A View Worth Tearing Down For
by Laurie Higgins – Summer 2011
When these Wellfleet homeowners were faced with an empty nest after their children left for college, they decided to sell their large four-bedroom house in Sudbury and fashion a lifestyle that would work better for their new stage of life. They knew they wanted a Cape Cod home on the water where they could spend weekends, and an apartment in Boston to live during the week. Location and a panoramic view that stretches from Sandwich to Provincetown on a clear day and includes vistas of Lieutenant Island, Great Island and Jeremy’s Point made the lot they chose ideal, but the existing 20-foot-by-20-foot ranch that was built in the 1950s certainly wasn’t.
They decided to buy it if the town would allow them to tear it down and rebuild a house more suited to their needs. After four zoning board hearings and five conservation commission meetings, they received a go-ahead, with the stipulation they had to stick to the original footprint and not overly disturb the surrounding vegetation on the postage stamp-sized lot.
Upside down is clearly the way to go
The homeowners put their heads together with site civil engineer Tim Brady of East Cape Engineering, structural engineer Mark McKenzie, and architects Peter Haig and John Ingwerson of Architectural Design Incorporated to find a way to take full advantage of the stunning views and maximize space. They quickly realized it was the ideal setting for an upside down house, with the bedrooms on the first floor and the living spaces on the second. An advantage of the design is that when the homeowners are in the master bedroom or bath, they still have a wonderful view, but people on the beach below can’t see them, offering the privacy that isn’t as necessary in the living areas.
“We’re very happy with how it turned out and the neighbors seem to think that it really fit into the environment,” the homeowner says. “But we really thought a lot about how to make the house seem bigger than it is and how to store things.”
To accomplish that goal, Architectural Design Incorporated created a blueprint that is only two stories, but includes five different levels, neatly stacked in an alternating pattern around half-storey staircases. They also gained a bit more space because the second floor cantilevers out over the first floor by about two feet. Elements like plenty of windows to take advantage of the water views from every room in the house and wire cables instead of traditional balusters on the staircases contribute to the open feeling that makes the house seem much more spacious than the square footage would imply.
Meeting the challenge
Senior Project Manager Rich Bryant at Cape Associates Builders says the project had a lot of challenges, but came together without a hitch. The homeowners hired conservation consultant Emily Beebe as part of the project team because she is really attuned to the town’s regulatory nuances. “She was our liaison and buffer with the town and she made sure we were doing things right,” Bryant says. “It’s important to have someone like that on a job that’s this environmentally critical.”
To comply with the stringent new building code, the home is hurricane resistant with a steel frame, which meant that all the other elements had to be worked around the column lines. Because the homeowners wanted as many windows as possible, including floor to ceiling casements over awnings in the living room and a bump-out window seat in the master bedroom, there wasn’t a lot of room for furniture.
Built-ins keep things clutter-free
In the first floor master bedroom the furniture is all built in, including a bed with drawers underneath, a hanging closet area and a dresser topped with a television cabinet. There are cubbies under the window seat and a bookcase niche built over the bed in a void in the chimney leading to the fireplace in the living room above.
The second floor living room has more built-in shelving along with a custom-designed stereo cabinet and a television cabinet built above the stone fireplace. A closet in the mudroom has a crawl space in the back to store screens in the winter and the laundry room has plenty of pantry space and shelves to store the kitchen overflow. Above the living room is a cozy loft that serves as an office with a matching custom-built desk and more built-in bookcases.
“They’ve done a lot of cool things and every square inch was taken advantage of,” Bryant says.
An island that seats three people separates the living room from the kitchen and the open floor plan flows to a charming dining nook. In addition to the expansive windows with panoramic views, outdoor decks offer even more living space in the warm months and the illusion of space even when it’s too chilly to use them. On the second floor, a wrap-around deck with a bump-out for outdoor dining ends with a spiral staircase leading to the formal entrance. A covered deck off the master bedroom connects to a boardwalk that descends down to the beach and curves along the side of the house to the outdoor shower and stairs to the laundry room. The guest bedroom has a deck built into the roofline with a built-in bench.
The homeowners hired interior decorator Susan Tuttle of Surroundings Custom Interiors to help create the casual beach cottage look with a modern twist. Walls and ceilings throughout the house are covered with white tongue and grove paneling, creating an airy feeling that is especially maximized in the upper level living areas with vaulted ceilings that highlight the unique rooflines and exposed rustic trusses that hide steel support beams.
Keeping things natural
For color schemes, the homeowners chose colors and details that would mimic the natural world around them. The colors of the natural stone veneers on the fireplace are an almost identical match to the stone jetties along the shore. The granite countertops in the kitchen mimic the color of sand, while the blue master bedroom and bath reflect the ocean and sky. “We just wanted the feeling that we were part of nature and nature was part of us, so we went with the blue of the water and the tan of the sand,” the homeowner said.
The same principal governs the landscaping. Designed by landscape architect Allen Abrahamson and installed by Ponderosa Landscaping in Eastham, the surrounding yard fits into the dune like it’s always been there. Vertical railroad ties curve to form a retaining wall where beach plum bushes, rosa rugosa, heather, bayberry and beach grass grows.
“The idea was to really preserve all of the native vegetation and put back whatever was disturbed like the beach grass,” Bryant says. “It worked out really well.”