Romancing the Cape
A designer’s eye for classic style turns good bones into great spaces both inside her suburban Boston home and out.
Nannette Lewis had admired the demure brick cape she now calls home for years before she ever set foot inside. The house certainly is easy on the eye, given its
classic charm, pleasing symmetry, trio of petite dormers in a slate roof and the lush trees, shrubs and flower beds that frame its iconic facade. “I always loved the house and its gardens,” says Lewis.
Five years ago she heard that the owners were moving overseas and jumped at the opportunity to own the house she’d been sweet on for so long. The house, built in 1945 and renovated at least once or twice, was—along with its gardens—due for another round of freshening up, a fact that didn’t deter Lewis. “I walked in the front door and said, ‘I’ll take it,’” she remembers.
She’d been looking to downsize: “It was this beautiful, small, adorable house and I loved it—although I thought it was smaller than it actually is.”
At nearly 5,000 square feet with four bedrooms and five baths (Lewis added on and reconfigured the rooms a bit), the home sits deep on its leafy lot. “The beauty of it,” she says, “is that in every room the gardens are in sight.”
A word about those gardens: they were lovingly planted by former owners twice removed, horticulturists who took great pride in the stunning landscape they’d created and generously invited visitors in to tour every year. “We’ve been told that they cut the grass with scissors,” says Lewis.
Sadly, the beds and borders had gotten a bit overgrown over the years since those passionate gardeners sold the house, so Lewis set about re-creating the landscape’s original beauty. She enlisted the expert help of Craig Lemberger of the Garden Concierge in Sudbury, Massachusetts. “It wasn’t too far gone,” remembers Lemberger, “but there was work to be done. We focused mostly on the gardens surrounding the house: the gated garden and the backyard. We weeded and trimmed back the woodland garden.”
The roses in the walled-in garden had gone wild, growing to eight feet tall, says Lemberger, so they were cut back. A holly hedge grown gnarly was pruned and restored. Unkempt flowerbeds were revived. Lemberger says that Lewis had a clear vision for improving the three-quarter-acre site, so they made some changes, too. “We planted lots of hydrangeas, dahlias and tulips, and did some massing in the back. We planted perennials and added boxwood to punctuate the arrival at the small pond.”
Within a few seasons, the gardens were back and as beautiful as ever.
The interior’s renovation went much more quickly. “I had already sold my home, so I had a really tight deadline,” says Lewis. “It needed to have the past brought forward. It had to be modernized tastefully. I needed to define the architectural vocabulary of the house and then move on from there with the renovation.” It would have been hard (and wrong), she says, to put a modern addition on a traditional house.
Today the house mixes past and present with a sophisticated simplicity. “I feel there is great beauty in simplicity,” Lewis says. “I wanted to create a calm environment, a place where I could breathe after a busy, hectic day.”
She credits architect John Tankard of Waban, Massachusetts, with whom she has worked on many projects, for “understanding my vision and implementing it successfully.”
The most challenging part of the renovation was combining three rooms into a large, warm space used as a library. For that, Lewis gives a nod to her builder, Charlie Howard, of Howard Brothers Builders in Westwood, Massachusetts. “He was unflappably able to work out all of the issues,” she says.
For drama, a balcony housing a home office overlooks the kitchen/family room below. “Sitting in the office and looking over the balcony feels like being in a tree house looking through a large round window,” says Lewis.
Reflecting her passionate belief that “a home should be a melange of many memories, with an aesthetic integrity that reflects one’s personality and lifestyle,” the designer has filled her rooms with pedigreed antiques and comfortable pieces, most bought on trips all over the world. “Most of my things have had many lives,” she says.
The living room is an artful composition with its skirted sofa and chairs in a luscious cream color, French antique chest, table and desk, a side chair outfitted in a muted Clarence House floral and shapely lamps and accessories, all on an off-white rug from Stark.
In the dining room, French chairs upholstered in Edelman leather surround an antique English table. A demilune and a shell-embellished corner niche show off the designer’s lovely collection of creamware.
Cooking is a joy in the spacious all-white kitchen with its simple Shaker-style cabinets and Calacatta marble counters. The kitchen ceiling rises to a vault above a breakfast area that sports a round table and a banquette tucked into the bay window.
Lewis’s well-loved neutral palette suits the master bedroom, where the star is a custom sleigh-inspired bed with a tufted, upholstered headboard and footboard, tailored skirt and bedding by JRB linens.
Although Lewis is fond of pattern and color in her work, she opted for a state of neutrality throughout her own home, the better to let the classic quality of her furniture choices shine. Wood floors in a rich shade of espresso make a striking contrast against the white walls and cabinetry.
Her purposeful placement of fine contemporary art, including paintings by Dine, Hockney and Frankenthaler, leaves no question that this is a carefully curated home—though Lewis insists it’s not flawless. “I am never after perfection in designing my own home,” she says. “I want to love my space but I try to create comfort and beauty in a thoughtful way. I have lived in many homes through the years, built from ground up, and this is still my favorite.” •
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