Polhemus Savery DaSilva reconfigures and restores one of Oyster Harbor’s oldest homes.By Jaci Conry | Photography by Randall Perry
Constructed in 1937, the house was one of the first residences on Oyster Harbors, an idyllic island off Osterville. Its lovely tree-shrouded winding lanes and landscape were designed by the esteemed firm, The Olmsted Brothers, the same firm that designed New York’s Central Park.
Original family; unchanged home
Over the decades, the gracious house remained in the same family and existed as a haven of jubilant gatherings. The current owners took occupancy of the home a few years ago: the husband was the grandson of the man for whom the house had been built. “At the time, virtually nothing in the house had been changed,” says John DaSilva, principal of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders, the Chatham firm that was called in to make the home’s layout more conducive to modern living while maintaining its historic integrity. “The original plumbing, electrical, heating, and insulation were in place,” says DaSilva, who explains that the project also involved updating all of its systems.
While the kitchen had been updated in 1960, no other cosmetic work had ever been done to the home. Designed in a time when a staff of servants worked in the house, the floor plan was awkward. “The kitchen had no direct connection to the dining room or even a glimpse of the amazing view of West Bay,” says DaSilva. “The view was blocked by a back stairway up to servants quarters on the second floor, which was really a rabbit warren of small bedrooms.”
The homeowners, who love to cook, desired a kitchen that was open to the ocean view and integrated with the dining room. This became possible when the stairway was removed. While social interaction between the kitchen and dining room is now possible, a wide opening flanked by niches filled with storage and display spaces acts as a zone of separation between the two spaces that keeps the traditional feeling of enclosed rooms.
Upstairs, the servants quarters were re-organized into a suite for the homeowners’ daughter to use with her growing family. A new balcony offers a panoramic view. The master suite, which occupies most of the back of the house overlooking the water, was enlarged by taking space from another bedroom; the closet was also expanded and the bathroom was updated. French doors were added to both the master and adjacent guest room to access an existing porch that, according to DaSilva, had been largely cut off from the rest of the home.
Making the house more energy efficient was important to the homeowners. The old, drafty windows were replaced with large insulated glass picture and casement windows—which also better frame the fantastic view. In addition, “We regularized the design of the new windows into horizontal bands that stretch across the house where the previous windows had been awkwardly arranged,” says DaSilva.
The original front door surround included pilasters and a heraldic crest in a pediment. “It was a very formal entry,” says DaSilva, who “did a little playful design work” to make the gateway to the house more casual and inviting. A new contemporary entry porch was inspired by historic elements. “The fan light is open to the air and, like the invented-order flat columns that transform into benches below, is a little exaggerated in scale,” he says. “This makes the porch playful enough to be casual, yet still classically rooted enough to be appropriate to the historic house.”
A whale of a landscape design
Over the years, the home’s yard had become overgrown, and there weren’t areas designated for outdoor living. In collaboration with Boston landscape architect Clara Batchelor, DaSilva and his team transformed the property. At the heart of the revived landscape is a new dining pavilion. Capped with a red cedar pergola, it implies enclosure and slight shade, while allowing for unfettered views. “Simple arches in the pergola’s pediments refer back to the more elaborate fan-light at the entry porch,” says DaSilva who also designed a whimsical structure known as the “whale.” Constructed of red cedar, the structure’s design follows a sinuous curve that suggests the back of a whale to playfully organize and hide the air conditioning condensers, recycling and trash containers, and an outdoor shower.
The firm also worked with Batchelor to conceive a new driveway. “The existing circular drive wasn’t very private—it approached the house straight on from the street,” says DaSilva. “It didn’t take advantage of the estate-like feeling of the property. The new driveway obscures the view of the house from the street, twisting around and winding through the trees on the approach,” offering, says DaSilva, “…a less formal, picturesque route that is much like The Olmsted Brothers’ adjacent winding roads.”