House at Harbor View
House at Harbor View
Brian Vanden Brink
Patricia Hessel Interiors
Harborside is at the end of a winding picturesque lane on the east side of a peninsula where some of Cape Cod’s best examples of Colonial, Victorian, and Shingle Style architecture reside. The house site is a bluff between a low-lying yard and a harbor-front coastal bank. When the owners bought the property a poor quality cape sat on the bluff and took little advantage of the spectacular site. It established a footprint that could only be minimally expanded because of wetlands in front and harbor beyond. The existing footprint was a rectangle and the expansion allowed an addition to the front at one end only. The result is a compact L-shaped footprint. While this restriction had to be the starting point for the design, it was not, in the end, a limit on the expressive or functional success of the house.
The L-shaped plan is common in Greek Revival houses of the region where the roof eave of the long leg (“bar”) and the gable end of the short leg (“gable”) face the front. Historically this “bar and gable” type was sometimes embellished as time went on and stylistic inclinations changed. Often a tower at the intersection of the bar and gable, a porch or multiple porches, and detailed trim were added to give an up-to-date Italianate feeling to the more stark Greek originals. At Harborside the basic “bar and gable” type was transformed by site restrictions, programmatic requirements, and an attitude of playfulness critical to a family seeking an informal second home that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The underlying presence of the bar and gable, however, provides the basis for a design that feels comfortable in the historic context but also fresh and of our time—a suitable synthesis for the retreat of a dynamic family and their friends.
Site constraints made devising a clear entry sequence a challenge. The lower level is half buried in the bluff, creating a basement where walk-out potential is to the front of the house rather than the more typical rear. In the design this grade-change accommodates a garage in the basement, windows for a play room, and the beginning of an entry sequence that leads to the front door, on the first floor one full level up. Stone cladding, artistically crafted by Eastham mason Kenneth Higgins, defines the basement level and creates a horizontal zone that anchors the house to the ground and helps bring down its scale. A portal in the base opens upon a stair that brings visitors up to a porch that runs across the front of the “bar” building and leads to the front door. A sconce light and the street number engraved into the keystone subtly identify the portal as the start of the entry sequence. Two small dormers high on the roof mark the center point of one porch bay and this portal. The dormers bring western light into the sunroom on the first floor and one of the bed rooms on the second floor. A secondary entry, opening into the mud room, is tucked out of view on the north side of the house. French doors open the back of the house to a small bluff-top yard area designed by landscape architect Hawk Design of Sagamore to include a built-in grill, a fire pit, and stairs down to the beach.
Given the footprint restrictions, a minimum amount of square footage was given over to porch but the columns that define the porch continue around the south end and much of the back of the house. Set slightly recessed into the wall, and between the columns, are large windows or French doors that, together with the column spacing and shadow lines created by the recess, imply a large glassed-in porch. The columns are flat on their front and back but have entasis on their sides. They are quirky and playful yet, like the house’s overall Greek Revival form, they are only just classical enough to establish the feeling of historical appropriateness, not enough to make the house look formal. Other eclectic and playful details are a corner soffit that peels up into a sinuous curve over the sun room door, a wave shaped bracket under the roof overhang on the north side, a weather vane depicting an exaggerated reclining mermaid holding a looking glass, and horn shaped flat cut-out balusters on the front porch and entry gate that trumpet welcome to all visitors.
The interior layout is a combination of dynamic spaces and cozy ones. The entry hall is small in footprint but is bathed in sunlight from three directions via big windows and a light monitor high above. This tall space contrasts with the horizontal expanse of main living spaces (family room, kitchen, dining, and sun room) that are open to one another across the view-side of the house. The family room and master bed room directly above it occupy the spot on the site where the view is most dramatic, although all of the bed rooms are on the second floor and all but one have spectacular water views. A cozy and inward-focused study with a small stone fireplace, window seats, and substantial woodwork painted in warm neutral colors (chosen by the interior designer Patricia Hessel Interiors of Fairfield, Ct.) faces the front yard and occupies the only portion of the house that does not have a direct water view.