This wooded wonderland in Falmouth is straight out of a fantasy story

Cape Cod Home  /  Autumn 2019 /

Writer: Allyson Plessner / Photographer: Peter Venderwarker 

Into the Woods

A second home in Falmouth becomes a wooded wonderland for a couple with a passion for entertaining, being creative and appreciating the natural beauty of cape cod. 

In the most fantastical works of great literature, there’s almost always a mystical forest: wooded and enigmatic, it’s a place for lovable protagonists or notorious villains to gather, contemplate, dream and adventure. Little Red Riding Hood went traipsing through the woods to her grandmother’s house. Lucy Pevensie stumbled through a wardrobe into snow covered ferns until she met a seemingly friendly fawn in Narnia. In The Wind in the Willows, Mole traverses the “Wild Wood,” hoping to meet Badger, and in Harry Potter, young wizarding students are warned of the precarious mysteries of “The Forbidden Forest.” Sometimes these larger-than-life settings represent love, the complicated intertwining of branches mimicking all the most complex intricacies of amour. Sometimes they stand as a symbol of confusion, as when Alice finds herself lost in the darkest parts of Wonderland. Regardless, the literary presence of a forest is almost as timeless as the stoic, storied stumps of the oldest trees, and the most heralded fantasies are made all the better for the enchanting, mysterious presence of these sylvan glades. 

This home in Sippewissett embraces the natural splendor of Cape Cod, with an interior fit for sprites, fawns and all manner of fairytale creatures.

Stepping into Judi and Larry’s Falmouth home is enough to make one feel like they have just stepped into the pages of James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” maybe even onto the stage of the Globe Theater where the musical adaptation first debuted, except in this story the backdrop leads to beautiful Buzzards Bay. Support columns made from southern yellow pine trees are scattered throughout the home; when coupled with the open floor plan and the predominance of glass doors and windows, they provide a whimsical atmosphere and an intricate segue into the landscape. “We always start our work with the site: the land, the views and the sunshine,” says architect Jill Neubauer. “The clients were aesthetically open and just excited to see what came out of the process. Between the home and the water, are protected trees, so that inspired us to take that woodland landscape and see it as a filter to the view rather than a barrier.”

Judi and Larry first purchased the home adjacent to their own in Sippewissett with the idea of turning it into a modest guest house. “We had this small expansion idea. It was only supposed to be a garage,” explains Judi with a chuckle. “But as we started talking more, it became obvious that we wanted a lot of open space for our family to spend time together.”

The interior draws from the many varying colors of the trees outside the home—from off-white on a dry, sunny day to warm purple after a fresh rain shower. The lighting fixtures hang above the island as a perfect homage to Neubauer’s artful design.

“It was a design journey,” adds Neubauer. “The home kept evolving and the more excited that Judi and Larry got about the project, the more they wanted the home to do for them.” The couple took their time with the design (about four years to be exact), making sure that the home met its full potential, complete with an art studio, screened in porch and, of course, a “man cave” for Larry. “It was worth it not to rush,” says Judi. “Taking our time really let us think about how to maximize the space.”

With a background in liberal arts and fine arts, that Neubauer credits as a never-ending well of inspiration from which to draw, and a masters degree in architecture from Harvard University, it’s no wonder that she creates unbelievable spaces that feel as if they are straight from the pages of a storybook. Indeed, the homes that Neubauer dreams up can easily be considered works of art in their own right—thoughtfully conceptualized and masterfully designed. “I’m particularly drawn to second homes and the place they hold in family memories,” she says, explaining that Judi and Larry presented her with the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into those themes.

“They were just terrific,” says Neubauer of working with the couple. “They are open-minded, joyful, brave and want to share their home with friends and family. You can tell that they did not approach the project with any preconceived notions; they just wanted to see what the site and team could make.”

The screened in porch is a fan favorite. With the doors open wide, it becomes an extension of the dining and living rooms, providing a sprawling view of the landscape and beyond that, Buzzards Bay.

That team consisted of Jill Neubauer Architects, Cape Associates for the construction and Bernice Wahler Landscapes for the outdoor design. “This home and the emerging design that it represents is so different from what is typically featured on Cape Cod,” says Rich Bryant, executive vice president of Cape Associates. “Installation of the round columns, or ‘trees’ as they are referred to, was definitely a challenge—particularly getting them to the right degree of inclination to match the design. Some of the poles were structural and some were for effect. I think that those elements along with other unique aspects like the interior staircases and stone that is staggered with the wood floors makes for a really special space.”

