space that the family would want to use as its primary residence. As the owner describes, “It was a very dark Cape—not one of the five bathrooms had a window. So our main goal was to bring in more light.”
Three craftsmen and designers would take starring roles in the rebuild of the family’s Nesting Way aery: Michael “Mick” Lahart of Pinsonneault Builders in East Falmouth; Dave Johnson of Skaala Architecture in Camden, ME; and Laura Urban of Urban Design Interiors in Harwich Port. Lahart and Johnson worked closely with the family in the initial, rebuilding phases of the renovation, while Urban began her collaboration later on. She would spend over four years with the owners to complete room by room, space by space, the home’s ideal interior. Though the physical renovation came to completion in 2013, Urban’s work continues today, as, like eagles, the family continues to find ways to improve their home.
When the family purchased what would evolve into their home on Nesting Way, the house was, according to the owner, “a colonial take on a Cape.” As such, it seemed more like a fortress, to keep the elements and perhaps hostile intruders at bay. It needed to open up, and the owner’s goal was “to let the outside in.” This can prove difficult, however, in a home with exposure to the sea. Winds and weather race down Cape Cod Bay, especially during the ever-more-frequent nor’easters of winter. Thus, a major part of renovation necessitated the replacement of every window with glass of hurricane grade.
Furthermore, as builder Mick Lahart says, “It’s always challenging going into an older house because of the unknowns; you don’t know if the columns will be in good enough shape. It was a very basic looking house to start, so we changed the whole design and completely rebuilt it.” In the process, the team would construct a new basement, double the size of the family room and install a large stone fireplace, and remove the good morning staircase—in addition to adding dormers and bathroom windows. “The walls had a swirled putty texture,” says the owner, “so we took down all of them. The overall flow of the place was awful before, so we had to fix that, too.” The transformation would finally allow the house to properly access its views and to maximize the potential of its location.
One of the keys to the success of the home’s renovation was collaboration amongst the owners, builders and designers. It’s often impossible to finish any project on time, especially one as involved and as complex as this one, but Lahart says, “The owners knew what they wanted and were quick to make choices, which was helpful since there were so many decisions that we had to make in the time frame.” They also had a great working relationship with Dave Johnson, the architect. “This helped a lot,” says Lahart. The owner also notes that, “Dave was awesome. He made barrel ceilings upstairs and in the entranceway that really opened things up, and these lines also tied things together.”
As with many of the homes around Nesting Way, this one sits upon a lot of about two acres, most of which is lawn and natural open space that stretches toward the banks of Scorton Creek. Conservation land abounds in this area, and striped bass patrol the waterways. “It’s a special place,” says Lahart. “It’s a lovely part of Cape Cod. The owners were a joy to work for, and they use their home much more than they thought they would. Once they moved down here, they realized how much they really liked it.”
Laura Urban deserves much of the credit for the degree of comfort that the family has come to enjoy inside their renovated dwelling. To return to the eagles’ nest analogy, she’s most responsible for creating the “egg bowl,” the soft and cozy areas that make a house feel most like a home. Says the owner, “It took me a couple of tries to find someone who could help me achieve the right look. Laura really worked with us. She is so patient; she just keeps bringing things until they work.” Urban came into the project after construction was complete, so she wasn’t directly involved with the building team. As a result, the goals for her part would manifest as an evolution of the initial desire to let in more light and bring in the outdoors. Urban says, “We really wanted to give the house a coastal feel, but upscale coastal, and we continued with the theme of lightening the space up.” She and the owners introduced a number of natural textures, too, incorporating sisal rugs and grasscloth wallpaper.
The colors and textures draw upon the home’s natural surroundings, evoking sand and beach vegetation. Features such as the vertically stacked stone wall finishing in a second floor bathroom advance this theme, as does the naturally weathered balcony. The dining room, with its picture windows, feels immersed in the beachscape, and bright natural wood finishes run throughout the home in contrast to the muted coastal grays and tans. Artist Cris Reverdy produced paintings for Urban and the owners, too, including a landscape above the fireplace that looks like a mirror of the view, with the bright blues of an inlet on a sunny day. Urban also contracted with decorative painter Kathleen Collings. “She used hand-cut stencil for some of her work,” says Urban. “You’d probably think some of her painting is actual wallpaper. In areas where there were certain angles, we brought in lines, diamonds and other visual textures.”
Throughout the interior, the owner says they were hoping to achieve a certain level of comfort. They wanted something that reminded them of an “eclectic resort in Vermont” where they used to stay for vacations. As a result, Urban says, “The rooms really are individual with their feel, but in keeping with the overall theme of coastal lightness. Each bedroom is a special space, and the master suite has its own balcony.” A bespoke fabric in silver and navy, depicting coral branches in a raised velvet burnout, is found in the drapes, pillow cases and the bed scarf that complement the exquisite blue grasscloth wall covering in the downstairs guest room, while an upstairs guest room relies upon light blues adorned with white floral outlines and creamy walls to achieve a classical beachside tone. One element that the designer introduced in a number of spaces is a harlequin-style pattern, one that she has used in her own home. The bright contrast of white and black infuses yet another texture into the home, and it gilds the beachiness with a cosmopolitan sophistication.
Ironically, the family here at Nesting Way are empty nesters, as the owners’ children have already graduated from college. But this renovation has created what should be a lasting home to which all parties may migrate home for relaxation, vacation and seclusion from the bustle of the city. Initially, the family worried that the home’s location, a seven-minute walk from the actual beach, would feel like a downside, but after a few winters, the owner says she’s thankful. “It’s nice to be set back just far enough that we don’t have to worry so much about storms,” she says.
It’s been seven years since the family made their move to East Sandwich, and the project is pretty well completed. “There are a couple of small areas that I haven’t decided how to move forward with, some finishing touches, but we’re very happy,” the owner says. “Now it just flows the way we wanted it to.” This aery on Nesting Way has developed into a true home, and, like bald eagles, the owners will continue to work with Urban and others to bring more beauty into their roost.