History Repeats

A well-thought out plan and careful construction process preserves one of South Orlean’s precious historic homes.

By Rachel Arroyo | Photography by Dan Cutrona

A sense of time and history surrounds the Mayo-Hammett house in South Orleans. The full Cape, most likely built in the 1830s, had weathered through many New England winters and was in a state of decay.

In 2004, Julie Humphreys and her husband Ivan fell in love with the property and bought it.  “We loved how the light hit it and the sloping hill,” Julie remembers.  The Cape “had done its magic,” as Julie says and so the couple from California hired local architect Sara Jane Porter to help them turn this property into a place where they could spend their retirement.

At first there was talk of demolishing the house entirely and starting anew because it was in such poor shape, but the appeal of the home’s original design was undeniable.  “Every time we came up with a plan for a new house it looked a lot like the old,” recalls Julie.

Sara Jane Porter’s plans introduced several inside layout changes, including a brand new downstairs kitchen and family room and second-floor loft space, but the outside of the house would retain its basic profile. “It occurred to me early on that if I repeated the same size and profile of the older section in the addition that it would create a feeling of continuity,” explains Sara.

Custom Kitchen Addition

On the north side of the house, with the building expertise of Stello Construction Inc., the old, dark kitchen was demolished and a new, more open kitchen area with adjoining family room was built in its place.  “We wanted to make it look as old as we could possibly make it,” says Julie, so they incorporated a lot of woodwork. The floors are wide plank oak and the custom-designed cabinetry, built by Mike Stello of Stello Construction, are made of poplar and painted Stonington Gray from the Benjamin Moore Historic Color collection.  The open shelves, made of Douglas fir, are pure decoration while the custom-made pantry holds all the essentials.

The more modern elements in the kitchen follow the simplicity of the overall home design.  The 5- by 13-inch industrial-looking white subway tile backsplash pops against the black honed granite countertop.  The stainless steel Miele dishwasher and Sub-Zero refrigerator with glass door, sourced through KAM Appliance in Hyannis, are not only high quality and energy efficient but also blend seamlessly into the decor.

Adding visual interest to the clean, straightforward design is a “Coral Pendant” light—designed by David Trubridge and purchased at Design Within Reach—that hangs over the custom-built island while a chef-grade Blue Star cooking range painted a brilliant  bright blue, also from KAM, makes a bold statement underneath a stainless steel pyramid oven hood.

Bedroom Re-mastered

The other portion of the first floor that saw substantial layout changes was the master bedroom on the opposite side of the house. To create the new “master wing,” the “good morning” staircase, which bisected the two downstairs bedrooms, was removed. The result was gained privacy, since the upstairs could only be accessed through the front door on the opposite side of the house and extra, unimpeded space.  And since the second bedroom was converted into a connecting office space, the master bedroom would now have its own entrance.

In keeping with the character of the old house, the exposed ceiling beams in the master bedroom were painstakingly restored and reinforced and the wainscoting was custom-built to look like the features that were already present.

The master bath was originally just 8-feet by 8-feet and was enlarged, using space taken from the new office area, to 8-feet by 12-feet.  The mosaic penny tile floor was chosen for its “yummy colors,” says Julie, and old-fashioned look. (The homeowners liked the look of the tiles so much that they used them in the second-floor bath as well.) And the 8- by 4-inch glass tile in the shower was purchased both for its color and transparent surface.  The custom vanity has an eggshell Caesarstone countertop and a simple, no-frills rectangular sink, which has custom built-in cabinetry off to the side for storage.

Rethinking the Second Story

A wide-open, window-filled space, perfect for casual lounging, now sits at the top of the home’s remaining staircase. Just off the area is a full bath with a luxurious soaking tub. To the right of the lounge area, a long, spacious hall runs along the length of the back of the home. Custom-made book shelves house the homeowners’ complete collection of The Hardy Boys mystery novels with plenty of additional space for further literary acquisitions and at the far end of the corridor lie two additional bedrooms, each with custom-built window seats.


Much like the house on the property, the over-grown landscape was also in decline.  Literally, the land was washing down a hill.  With an eye toward what was there before, landscape architect Patricia Crow of Hadley-Crow Studio in Orleans designed a space that fit within the context of the area.  The former blue stone patio that was breaking up and washing away was replaced and to keep the ground level, a native fieldstone retaining wall was installed, which also helped block in the flat patch of open grass that the homeowners had requested. Wherever possible, Patricia incorporated native plants and reestablished plantings that were already on the property. “It’s a nod to the past,” she says.

After a year and a half the project was finished and now a new chapter has begun.  Julie and Ivan Humphreys look forward to enjoying the house as they had envisioned. Comfortable and homey, it’s now a place where they can spend their retirement years and a place where friends and family can visit and maybe one day their future grandchildren.

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