A Hutker Architects Designed Home in Duxbury

June 21, 2021

Designed by hand, a home finds balance between its contemporary style and its neighborhood’s colonial identity.

Text by Debra Judge Silber    Photography by Michael J. Lee

They went at it with scissors.

On one side of the table was a topographic plan made of chipboard. On the other, squares of cardboard and small acrylic boxes. As they talked, they moved the boxes around, and trimmed the cardboard this way and that.

“We had zero preconceived notions of what the house was going to be,” admits architect Thomas McNeill—a scary proposition for the one paid to have ideas. But two hours later, he and his clients were looking at a tiny cardboard house. “That,” he says, “is the house that stands there today.”

Their unique approach resulted in a unique home: a split-level nestled on a deep slope, with wide windows to frame breathtaking water views and a cantilevered screened porch that hovers over a pool deck, maximizing space without breaching a conservation-restricted footprint.

McNeill’s clients weren’t seeking something unique: just an easygoing home that offered both private and shared spaces, room for entertaining, and a pool to lure three grown sons back from time to time. They had purchased the property and the older home on it some years before. When it came time to rebuild, the couple was drawn to Hutker Architects, where McNeill is a principal, for its use of natural materials and clean lines. But they also knew any house embracing those elements would stick out like a sore thumb in Duxbury, Massachusetts, a town settled by the Pilgrims in 1624 and where the house of John Alden (as in Mayflower passengers John and Priscilla Alden) still stands.

McNeill, a 2019 New England Home 5 Under 40 honoree, got in his car. “We went around town and photographed a whole bunch of historic houses—eaves, chimneys, rake boards, soffits. We wanted the house to live in a modern way but reflect the memory of these historic homes.”

It does so with puritanically simple window casings, natural cedar shingles, and gutter brackets copied from the Alden house. Its white chimneys are capped with black steel in the style of Revolutionary War-era “Tory Chimneys” that identified locals loyal to the crown. From the street it appears suitably quaint, with only the top floor visible behind its garage—an arrangement dictated by the steep slope but also classic and practical. “A Yankee approach,” McNeill calls it.

A wooden walkway leads to the front door, passing under the first of three black-steel aediculae, or frames, that usher visitors past a white garden of birch, astilbe, and ferns toward the house.“The entry landscape is all about movement,” explains landscape designer Kris Horiuchi. Inside, the house is larger than it looks. Its lofted main level includes a kitchen, dining and living area, screened porch, and steps to a primary bedroom suite with a private office. A half-flight down is a gym, family room, and three bedrooms, each with a bonus: a view, built-in bunks, or one of the home’s four interior fireplaces.

Liz Stiving-Nichols, who worked with Hutker for seven years before establishing her own firm, Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design, instinctively let the architecture take center stage by keeping furnishings quiet and natural. “We chose to include things that had character, but also simple organic textures and some scale,” she says. The black Windsor dining chairs, for example, have enough visual height to hold their own against the windows behind them, but also yield to the view.

“They really threaded the needle in blending the modern elements with the traditional elements,” says the client. Her neighbors are also pleased with the balance McNeill struck. “It evokes the memory of being rooted in the place,” the architect notes. “But then it says, ‘Look what’s possible today.’ ”

Architecture: Thomas McNeill, Hutker Architects
Interior design: Liz Stiving-Nichols, Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design
Builder: Dudley Mulrenin, Sea View Construction
Landscape design: Kris Horiuchi, Horiuchi Solien