Although the family’s primary residence sits in the hot, humid middle of the country, they come home to their Cape Cod house and the beguiling ocean breezes.
“For years and years, we rented a place,” says the owner. “We did it how everybody does the Cape. We crammed in, air mattresses everywhere, and just had a blast all being together like that. But I was like, ‘Okay, in this house we’ll have the space where everybody can have a bed.’”
“Everybody” is a big list: the couple who built the new home, their four adult children and their four spouses, and 12 grandchildren, for a total of 22. Make that 24. The owners wanted space for two more—just in case.
Architect Matt Schiffer, a principal at Hutker Architects, had his work cut out for him. He, along with associate Kevin Schreur as an essential member of the Hutker Architects team, were tasked with creating a house of almost 10,000 square feet that despite its large size would feel like a hub, a “nerve center,” as Schiffer puts it, where nobody would ever be too far from anyone else. It also had to take full advantage of being sited right on the water, with spectacular views out to the sea and a feeling that the inside and the outside blended together. And it had to read, he says, as “a very storied bluff house.” He had shown the owner a watercolor sketch of such a house by Edward Hopper, and she loved it.
To execute the plan, Schiffer conceived of the house as a T, with one axis starting at the front door on the driveway side and shooting straight out to the ocean. Thus, from the moment you enter, everything is about the home’s orientation toward the water.
The other line of the T is not what you might envision. Rather, it’s a very intentional grouping of rooms and spaces around that central axis, ensuring that family members will automatically end up crossing paths and being, well, family. There are no wings taking anyone down long halls. On the first floor, for instance, as large and spacious as it is, the family room, dining room, and kitchen are all within view of each other; conversation and coziness keep happening.
On the second story, the four adult children’s bedrooms, each with an ensuite bath, group around a large mezzanine overlooking the first floor. Everyone has to come out into that central space—with its own grand view of the water—in order to descend the stairs for such activities as breakfast under the garden’s pergola, water sports, sitting around the outdoor fireplace for an evening, lounging on the ocean-facing porch’s swinging bench…
Even the grandchildren, whose rooms are in a rustic-looking bunkhouse with two bathrooms of its own across a long, windowed skybridge (which creates a porte-cochère below), have to cross that bridge to the upstairs mezzanine in order to make their way down to the family rooms with everyone else. “This house is all about family,” the owner says. Schiffer adds, everywhere in the house is a “communal gathering spot.” (The skybridge floor, by the way, has a steep roll in it, reminiscent of a dune. “That was for the kids,” the owner says. “I could see them rolling balls, taking their Matchbox cars. And that’s what they do. It’s so exciting for them!”)
The top floor, an extraordinary primary suite unto itself replete with an office for the husband, is perhaps the home’s one hideaway. Reachable either by staircase or elevator, it contains a kitchenette that resembles a boat, with a repurposed porthole and curves fashioned from African mahogany.
Smack in the middle of the primary suite’s water-facing side sits a covered balcony—an iconoclastic architectural element taken straight from the bluff house tradition. From that perch, the owners can stretch in deck chairs while looking out to sea, Martha’s Vineyard coming into view as their eyes make the sweep. While gazing outward, it would be easy for them to imagine themselves at the top of an ocean liner in the middle of the sea; there, one really is king (or queen) of the world.
White as backdrop
In a lesser designer’s hands, the large, voluminous home, with double-height ceilings stretching from the first floor to the top of the mezzanine on the second, could have looked cold and stark in whites and neutrals, cavernous. But in the hands of Hutker’s interior design team, which was led on this project by Mika Durrell, the white-based backdrop serves to help exude a warmth that sparkles brightly. “The owner loves white, particularly white sail cloth, which reminds her of the Cape, and I love layering in white with texture and shots of color,” Durrell says.
“Color should tell a story rather than plague a space everywhere.” A neutral canvas on the interior also “really allows the outside to come in,” she says, “that blue sky, that blue ocean.”
The owner echoes those design choices. “Cape Cod is so gorgeous and so beautiful outside. I didn’t want the interior to take over…I wanted the outside to come in,” to augment “that sense of enjoyment.”
Having in-house interior design services that work alongside the architects and clients from the first moments of conception allow for a more cohesive and functional design—and one that reflects the homeowner’s style of living. The Hutker team added in the warmth conferred by texture, and a sense of depth, with a number of bespoke, handmade pieces crafted by both local and distant artisans. For instance, Wil Sideman of Martha’s Vineyard’s Eldridge & Co. made the one-of-a-kind lighting pendants above the dining room table. Fashioned of glass and hanging from the mezzanine ceiling by thick chains, they riff off the design of old-school buoys. Their oblong shape also serves to complement the height in that area of the house, Durrell says. For added effect, Sideman created dimples in the glass, inspired by the water rippling. And of course, the glass reflects light, just like the water would.
