Preserving the Heritage

B&D Custom Builders, Inc. tackles the renovation of a 250-year-old cottage.

By Rob Duca | Photography by Dan Cutrona

To the outside world, this classic Cape Cod cottage, built in 1756, offers few hints of its dramatic transformation. Few would guess that it was moved from Brewster to its current location in Harwich, where it overlooks Monomoy, or that the entire inside was gutted.

Determination meets ingenuity

Maintaining the original character of the house required more than a little ingenuity. The fabulous waterfront location was offset by the condition of the ancient house, which was in complete disrepair. The homeowners, Tom and Paula White, had been told by another builder that the house could not be restored. “He said to save myself the time and aggravation and tear it down,” Tom said. “But somehow, that house represented the spirit of the property. It just seemed that we would be violating the heritage of the people who had lived there if we just ripped it down.”

Kevin Boyar of B & D Custom Builders Inc. took on the challenge. When he removed the interior sheeting, he discovered that it was connected to the exterior sheeting, with no interior walls whatsoever. “The exterior walls were about two inches thick, and the only reason the house was standing was because at every corner there were massive vertical beams that, in essence, created a skeleton,” he said. “You could give a big shove, knock out entire sections of a wall and step outside.”

Boyar installed a new skin to the exterior and built an interior frame, leaving the original work sandwiched between the sidewall, windows, trim and interior.

Respecting the past

“Kevin did an extraordinary job,” Tom said. “He had as much respect for the history of the house as we did. His eye for detail was phenomenal. All the important historical features were retained. In our wildest imagination we did not think he could restore the strength and stability of the building and retain the unique historical features.”

The living space in the 2,800-square foot house remained unchanged, which required Boyar to find creative ways to provide storage, hide wires and duct work and design baths and bedrooms.

“We didn’t have a floor plan. We worked with Tom and Paula and just built onto the original structure,” Boyar said. “We were very fortunate that they let us kind of play and gave us the latitude to create something that we deemed fit and proper.”

Many original details remain, giving the house an historic flavor with an updated modern flair. Hatchet marks where beams were cut and carved can still be seen in some rooms, while 250-year-old wide plank floors were salvaged. Boyar was determined that the new flooring on the second floor feature the same distressed, antique look, so after turning old fir beams into flooring thickness, he installed the wood immediately, knowing there would be expansion and cracking. He then slammed a steel chain onto the floor at random spots to dent it, and followed that by placing nuts onto a wire and repeated the process to make deeper indentations. The final step was securing the wood using antique wrought iron nails.

“You can’t tell those floors were installed one year ago. They look every bit as old as those on the first floor,” he says.

A picture-perfect renovation

Boyar snapped more than 100 photos of the home’s interior in order to repair and replicate original details as closely as possible. The living room fireplace is an identical recreation, while a second fireplace is framed with blue-and-white Delft tiles. A large fireplace in the back of the house retains a brick frame, two built-in enclosures for warming bread and is surrounded by a restored deep, dark wood mantel.

“I love that he preserved the wainscoting and paneling above all the fireplaces,” Tom said. “Kevin offered creative solutions to the unique challenges that one encounters when renovating an antique property, taking our ideas and preferences, and offering an array of options of his own, while figuring out a way to make it all come together.”

Because the property was formerly a sea captain’s house, it was important to incorporate a nautical theme. Thus, the upstairs stairway lacks posts extending above the handrail, evoking the sensation of a ship. A ship’s window in the master suite is another example. The kitchen features a custom curved bench with a bead board back that mimics the seating deck on a boat.

Modern Amenities

To create an older feeling to the kitchen, Boyar built three sections of cabinets, custom-fitting each wall with one piece. He also designed a wet bar and beverage cooler off the kitchen, using faux cabinets to cleverly hide unsightly duct work that vents the home. When installing a freestanding jet tub in the master suite, he ran the electrical wires underneath, disguising them behind a recessed shelf that also was used to hold the faucets and spout.

“The spaces were defined by the existing structure and what was necessary to put duct work and piping in certain areas,” Boyar said. “We kept everything as tight as possible, then looked at it and said, ‘O.K., what can we do?’”

Custom-built shelves and drawers were designed for the bedrooms to provide maximum storage options. Every eave was utilized to create additional built-ins.

“Hopefully, we created a house on that space that will live for another 200 years,” Tom said.

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