Diamond in the Rough

A couple facing retirement renovates a 1980s Cape for their golden years.

By Lenore Cullen Barnes | Photography by Brian Vanden Brink
Design & Build: Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders
Interior Design: Susan Tuttle of Surroundings Custom Interiors
Kitchen Cabinet Supplier: Classic Kitchens & Interiors

When they decided to leave Connecticut and buy a retirement home, Greg and Joy Ziemak kept an open mind. Although they vacationed on the Cape, in Brewster and Chatham, they looked at properties up and down the East Coast, and as far west as Wyoming.

“Finally, I thought, we’re trying too hard,” says Joy. “We know we love the Cape.”

“And I love Boston,” says Greg. “I went to college there and we have good friends on the Cape.”

With their real estate search narrowed, it was easy for the couple to decide on the town of Chatham, where it didn’t take long to find a classic Cape-style home perched on a slight bluff. It was a bit of a gem in the rough, though.

In poor condition, the home’s back deck was replaced with a larger version that “feels like a treehouse,” says the homeowner, who enjoys the newly improved outdoor space with her husband, even in winter.

Hidden potential

“It was a typical 1980s Cape,” says Joy. “Every room had its own door and there was no center hall. It was dark and chopped up. The dual corner fireplaces caught my eye. I thought it would be nice if we could open the house up enough so that you could see the fireplaces when you walked in.” Greg adds, “We didn’t want something very large, but we didn’t want to bump into each other either. We wanted around 3,200 square feet and this was originally 2,700 square feet.”

Exterior transformation

The screened porch is located directly off the back deck.

The couple turned to Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders (PSD) and project architect Sharon DaSilva to bring to fruition their vision of a lighter, more open floor plan with additional living space. Based on experience with former homes, a wraparound front porch and a screened porch on the back of the house were priorities. DaSilva designed an expansive columned porch, spanning the front facade and facing southeast, which is now Greg’s favorite spot to enjoy a cup of morning coffee.

Expanded second-floor dormers, instead of the original series of small dormers across the front, improve aesthetics and bring abundant natural light inside. At the back of the house, DaSilva replaced an existing deck with a larger, more substantial version connected to the octagonal screened-in porch.

“The previous deck was not in good shape or deep enough,” DaSilva recalls. The redesigned deck is now narrow on one end and expands outward with a comfortable place to dine. “It’s like a treehouse,” Joy says. “We sit out there even in winter and enjoy nice solar heat.”

Interior Improvements

Inside, PSD removed a wall for an improved sightline upon entering the house. The doorway to the dining room was expanded so the corner fireplace is indeed visible from the front door, as Joy had hoped. The kitchen and breakfast area were redesigned for better functionality and serve as a perfect entertainment space, open to the adjacent new family room.

Cherry paneling, built-in bookshelves and a fireplace refaced with granite together create a cozy space for winter reading in the new library.

“With no second floor above the family room, we were able to gain extra height with cathedral ceilings,” DaSilva explains. “The room has natural light on three sides, so it’s a very bright, airy space.” In the kitchen, the new center island features a raised bar at one end, which helps obscure after-dinner mess from view when seated in the family room.

Connected to the kitchen by a pocket door, and with French doors to the foyer, a lovely library occupies the space that was formerly a living room. PSD added cherry paneling and built-in bookshelves, and refaced the fireplace with granite. The result is an inviting, cozy enclave, perfect for a New England winter evening.

“I always wanted a library with a leather couch,” says Greg. “It’s special in winter—warm, filled with books, [and] has a classic feel. When the wind’s blowing, it’s nice to have that fireplace.”

Understated but beautiful wainscoting lines the foyer, the stairway and the second-floor central hallway. A new arched window floods the space with light. The circulation balcony used to dead-end at a wall, but PSD added access to the upstairs office via a pocket door. “Having that door there gives the space meaning,” Joy says. “There’s a use for that balcony.”

A finished guest suite over the garage affords guests private accommodations with their own entrance.

Revisiting an unfinished guest suite

The Ziemaks gained more space by finishing a guest suite over the garage. A bedroom with a cathedral ceiling and attached bathroom offers lucky guests comfortable, private quarters. The space was slightly quirky and, through clever design by DaSilva, it now features interesting architectural elements. “A horizontal cross beam was necessary to tie two joists together, creating a structural triangle,” explains DaSilva. “This created a slot of space between the two ceiling heights where we placed a high, round window to benefit from the additional light.” “They did a great job designing it,” Greg says. “The room has nice nooks and crannies.” “It’s a great guest suite,” adds Joy. “With its own entrance, it’s very private. And it can be ignored—left unheated, uncooled—when not in use.”

The renovated version of the Ziemaks’ house provides them with spaces to enjoy in every season, with or without guests. They maintained the character they desired, while bringing the house up to contemporary living standards. For DaSilva, it was a “very successful project.”

“The Ziemaks are two of my favorite clients, really wonderful,” says DaSilva. “They were enthusiastic and trusted what we were trying to do. It was a good collaboration.”

A center island with a raised bar in the kitchen cleverly obscures after-dinner mess when seated in the adjacent family room.


For an improved sightline upon entering the house, the doorway to the dining room was expanded, making the fireplace visible from the front door.

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