The Porch Life
Cape Cod Home / Autumn 2014 / Home, Garden & Design, People & Businesses
Writer: Susan Dewey / Photographer: Dan Cutrona
Porches carry us away from our solitary computer screens and cell phones. On porches, the world flows by and for once, we don’t have to comment, tweet, or post. We just get together, usually with people we care about, to share news, eat meals, and relax. Or we sit on the porch—or its descendant, a deck—alone and marvel how good it feels just to do nothing.
For one lucky Osterville family, porch living is a morning, afternoon — and all night long — pleasure.
On porches, we put our feet up, maybe swing or rock; if we’re lucky, we snooze in hammocks. On Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, porches are for shucking sweet peas in June and fresh corn in August; porches are settings for summer picnics, clambakes, and lobster boils; for Fourth of July cocktails and watching fireworks over the marsh, the ocean, the bay, or the sound. Seaside porches become showcases for shell collections, cool beach rocks, sea glass finds, and driftwood discoveries.
The days when every home had a porch of some kind are gone, but all over the Cape and the Islands—on old houses, sprawling seaside contemporaries, and even tucked onto condominiums—porches are still special places where memories are made.
In Osterville, on a rambling side street close to the village, is an antique home that has porches on every side. Looking at the house, you might think these porches date to the late 1800s when the house was located on the sleepy Cape village’s Main Street. Sometime after the turn of the century, the house was moved to its current location to make way for a new library.
When the house was on Main Street, a narrow porch with lattice-work supports framed the front door. In an old photo of the Greek Revival house in a book called Osterville—A Walk Through The Past by Paul Chesbro and Chester Crosby III, the porch looks like a decorative, rather than a functional, feature; there is barely room for a rocking chair.
When the current homeowner—a grandmother of eight —bought the house, she knew that she wanted porches: places for her three sons and their children to spend long summer days—and nights. “I wanted a morning, an afternoon, and an evening porch,” she says, “and that included a big sleeping porch, so we could be out in the air 24 hours a day.”
The first porch was part of an extensive remodeling project designed by Doreve Nicholaeff of Osterville’s Nicholaeff Architecture & Design, that opened out from a spacious new kitchen on the back of the house, a replacement for a small, dark cramped space.
The porch features big windows rising on three sides to a wood-paneled cathedral ceiling. A brick fireplace with a wide ledge for cozy seating on cool spring and autumn days is two-sided and serves as a warm gathering place surrounded by large comfy couches in the bright spacious kitchen.
“We cook s’mores here all the time,” says the homeowner, who has a whimsical sense of fun and a vivid imagination. During the long summer season—when the house is frequently filled to the rafters with children, their parents, and sometimes a nanny or two—the porch off the kitchen serves as the central dining area. “We live out here in the summer, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner around this table,” she says.
The long wooden table was custom-designed by Osterville builder, Scott Peacock, who also handled the construction of the new kitchen and all three of the new porches. Peacock’s crew had some unusual challenges with the popular sleeping porch, which is nestled on the front of the house.
The homeowner’s antique metal, four-poster bed had to be lifted in pieces to the second floor and transported over the railing of an open air porch into the enclosed sleeping porch. “I sleep out here until Thanksgiving,” says the homeowner, noting that her devoted Bolognese terrier finally insists that they move inside when it gets too cold, even when warmed by an electric blanket.
The second floor sleeping porch was tucked onto the original front of the house, an architectural challenge says Nicholaeff, who nevertheless says it was fun to design three porches on a small house with very little extra land or interior space because of the homeowner’s creative spirit. “She is a storyteller,” says Nicholaeff of the homeowner, “and all those stories come across in this house. This is a woman who is well read, well-traveled, who likes to share her experiences with her family. It’s almost like each one of these porches takes you on a magic carpet ride.”
In keeping with the Harry Potter-like feel of the house—which is filled with collections of books, puzzles, puppets, ceramic pottery, chess pieces and more—the entrance to the sleeping porch is through a former window at the top of a curving stairway. The original roofline of the house adorns one wall of the porch, serving as a playful decorative entrance to dreamland. “We thought it would be fun to have people see what used to be here,” says the homeowner.
Smooth teak low-maintenance floors and knotty pine walls beneath a deep blue ceiling create a cozy haven, cooled by afternoon breezes from a wall of windows opening out onto a deck filled with plants and swinging chairs.
There is room on the porch for eight people—and one lucky dog—to sleep, all tucked into antique metal beds with puffy comforters and pillows with cheerful patterns.
On the first floor—replacing the small porch that used to decorate the house when it was the home of stuffy Main Street Ostervillians—is a big wraparound screen porch that is the grandchildren’s magic kingdom. Everywhere you look, there is something fun to see; big canvas swings made out of sturdy, deep blue fabric hang from the ceiling filled with soft pillows in bright colors. There are rocking chairs, iron beds stacked with pillows, craft tables, dollhouses . . . it is a place to play, to relax, and to dream.
“When I first bought this house, I was recovering from a bout with cancer,” says the homeowner. “I had a small bed out on the original tiny front porch and I would lie on that bed and think, ‘When I get better, I will build porches all around this house where we can all live outdoors as much as possible, where we can always have light and air.’ ”
On long summer days, someone is always on one of this storytelling grandmother’s porches, on a magic carpet ride past the screens of everyday living.
For more information, visit dorevenicholaeff.com, or call Scott Peacock Building and Remodeling at 508-428-7600.