Restful Retreat

A reconfigured floor plan with a neutral palette and a variety of textures update a 1930s pondside guest house.

By Lenore Cullen Barnes | Photos by Ryan Maheu
Interior Design: Helen Baker of Helen Baker Interiors, Inc.

What’s better than having a guest cottage so inviting that the owners enjoy being the “guests”? When this couple recently renovated the two-bedroom, circa 1930s cottage on their property that overlooks a kettle pond in Orleans, they found new meaning to the term “staycation.”

“We love to stay out there,” says the wife. “It’s a great place to take a deep breath, put your feet up and enjoy the beautiful view from the deck. It’s also a great place to throw parties. It has a different vibe.”

That vibe got a serious upgrade when the couple enlisted Helen Baker of Helen Baker Interiors, Inc. to bring the cottage gently into the 21st century.

“I had worked with the couple to update their main house and they had decided it was time to renovate and redecorate the cottage to reflect the style of the larger house,” Baker explains.

The cottage’s natural setting inspired the earth-tone color palette.

Neutral palette for an updated look
The cottage was so old it looked retro, says the wife. “It was tired. It was time to bring it up to the caliber of the day and of the main residence.” Listening to the homeowners’ likes and dislikes, Helen was able to transform the cottage’s interior into a space that both would be happy with. “My husband’s a New Englander and I’m from Northern California,” the wife says. “[Helen] was able to put together something we both like. She knocked it out of the park.”

Because of the wooded pond setting, the couple didn’t want a typical Cape Cod nautical look; they favor beige and neutral tones, and a warm, textured feel. Baker embraced the challenge.

“It’s the client’s home, not mine,” Baker asserts. “I steer them in a direction, offer options and execute. Good rooms should look evolved and not overly decorated. I like to decorate ‘appropriately’ to capture the local vernacular. It’s important that the decor be appropriate but reflect my client’s taste.”

In this case, that meant a muted palette of earth tones and a variety of textiles. The husband loves furniture from D.R. Dimes of New Hampshire, so a number of custom wood pieces were incorporated into the design.

A variety of textures, from velvet pillows and French burlap curtains to a wool and jute patterned rug by Dash& Albert, adds interest to the living room.

Building Character
“It was fun working on a smaller space,” Baker says. “I didn’t want to change the original character of the cottage with its cathedral ceiling and exposed beams. It was important to have continuity in materials, especially with rooms exposed to each other. Detail and accessories, like handmade lampshades throughout, give each room its own character.”

Baker began the redesign by reconfiguring the floor plan to improve flow and open up the sightline to the outdoors. A wall between the kitchen and living room obstructed the view of the pond. Baker widened the opening and moved it to the center of that wall, allowing visibility from the living room straight through the kitchen and dining area to the pond beyond.

“I created a visual access to the water,” Baker says. It makes the space seem larger and brighter, and [puts] focus on the beautiful view.”

Reworking the Kitchen
Gone are the pine cabinets, butcher-block peninsula and tile floors of the former kitchen. The new galley kitchen offers additional storage space, thanks in part to an under-counter refrigerator and freezer, a long counter topped with walnut, a farmer’s sink, and a built-in glass-door cabinet.

The wall between the kitchen and the living room was widened, allowing for an unobstructed view of the pond from the living room.

“We chose wood countertops because granite would have been too slick and too modern,” says Baker. Wood plank floors and a slate tile backsplash add more organic elements.

“I think the backsplash is my favorite part of the cottage,” says the wife. “Helen found it and it’s a piece of art. It makes me stop and look every time I walk in.”

Baker removed awkward boxed structures used to cover ductwork and rerouted the heating system to achieve a ceiling “without visual interruption.” She also removed a closet and replaced it with an armoire in the master bedroom.

Taking her cue from the bucolic setting, Baker chose a “soft, dusty paint palette of the same intensity and hue so nothing is jarring.” To create a visually compelling, layered and inviting space, Baker juxtaposed green, gray, brown, beige and off-whites in a mix of fabrics and textures, including woven, plaids, embroidery, velvet and burlap.

“The cottage sits on a wildlife corridor,” the wife marvels. “We enjoy magnificent bird watching in the spring and fall. In the early summer, we see lots of foxes, and turtles lay their eggs. We have deer, coyote and owls, nesting heron and swans on the pond. Our dogs love to run around on the lawn.”

And when it’s time to turn from the wildlife outdoors to the cozy indoors, a true haven awaits. “They wanted to treat their guests to the same surroundings as the main house. And the fact that they like to ‘vacation’ there themselves – what better compliment is there than that?”

Custom wood furniture, like the hutch from D.R. Dimes and dining room table from Colonial Tables, complement the cottage’s natural character.


The new galley kitchen received updated materials, like walnut countertops, Shaker style cabinets and under-counter refrigerator and freezer drawers.

The bathroom vanity was custom designed by Helen Baker Interiors.

The heirloom-quality hutch was custom made by D. R. Dimes of New Hampshire.

One of the wife’s favorite elements, the kitchen backsplash is made of slate mosaic tile sourced from Cape Cod Tile Works in Harwich.

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