Tide and Time
A Connecticut couple transforms a rundown fishing cottage into a serene coastal weekend retreat.
“It was the view that sold us,” says Elizabeth Reilly. “There’s a real connection between land and sea here.” The couple from Connecticut summered in Chatham when their children were small, and have great memories of that time. When they saw the little fishing shack right on Aunt Lydia’s Cove— the northern most point of Chatham Harbor—the couple knew they had found the perfect setting.
Although the location was ideal, the old house was in terrible disrepair—a drab, dark shell with little personality. “We’ve been told that we have ‘vision and guts’ for buying the house—it needed everything,” says Michael. The original fishing shack hadn’t been touched since it was expanded to a mere 1,100 square feet back in the 1940s.
The windows were rotted, mold had set in, the electrical system was outdated, and a colony of mice had taken up residence in the walls. Working in the existing footprint, Dave Donnan and Peter Scannell of Total Estate Care renovated the house. “They had to take it right down to the studs,” says Michael. Instead of tossing the original doors, pine and oak floors, and wainscoting into a landfill, the couple chose to keep those elements for use in the updated house, a sustainable move, notes Michael.
To make the tiny cottage feel more spacious, a tray ceiling was installed in the master bedroom and clerestory windows were added above the bed. The placement of the windows offers natural light without sacrificing privacy. The builder also raised the ceiling in the study to create an airy cathedral effect. Much like quarters on a boat, Donnan cleverly used every inch of the home to maximize the space. A closet was borrowed from the study to become a water closet in the renovated downstairs bath. Donnan also used an upstairs closet to create a shower stall in a second floor bath. To further conserve space, built-in storage cabinets and wardrobes were incorporated into the home. A small boat sink was also included as a space saver. Additional living space for the couple’s now grown sons is found in the refurbished basement. An open deck overlooking the cove offers seasonal living space.
Once the house was shored up, the couple turned to the interiors. “We walked into Nautique, a home furnishings shop in Brewster, and knew we had come to the right place,” notes Elizabeth. They needed direction to create the perfect cottage atmosphere—and then they met designer Marsha Malone, the shop’s proprietor. Michael describes Malone as a “champion of good taste.” The couple explained that they wanted to imbue the interiors with the colors found in sea and sand. Malone took the lead to create a dreamy seaside cottage. The view would be reflected in the furnishings and hues. Sea foam green, soft blues, and creamy whites became the color palette.
Marsha Malone also worked with the owners to choose lighting, chandeliers, many slip-covered pieces, and bedding for the cottage. “It was important to honor the original elements in a home,” says Malone. “They are part of the intrinsic charm of a house—its character and history.” Because the house is small, Malone custom-designed “miniature” tables and chests made from reclaimed wood—another sustainable move. All the pieces are from her Nautique Sail Loft Collection. Bedrooms are kept soothing and serene—the master in pale greens and the upstairs bedrooms in soft whites.
Special touches give the home personality. Malone hung a large custom mirror encrusted with indigenous seashells over the refurbished antique mantel in the living room. Under the dining room table, Malone’s decorative artist created a “floor cloth.” She actually painted the floor with a seafoam green rug design accented with sail rope and a native seashell motif. The decorative artist also gave the lampshades a sponged or crackled effect. “In a small room, this treatment is a real space saver,” says Malone.
The stairs leading to the second floor are spattered, a traditional paint treatment in older New England houses. In Michael’s study an original Victorian cast iron coal-burning stove was left as a decorative architectural element. An avid sailor himself, Michael has decorated the walls with old Cape Cod nautical charts dating from the 1800s. A 1944 nautical signal flag representing the letter M from the Navy ship Michael’s father was stationed on—the USS Putnam DDS 775—during the Korean War is displayed on the wall. Other personalized touches include a group of family photos taken on early trips to Chatham. Malone custom-designed the whitewashed wood frames capturing the joyful family scenes.
The landscape is as breathtaking as the home’s interiors. The couple left plantings of Rosa rugosa and native beach plum. When appropriate, landscape designer Joyce Williams introduced other native, hardy plantings. From a dock that washed ashore years ago, the family can sit on the beach and drink in the beauty of their natural surroundings. Michael’s Bristol skiff, Tide Runner, and catboat, Time Aweigh, bob gently in the shallow waters. “The color is always changing,” notes Elizabeth. “In the evening the low light illuminates the boats and the houses across the water on the outer beach—it’s magical.” Today the cottage is known as Tide and Time, a fitting name for a place that is wrapped in the seasonal rhythms of the sea.
Nancy E. Berry is a freelance writer who lives in Yarmouthport.
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