This Chatham Home Was Designed Around An Antique CollectionText by Maria LaPiana Photography by Nat Rea Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
This Cape Cod home lives at the confluence of old and new. The architecture pays homage to the traditional ship captains’ houses of early Chatham, says architect Tom Catalano.
But you won’t find a warren of small, dark rooms inside. This house is open, bright, and contemporary, stem to stern.
The owners lived in Boston, had a house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and had summered on the Cape for years by the time they decided to build. They quite literally brought a lot of baggage with them, as they owned a lot of important antiques, furniture, and artwork. As lovers of all things traditional, they wanted their home to suit the coastal vernacular, and they wanted their treasures to look like they belonged. At the same time, they were ready for fresh surroundings, a new look.
Interior designer Brian del Toro of New York City took the lead on design. It was a formidable challenge to repurpose and reuse as many antiques as possible. Luckily, he had the pedigree and experience to pull it off, having worked with Parish-Hadley Associates after studying in Italy and England, and later, with Connie Beale and Bunny Williams. “I was very aware of traditional design, and I knew their furniture would dictate what the house would look like, but it couldn’t be stuffy,” he says. “There are ways to temper antiques—they had so much English and American brown furniture—that make them softer. There are things you can add to round out existing furnishings, like a glass-topped driftwood table, for example, that make a room feel less imposing.”
But before del Toro had his way with the interiors, there was the envelope to consider, and Catalano, who has offices in Boston and Hyannis, guided the project from the first. “We were charged with designing a context-based home in Chatham, one that would fit in, not stand out,” he says. “It had to be a year-round residence as well as a seasonal gathering place for three generations of our client’s family.”
With an expansive view of Monomoy Island and Nantucket Sound, the site was ideal. Catalano maximized the outdoor space by siting a pool and pool house on the east side of the house, and took advantage of a south-facing slope by building out a lower level that gets flooded with sunlight.
“We respected old and new as we worked on the design,” says Catalano. “The house is clad in cedar shingles and white-painted trim. The front entrance is a traditional composition, using leaded-glass sidelights and transoms and a mahogany door.”
The millwork is exceptional, both indoors and out. Catalano gives high marks to the builders, Ted and Matt Spencer of Spencer & Company in Chatham. “They are a fantastic father-and-son team who brought a passion to their work that we don’t see that often.” Says del Toro, “We all worked well together. The architect designed the beautiful framework, and with incredible precision and the assistance of local talent and craftsmen, the builder made it all happen.”
The spirit of collaboration extended to the landscape. The wife, an avid gardener, worked closely with landscape architect Kris Horiuchi of Falmouth to design a four-season yard. “A carpet of bulbs emerges during the early spring, and of course, the garden is completely choreographed for color in the summer,” says Horiuchi. “Later in the year, fall foliage highlights the garden. And during the quiet winter months, the striking bark of the stewartia and plane trees are wonderful features, along with a pair of perfectly clipped hollies that welcome guests at the front door.”
Inside, del Toro forged a pleasing mix of casual and formal. The sunny combination of family room, kitchen, and breakfast area has the most laid-back vibe, he says. “It’s the least formal space and the greatest departure from what the client had lived with in the past. The room looks out onto the pool area, so I saw it as a kind of transitional space.”
The homeowners initially wanted the family room to have a garden‑room feel, which to them suggested a floral chintz. “But I lobbied for them to use pattern elsewhere, so this could be a calmer, quieter space,” the designer says. “A subtle gray palette allows you to focus more on the outside.”
Handmade bamboo shades screen the natural light without blocking it and contribute to the clients’ coveted garden-room feel, as does the floor, a del Toro design with a wood lattice pattern inset with two-foot-square gray French limestone tiles. (Wide-plank oak—fumed, brushed, rough-hewn, and stained a medium brown—covers the floors elsewhere in the house.) The coffered ceiling is fitted with driftwood-like pecky cypress in the recesses.
Designed around the homeowners’ heirloom table and Chippendale chairs, the dining room is traditional in every sense. In order to soften the space, del Toro designed upholstered host chairs and commissioned an intriguing mural. “I wanted a primitive-style scene on the walls,” he says, “so I brought in Chuck Fischer, a very talented decorative painter, who worked with the client to incorporate meaningful landmarks of Chatham.”
In keeping with the tradition of New England craftsmanship, the designer picked up the colors in the mural and had an artisan hook the large, colorful, patterned rug that grounds the room and, like the twin light fixtures over the table, adds a contemporary touch.
Much of the artwork was inherited, including a collection of family portraits thoughtfully grouped together in the stair hall. Placement was a key element of the interior design throughout the home. A case in point: a new shell mirror hangs over a vintage mahogany chest in the entryway. The juxtaposition works. “Everything is about appropriateness to its location,” says del Toro. “I had to make sure that where we placed every piece made it feel fresh.”
In del Toro’s hands, the owners’ lovely old pieces feel timeless, even current, while offering—as they’ve done for generations—a comforting sense of continuity and permanence.
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