Brian Vanden Brink
Irvine and Fleming
Hydrangea Walk is the most recognizable house on Chatham’s Shore Road, a boulevard set above the Atlantic and the location of the fabled Chatham Bars Inn, Cape Cod’s only remaining grand historic ocean front hotel. Hydrangea Walk’s public façade, with its sweeping lawn and central hydrangea-lined walkway, is an icon that has been the subject of tourists’ photos and post cards since the house was originally built in 1938. After many unsympathetic alterations, the house was tired when our client purchased it. They requested that we design and construct major additions and renovations to transform it into a comfortable place for contemporary living and entertaining without diminishing its historic character.
The circulation through the existing house was circuitous. The daily living spaces were only accessible to the rest of the house through a butler’s pantry and the work area of the kitchen. The gracious lawn and a huge ancient oak tree on the landward side were separated from the house by a driveway, parking area and garage. The dark interiors had very little connection to this spectacular yard of several acres and its Western exposure.
Aside from enlarging a few windows to take better advantage of ocean views, we recreated the Shore Road elevation, with its Colonial Revival center core and telescoping end wings, to be identical to the existing, as we did not want to significantly alter a facade that is so often used to represent one of the Cape’s most elegant towns. Both the front and back elevations of the core were originally designed to appear as symmetrical, center entry fronts: a two story Colonial facing the street and ocean and a one story dormered Cape facing the backyard and the town of Chatham, visible slightly down hill in the distance. Our work maintains this formal, dual entry façade scenario.
We did significantly alter, however, the landward elevation and the sides of the house, increasing the size and formality of the house with Westward projecting wings that form a three sided courtyard. The wings are symmetrical toward the courtyard but become more irregular toward their outer limits. The courtyard is open to the broad lawn and beautiful oak tree. Along with covered porches, terraces in the courtyard and between the house and lawn (designed by landscape architect Hawk Design) provide ample outdoor living and entertaining space. They participate in a sequence that moves from the highly defined space of the interior, to the moderately defined transitional space of porch and terrace, to the undefined land and townscape beyond. The house, great lawn and broad context are now connected visually and functionally.
At the interior, we added corridors on both levels across the back of the historic core. The central entry hall was enlarged and regularized to be scaled and shaped appropriately to the grand house. The corridors are connected to the entry and to stairs in both wings, thus ringing the courtyard with circulation. The stairs and adjacent openings in the floor connect this space to the second floor and allow the upper windows to help flood the lower space with light. The corridors and stairs are open to the kitchen and ball room at the ends to bring Western light into the Eastward facing rooms. Tight, dark spaces and circuitous circulation have been replaced by generous, bright spaces and clear circulation. The old and new portions of the interior are now fully integrated.
New high performance “tight house” systems, detailing and materials have brought the house into compliance with rigorous energy standards. A new carriage and guest house, related to the architecture of the main house but with some independent character, sits to one side of the property and incorporates the cupola from a derelict carriage house that used to sit across the street and block views. Its site is now a field of wild flowers visible from the house in the middle ground between Hydrangea Walk and the ocean beyond.