Tour a Light and Airy Cape Cod Coastal Home
A Cape Cod house is designed to conceal—then dramatically reveal—its waterfront views.
When architect John MacDonald and his team began discussing how to replace their clients’ vintage 1970s waterfront property on Cape Cod, they came up with a novel idea that they hoped would both delight and surprise the owners. “While their second home had served them well for years, it was time for a change,” says MacDonald. They hoped for a new getaway that would be more suitable for themselves, their extended family, and the visitors they love to entertain. “They wanted a home where they could make memories,” says the architect.
Like many waterfront property owners on the Cape, the couple also wanted a dwelling that fit in with the neighborhood’s classic Shingle-style architecture, nestled comfortably on its lot, blurred the lines between indoors and out, and—most important—maximized the drop-dead views of the sheltered bay the home overlooks.
Inspired by the idea of a surprise, the design team—architects, designer, builder, and landscape architect—got right to work. The original home had an almost quarter-mile-long, straight-as-a-runway front approach. “We replaced that with a curving drive that meanders through the wooded lot,” says landscape designer Michael Coutu. “The new driveway offers more privacy and serves to delay the arrival experience for visitors, building in a bit of a surprise factor,” adds project manager and architect Anthony M. Frausto-Robledo.
MacDonald and Frausto-Robledo further heightened the sense of surprise, designing a two-story house and an angled garage that postpone the first glimpse of the site’s picture-postcard views. “We wanted to suspend visitors’ first view of the water until they were actually inside the home,” says MacDonald. “While you may sense the ocean via a sea breeze and a hint of salt in the air, it’s not until you open the front door that you are confronted by that wow factor.”
To make the scene even more dramatic, MacDonald employed what he whimsically describes as “a nice little architectural parlor trick.” He dropped the great room down about two feet below the level of the rest of the first floor. “This enhances the sense of arrival and helps to maximize the view out the great room’s oversized windows,” he explains. “It’s another surprise.”
Interior designer Ally Coulter outfitted the gracious two-story room—and most of the rest of the house—in a neutral palette of soft whites with touches of blue that echoes the hues of the nearby shore. Sandy-colored floors of rift- and quarter-sawn washed white oak boost the beachfront feel. “We didn’t want to compete with nature but to enhance it,” Coulter says. “We wanted a light, airy feel to the interiors.”
Here and there—in the entryway’s rug, in the kitchen’s backsplash, and in several of the pieces in the homeowners’ contemporary art collection—a splash of bright blue adds a shot of energy to the serene color scheme.
Furniture was chosen with both elegance and comfort in mind. The great room’s convivial seating arrangement places twin sofas upholstered in a fabric the color of a sun-warmed sand dune at right angles, with a focus on the fireplace. The simple lines of the sofas are mirrored in a pair of pale blue lounge chairs. An array of blue and sandy-hued toss pillows ties the scene together nicely.
The one exception to the light and airy look is a snug and handsome study where the sand tones are deepened to cozy browns and beiges, the blues take on a hint of gray, the rich woodwork has a warm natural stain, and a bold, geometric-patterned rug anchors the space.
The owners have a keen eye for art and decorative objects, and the home is dotted with both newly acquired and longtime favorite pieces. “I think of art and accessories as the final layer of a home’s interior design,” says Coulter. “The owners loved choosing these pieces; they really make the house come to life and make it a home.”
Coulter strove for continuity in the look and feel as the rooms flow from one to the next. “There is a harmony to this design,” she says. “Furniture, paintings, rugs, and art objects may be varied in color, texture, and periods, but they are all harmonious.”
The interior woodwork also does its part to add to the harmony. “It’s not too built up,” explains builder Kevin Lagassé, “but is simple and restrained, yet elegant.”
MacDonald concurs, adding, “The millwork, columns, and moldings are streamlined, contemporary versions of their architectural predecessor—-traditional Cape homes. As we did with much of the house, we were trying very hard to create a more contemporary take on a familiar theme.”
The exterior exhibits that same spirit: the front is more classically Shingle-style, while the rear, with its large windows and decks and porches, is decidedly more modern. “We married those two experiences of front and rear, that dual nature, by employing a more contemporary design language inside the house,” says Frausto-Robledo.
When landscape designer Coutu helped site the house, he was careful to save as many of the mature trees, including oaks and elms in front of the new home, as possible. The property slopes to the bay, and a protected coastal bank between the pool and the shore was replanted with native, conservation-approved plantings such as bayberry and rose.
Closer to the house, Coutu added colorful plants such as hydrangeas, rose of Sharon, and other summer flowering varieties. “We used local fieldstone for retaining walls to tie in with the base of the home, which is also clad in fieldstone,” says Coutu. “That gave the back of the house, its patios and porches and pool, a great visual connection.”
Every time owners open their front door, they are thrilled by the view that MacDonald and his team framed so beautifully. There’s one more detail—another surprise—they love. A small, windowed cupola tops the home, a nod to the rooftop beacon lights that used to adorn many historic Cape Cod homes. “It can be lit at night and is one of the first things you see when you arrive via the driveway,” says MacDonald. “It’s like a cherry on top of a sundae.”
Project Team Architecture: John MacDonald and Anthony M. Frausto-Robledo, Morehouse MacDonald and Associates
Interior design: Ally Coulter, Ally Coulter Designs
Builder: Kevin Lagassé, The Lagassé Group
Landscape design: Michael Coutu, Sudbury Design Group
January 21, 2020
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