“Rich brought in a tremendous team that made building a complicated house possible,” says Neubauer about Cape Associates. “And Bernice’s landscape is as critical and integral to the house as anything else. It’s her landscape that draws us from the street across the grade changes and down to Buzzards Bay.”

“it’s about making a building from the story
of the family and the story of the land”

For Wahler’s part, she credits the stunning results of the project to a close collaboration with Neubauer from the beginning. “We were even involved in the actual positioning of the building on the landscape,” she says, “and being able to move the house closer to the water helped us to develop the character of the landscape.” The vast majority of what Wahler incorporated into her design consisted of native plantings, pulling from what she refers to as the “naturalized language” of the backyard and the theme throughout the inside of the home. The result is a seamless, mindful flow between indoors and out. 

“Judi is a mosaic artist, so a lot of what we did was also inspired by that,” says Wahler. She looked to Neubauer’s architecture and Judi’s love for mosaics to create thoughtful details throughout the landscape. Linear stone walls replicate the texture of the siding through carefully crafted stonework and patterning. Pathways, often indicated by the inclusion of natural boulders as an entry point, turned into a study of materials, playing off of the relationship between pavers and grass to create a mosaic-like feel.

The natural elements of the home do not end with the tree-inspired columns or the natural landscape design. “What I love about the house is that it’s aligned with the New England seasons,” says Neubauer. “It capitalizes on more than just the lightness of summer; There’s a richness that settles in in the autumn and winter.” Color palettes for the home were inspired by the landscape outside as well as Zinman’s fabric swatches that Judi artfully used to reupholster her living room furniture from Retrocraft Design in Concord. Clearly contrasting against many blue, white and beachy-toned homes across the region, Neubauer pulled from the colors she saw when admiring the trees after a fresh rainstorm. “The color of the bark goes from warm grey when its dry to a dusty eggplant when its wet. We brought that color into the house with all the woodwork and cabinetry,” explains Neubauer. Open shelving in the kitchen makes the space feel innovative and ties well with the warm, organic colors throughout the home. Sand colored walls are a nod to the shores of Buzzards Bay that can be seen beyond the trees at the edge of the property, and native white oak floors complement local Ashfield stone used throughout on the countertops as well as the floors. Pendant lights from Pairpoint Glass in Sandwich made of deep purples, rich teal and burnt sienna over the kitchen island tie the whole design together.

“We feathered the stone and the wood floors rather than having a hard line transition,” explains Neubauer. It’s this beautiful detail that serves as a shining example of Neubauer’s unique talent and keen eye for design. “I think my other favorite part is the screened porch,” she adds. This particular space becomes an extension of the dining and living rooms when the large lift-and-slide doors are open, making it a fun place to hangout that also capitalizes and fully emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between indoors and out.

The interior draws from the many varying colors of the trees outside the home—from off-white on a dry, sunny day to warm purple after a fresh rain shower. The lighting fixtures hang above the island as a perfect homage to Neubauer’s artful design.

“People don’t always realize how many great places there are in Falmouth,” says Judi. “We feel like we hit the lottery.” On a beautiful sunny day, with people in the living room enjoying snacks together, she and Larry like to open up the doors and windows and bask in the natural connection between inside and out, listening to the waves crash along the shore. Judi refers to it as a great gift that Neubauer gave them—being able to share this place they love so much with all the people they care about. 

Like the interior, the landscape outside can only be described as a mindful abstraction. Native plantings and creative walkways turn the property into a visual thesis on the many intricacies and inspirations of design.

“My husband always jokes, ‘This is the best bed & breakfast around, and the best part is you don’t get billed,” laughs Judi. And then on top of it all, there’s Larry’s favorite part—the outdoor pizza oven.

“To me, it’s about making a building from the story of the family and the story of the land,” says Neubauer about the intimate relationship between an architect, a family and their home. As with any great tale, Neubauer has found her own way to incorporate a wooded wilderness into her masterpiece, to build a story that transports her audience into a fanciful world of color and personality. As for what’s beyond this Falmouth oasis? Well, as the Rat explains in The Wind in the Willows, “Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World…”

Allyson Plessner

Allyson Plessner is a former editorial intern for Cape Cod Life and now works for the publication as a staff writer and digital media coordinator. Born in Florida, Allyson has been a lifelong summer resident of the Cape. She is a recent alumna of the College of Charleston, located in Charleston, South Carolina, where she completed bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish. In her free time, Allyson is an avid sailor, beach-goer, and—like her fellow Cape Cod Life colleagues—a dog-lover.