The dining table, cracks remaining on top and natural tree lines left in the edges, was crafted by Jeff Martin, a Vancouver furniture maker. He also made the chairs and the bench on one side, which he calls the “party bench” so that all the kids can pile onto it. The table’s central position—right in the middle of the downstairs and directly in the line of vision as you enter the home—is very intentional. “We normally don’t get to eat with each other at home,” the owner says, “so I wanted this really big table to be seen right when you come in the front door. That’s kind of the focus of being together.”
Another bespoke touch is the railing of bronze mesh keeping everyone safe on the mezzanine. It was designed by Issac Juodvalkis, principal of the Whetstone Workshop in Rhode Island. His mission was to fabricate something that looked like objects you would find on the beach, and the pattern evolved to resemble fish scales. Juodvalkis also made the shower doors in the primary bath. “They kind of feel like old factory windows,” Durrell says. “Some of the panes are opaque, some are open, like old factories in New Bedford.” The opaque panes provide privacy, while the ones composed of see-through glass are strategically placed so the person showering can look out to the water.
Special artisan touches can be found throughout every room of the home, from the tiles in the bathrooms that were all hand-crafted by smaller companies to the different headboards in the adult children’s bedrooms. Each was made by Rhode Island’s O&G Studio, led by Jonathan Glatt, to suit their four different design aesthetics.
The contributions of the wide variety of talented boutique craftspeople lends the home the comfort associated with New England houses without making it feel “overly crafty or rustic,” Durrell says. “We wanted to achieve a feeling of warmth while still making it feel clean and serene and organized. That was the dance.”
Outdoors, a land/oceanside dividing line is marked by a long, low stone wall bordered by an actual boardwalk that runs the long width of the two-acre property. “Everything kind of hangs on that boardwalk like birds on a wire, only all the birds are different in this case,” says Dan Solien, a principal at Falmouth’s Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects who designed all the softscape and hardscape around the home.
What it translates to, he says, is a journey. Along the way, just on the other side of an outdoor shower curved into the shape of a shell, one sees a classical coastal garden on the water side of the boardwalk and a fire pit with a sitting area. Move on a little further, and you reach the parking court. Pass the garage, and you will come upon a wonderfully shaggy meadow. At journey’s end, Solien says, you’ll find a “kind of Tuscan garden” with a dining area that sits under a pergola, opposite a garden house that doubles as a guest cottage. “You can jump off the boardwalk as you pass the guest house,” he says, “and then you’re on a path that leads down to the beach.”
Every outdoor detail was carefully thought through and executed across the home’s varied landscape conditions, punctuated by such hardscape elements as the outdoor fireplace sharing a chimney with the family room fireplace on the far end of the home. For instance, the pergola will be roofed by soft pink New Dawn climbing roses when they grow tall enough rather than wisteria because, Solien says, wisteria would have been too dense and heavy for the setting. He adds that “the landscape on the landward side is not particularly coastal in nature because you’re up against a woodland” there. All the plantings on the water side, by contrast, are coastal.
He also went far beyond the local conservation commission’s requirements for removing invasive plant species and replacing them with native species. “When you sit in the house and look out toward the water,” he says, “you’re looking out essentially over an indigenous coastal landscape—beach grass, bayberry, beach plum, sweet fern…it looks the way a waterfront property should on the Cape. It flows and is soft and varied. It was important to the owners that the house settle into a landscape that was entirely indigenous.”
Are the owners happy with Solien’s work? “Dan is a genius,” the wife says. “Every morning I walk down the boardwalk and look at all the plants and see how everything’s growing. It’s so relaxing, yet vibrant and exciting all at the same time.”
She is happy with the entire team, in fact, including the builders, Sea-Dar Construction, who sometimes had to back up large trucks almost a mile and a half down the road to deliver supplies because of a low overpass near the site that the vehicles wouldn’t be able to fit under. Sea-Dar also sourced difficult-to-find supplies, including the barn board for the walls of the grandchildren’s bunkhouse. It’s “a new product that looks old,” says Sea-Dar principal John Kruse. “A guy in Colorado makes it. We basically bought everything he had” to get the job done.
As for architect Schiffer at Hutker, the owner says that “Matt was incredible. He would take my ideas and make them into a form. Mika, the same great work. Mark Hutker was pretty involved as well. It was a blast working with the entire team, a neat, creative experience.”
And an important experience, too. The owner’s reasons for building a home for her family on the Cape run deep. She began spending part of her summers here as a little girl, when she would come from out of state with her parents and grandparents and share a rental with another family. As an adult, she says, “My husband and I moved all over, including overseas, for work. But the Cape was always like the anchor for me. It was the one thing that didn’t change. It always felt like coming home, and still does.”
That remains true even though she now lives 2,000 miles away. The Cape house, in fact, is where the family experiences meaningful memories—wedding showers, other events. “It’s just a really special moment doing family functions there,” she says.
She is no doubt gearing up for more family functions right now. Two more grandchildren are on the way, and that means two more baby showers. Another way of putting it: Her instinct to make room for 24 instead of 22, “just in case,” was spot on.
Larry Lindner is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.