Reawakening a landmark South Yarmouth home involved a unique mix of moving, raising, remodeling and modernizing.By Jennifer Sperry | Photography by Dan Cutrona Builder: Bass River Builders
Architect: Archi-Tech Associates
Design: Lewis & Weldon
It’s one thing to move a historic three-story home from its original siting close to the mouth of the Bass River and place it on a new foundation 15 feet away. It’s another thing to accomplish this delicate transaction while stripping the first floor down for a more modern living arrangement and still salvaging the two floors above. But that’s just what one couple accomplished in their quest to preserve but also update their Shingle-style charmer in South Yarmouth.
Home History Lesson
Originally built as a wedding gift for a Boston couple in 1890, the home—unheated and strictly a summer residence—was designed by architect Lois Lilley Howe, founder of the country’s first all-female architecture firm. In the 1950s, the Smith family bought the lot and added a two-story, heated wing a decade later. This wing expanded the seven-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home with a second kitchen, another living room, and even more bedrooms and baths.
Only the fourth owners in the home’s lineage, the current owners acquired the property from the Smiths’ daughter in December 2012 and subdivided the five-acre estate into three parcels, keeping the original home for themselves. They gained an intriguing piece of architectural history, surrounded by Bass River’s intoxicating natural canvas—but also inherited a variety of challenges, challenges that the husband, a developer and owner of Bass River Builders, was uniquely qualified to tackle.
“It was built with a Cape Cod basement of 90 percent dirt, set on a brick foundation, and suffering from a lot of rot,” he explains. Working with architect Tim Luff of Archi-Tech Associates in Cotuit, the owners decided to lift the house and move it away from the water “for two reasons,” says the husband. “One was to gain a big back deck that conservation wouldn’t have allowed in the original position. The other was to set the home on a new, full foundation two feet higher than it sat before—gaining views of not just the river but of Nantucket Sound beyond.”
A Modern Layout
The existing interior presented a puzzling, somewhat awkward assembly of rooms. “When we sat down with Tim [Luff] and told him our needs, we realized that demoing and rebuilding the first floor would give us the modern layout we wanted but also allow us to more easily insulate and update the electrical and mechanical systems,” says the husband, whose firm handled the construction. Other tweaks included combining smaller rooms into larger bedrooms on the upper floors and eliminating out-of-character additions. Preserving the home’s historic charm
Throughout the process, honoring the home’s turn-of-the-century charm was paramount to the owners. “We wanted to maintain the original feel,” agree the couple, who turned to Hyannis-based Lewis & Weldon Custom Cabinetry & Millwork to interpret their vision and execute a seamless scheme of new-old interior architecture throughout.
Lewis & Weldon owner Chuck Hart understood the family’s prioritization of craft and history. “My goal on every single project is to walk through and feel like we didn’t do anything at all, to have it look like it’s always been that way,” says Hart. “But that outcome only comes from paying close attention to every detail, particularly on a tricky remodel like this one,” he adds.
Hart and Lewis & Weldon designer Jessica Muldoon fine-tuned the interior with an impressive assortment of vanities, built-ins, millwork, ceiling treatments and window and door trim. Some woodwork was salvaged, including the hardwood flooring on the top two levels and a sizable portion of the stair—the Lewis & Weldon team finished off the final stair install with custom parts to match the original. All new woodwork was designed in keeping with the home’s 19th-century heritage, using old pictures as reference when possible.
“We are uniquely suited to a project like this because we have a design showroom for inspiration, we specialize in custom designs, and our in-house woodshop can handle all types of different details and specifications,” explains Muldoon, who worked closely with the wife on the woodwork’s colors, finishes and hardware.
Starting from scratch on the first floor resulted in a kitchen that fulfilled every feature on the owners’ wish list without sacrificing period detail. “Our vision really came from the style of the home,” explains the wife. “We wanted something traditional yet timeless and ended up with the Shaker-style cabinet design, choosing a white painted finish to keep it classic.” The wife employed a counterpoint of cool gray in the kitchen via a glazed tile backsplash and veined “Super White” quartzite countertops. An extra-thick two-and-a-half-inch slab of quartzite distinguishes the island. On the wall opposite the sink, a hutch-style cabinet with a decorative toe kick and glassed, illuminated display cabinets stores glassware and acts as a handy beverage center.
Custom built-ins add storage and style
Flowing out from the kitchen along the home’s view-facing side are an informal dining area and living room, separated by a built-in serving cabinet. “The top is white oak finished in an espresso stain. It’s the perfect spot for a buffet spread and for storing platters and entertaining ware,” says Muldoon. On the living room side, millwork details such as a coffered ceiling, fireplace surround, window seat and built-in media cabinet contribute to the area’s authentic new-old feel.
In the front section of the house, by the driveway and pool, is a great room wing; here, the flooring shifts to durable tile that mimics the look of white-washed wood. The couple’s children—one in college and two recent college grads—gravitate towards the great room, where built-ins flank a scene-stealing stone fireplace. A nearby wall of storage cubbies and recessed fridge with custom paneling accommodate pool-goers and help keep wet feet, towels and swim gear confined to the wing.
A Sweet Master Suite
Meanwhile, the adults find solace in their newly expansive second-floor master suite, complete with walk-in closet and master bath with custom his-and-hers vanity, soaking tub and gas fireplace. But admittedly, they spend most of their time in the kitchen and living room. “Those rooms have the best views and the most sunlight,” explains the wife.
Now, the owners feel equally at home whether it’s just the two of them, the kids are there with friends, or if the house is filled with extended family for long summer weekends or big holidays. There’s always plenty of room, and it always feels like home. “It’s perfect,” they agree. “We couldn’t ask for more.”