Stylishly Restored: Cape Cod’s Amos Otis House
June 26, 2017
Yankee ingenuity and creative vision join forces to breathe new life into a historic home on Cape Cod.
Text by Bob Curley Photography by Nat Rea Produced by Kyle Hoepner
The Amos Otis House, a center-chimney cape, has stood alongside Route 6A—Cape Cod’s Old King’s Highway—in Barnstable since 1745. By the time Robert Bagshaw and David Lancaster discovered it for sale, however, the old place had seen far better days. Wildlife had moved in, and nature was taking over the property. “It was so overgrown you couldn’t see it from the street,” Bagshaw says.
The problems were structural as well as cosmetic. “There was a nine-inch pitch in the front bedroom because the sills were rotted,” Bagshaw recalls. “Our builder says we could have built this house three times for what we spent to renovate it.”
A teardown of a 270-year-old house wasn’t an option, of course, and Bagshaw and builder Adam Hostetter had to work under the watchful eye of the local historical society, which required that the exterior appearance of the Otis House remain intact as viewed from the road. “Obviously we had our share of challenges working with the old 1700s building in front, but we were able to jack it up as needed to take the un-level floors out of the equation while providing a solid foundation that will last for generations,” Hostetter explains.
Turning constraints into advantages, Bagshaw and Lancaster collaborated with Hostetter on a clever repurposing of the 1,400-square-foot original house into guest quarters for the men’s extended families, who enjoy frequent summer visits.
A frame-out reconstruction retained the original structure’s hardwood floors, fireplaces, low doorways, and other salvageable structural elements. Bedrooms were added on the ground floor and upstairs, including a whimsical bunkroom for kids decorated in red, white, and blue and featuring a pair of rope-hung beds.
Off the back of the house sits a brick-paved entry hall, inspired by the designs of legendary architect Royal Barry Wills, that provides an unobtrusive transition between the guest quarters and the addition that serves as Bagshaw and Lancaster’s new living space.
Passing by a dining room and laundry room—both making extensive use of sheathing and paneling taken from the original house—the entry hall leads to the heart of the new home, an open living room and kitchen occupying a cavernous space with twenty-two-foot-high ceilings. Like the rest of the project, this space was conceived by Bagshaw, who describes it as having “the feel of an old barn turned into a living space,” including beams and posts reclaimed from a 1789 New Hampshire barn.
“The best part of the main area is the reclaimed timber frame,” says Hostetter. “It really makes a dramatic impression and gives some character to the newer part of the house so it ties into the older portion out front.”
Original barn proportions were used for reference, and authentic interior flourishes include board-and-batten wall treatments, sliding barn doors to the pantry and master suite, and, hung on a wall, an antique rake that hails from a barn on the farm where Bagshaw grew up outside of Exeter, New Hampshire. “As a kid I spent as much time building forts in the barn as in the house, so this was a lifelong vision I had,” he says.
The decor isn’t all rural and rustic: oiled European-oak floors provide an elegant foundation, and a midcentury modern sideboard roughly divides the barn between the dining and living areas. In the former, Windsor chairs surround a wooden-topped table, while the latter holds a contemporary sofa and lounge chairs along with a pair of cowhide ottomans. “It’s a juxtaposition of the traditional and non-traditional,” says Bagshaw.
Just as antiques collected over a lifetime keep company with contemporary pieces, high-end and budget-friendly (think Ikea, Home Goods, and Etsy) also coexist. Bagshaw turned to the Boston Design Center’s Stark showroom, where he is the manager, for many of the home’s carpets and wallcoverings.
French doors and transom windows flood the space with light, carrying sunshine all the way back to the kitchen designed by David Ricardi Designs of Dennis, Massachusetts, which includes Absolute black granite countertops and a Thermador gas stove. The kitchen’s island was built three inches taller than standard to accommodate the height of Lancaster, who does most of the couple’s cooking. The east side of the barn has a wet bar in its own small room (“it keeps people out of the kitchen during parties,” notes Bagshaw). A screened-in porch has a banquette for naps cooled by the Cape’s famous southwest winds, and an outdoor fireplace graced with a copper pig—a nod to the heritage swine raised on the 150-acre public farm that wraps around Bagshaw and Lancaster’s one and a half acres.
The master suite sits at the very back corner of the barn, as far away from the road noise of 6A as possible, and includes a bath that features a soaking tub, walk-in closets, and separate vanities for the two men. “There’s lots of space, so we can have a lot of people here and still find a place to hide away,” says Lancaster, who, like Bagshaw, grew up on a New England farm.
The living room and the master suite look out to a two-level deck and an in-ground pool, and a step outside reveals the men’s attention to historical authenticity. Cedar shingles—red for the roof and white for the sides—and a pergola built with the same beams Otis used to build his modest home thirty years before the American Revolution help the home blend seamlessly with the rural landscape without overwhelming the comparatively diminutive original house.
“We built this as a living house, not as a showplace,” says Lancaster. “I love my kitchen and the outdoor living component of the house. I’m always in the pool and always pushing Bob to open it in March,” he adds with a laugh.
The home is just a quarter-mile from where the couple docks their boat, within walking distance to Barnstable town—and a million miles removed from downtown Boston, where Bagshaw spends his work week. “I’ve been living in the city since graduating college, so it’s great to have a place with space and quiet,” he says. “This has been the realization of a lot of life dreams.”
With a look back at the project’s ramshackle beginnings as well as another salute to their porcine neighbors, the couple dubbed the house Sow’s Ear. “It was a bigger project than anticipated, and it took on a life of its own,” Bagshaw says, “But we just jumped in with both feet and moved forward.”
Builder: Adam Hostetter, Hostetter Homes
Landscape design: J.P. Zigante, Zigante Landscaping