House at the Gay Head Light
House at the Gay Head Light
1,850 square feet
Peter Mauss, Esto
This house is the antithesis of the "trophy house" so derided (often wrongly) on the Cape and Islands today. Rather than lots of show-off space, it contains only the minimum square footage necessary for weekend and vacation retreats for a family of five. One builder assured the client that it was not possible to build a four bedroom house today in less than 2000 square feet. The 1850 square feet of this house designed by Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architect Builders, however, comfortably accommodates the family and frequent friends and relatives.
This budget-driven need for maximum efficiency in use of footprint and volume was a major determinate of the form. The main level (second floor) has an open floor plan and a tall ceiling in the living room to make the space feel bigger. Wrap-around windows also expand the space and provide views in every direction. This one tall, light-filled and dramatic space offers a release from the tight spaces of the rest of the house. The exposed and shaped rafter ends, the pattern of shingles and cedar boards, and the entry porch brackets, decorate the economical shape of the exterior.
The house was located on a line extending out to the lighthouse. From the third floor interior window, the light house appears in the round exterior window, the "oculus", that is across the clerestory level of the living room below.
Another major determinate of the form was the relationship of the 28’ height limit and the ocean views. The property had not been advertised (or priced) as having a water view, but our review of the topography suggested it should. By climbing a tree on the site we determined there was a water view that improved as elevation went up. This implied occupying the house to the full extent of the height limit would maximize the view.
To fit three floors within 28’ and produce a house with pitched roofs, we made the third floor a smaller footprint than the lower floors, allowing the third floor mass to emerge out of the lower roof. This shallow-pitched roofscape implied a bungalow character that we felt fit well in the island wide eclectic architectural context. There are common themes that our design shares with the more immediate neighbors, like white cedar shingle cladding, minimal exterior paint, and orientation to the view.
The context of the house is dominated by the Gay Head lighthouse and its verticality. We felt the form of the compact three story house could relate to the landscape in a similar way to the lighthouse. Both appear tall and vertical as they emerge from the scrub oaks that blanket the adjacent hills.
In an article written for Cape Cod Magazine, the architectural historian, Ellen Weiss, related the design of this house to architectural ideas from several different eras. She noted the Romanesque church-like Latin cross plan and west facing window wall; the Elizabethan country house-like solid below and more glassy above; the Frank Lloyd Wright-like sequence from dark entry below to light living spaces above.