Bridging the Centuries


By Lisa Cavanaugh • Photography by Jay Groccia 

 Perched on a gently sloping parcel of land that edges Oyster Pond in Chatham, the Reuben Collins home holds within it a story of many centuries.

“It is a slice of heaven,” say the homeowners of this architectural gem listed as a Massachusetts Historic Registered property. “We are amazed and impressed that it has remained intact all these years. And we do think about the ingenuity of the family that built this beautiful house.”

Collins, born in 1730 to an influential Chatham family of millers, had the house originally built on Crowell Road for his young bride, Zuriah Ryder, in 1751. Collins’ descendants, who included sea captains and antique dealers, lived and worked in the home for nearly 190 years. When it was sold in the 1940s to Matthias Plum, who owned eight acres on Oyster Pond, the house was moved to its present location. It was common practice to move homes from busy to secluded locations in the early and mid-20th century.

Through several other owners, among them the Munson Art Gallery family who used it as a summer home, the house grew and expanded, even as the property itself was subdivided. Additions of a second floor, a sitting room with a fireplace, a larger kitchen, a boathouse and dock on the pond increased its footprint.  But throughout the decades, the 18th-century core of the house remained—and charmed each of its inhabitants.

When the current owners first looked at the home in 2012, they fell in love with it instantly and knew they wanted to preserve the “treasure center” of the house. The opportunity for them, and their team of architects, designers and builders, was to create a wonderful and modern family retreat that still retained the essence of the original home.

Bob Evans, of L&R Architectural Design in Brewster, had worked on their previous home on Cross Street in Chatham. He saw that the family needed a new floor plan with separate living areas to accommodate their now college-age children. Evans knew the challenge would be to “keep the house situated where it was on the property and positioned toward the pond; to create new living spaces, but still make it a comfortably sized family home.”

Encore Construction in Dennisport was brought in to handle the renovations, while Margaret MacNeil of MFM Interiors in Truro directed the interior design, finish selections and furnishings. “Having an integrated team kept the project running smoothly and we shared ideas and insights,” says MacNeil. “Our client wanted the home to be completed for her husband’s birthday, which put us on an ambitious schedule, but we all worked together and got it done in time.” Other craftspeople involved in the project included Earth & Stone landscaping in Harwich and Bass River Carpentry.

In the end, the renovations added more than 5,000 square feet, but the 1700s can still be felt as soon as you enter the home. The owners admit that they love every single thing about their new house, and when they walk through the front door into the foyer that combines old and new, they feel comfort and calm. That space, which bridges the centuries, is the heart of the home.

The front door has the original leaded sidelights, and beneath one’s feet in the foyer are the same bricks that Collins once stood upon. The ceiling has been opened up and lit by a vintage-inspired chandelier from Nauset Lantern. There is also a decorative coal hopper tucked next to a narrow winding staircase. It may no longer be needed to help warm the residents, but its inclusion in the renovation suggests an attachment to the history of the house.

The three-flued chimney opens to fireplaces in a cozy sitting room to the west, a wainscoted dining room to the east and an expansive living room to the south. This living area is bisected by a weight-bearing beam in the center, which has been cleverly utilized to divide the room into a “winter” living room with a couch facing the fire, and a “summer” living room with a twin couch positioned to view the pond through picture windows. This incredible view is shared by everyone who visits—each of the five bedroom suites, two on the first floor and three on the second, feature windows facing the water. Outside, the whole family can enjoy a landscaped central courtyard bordered by an infinity pool that gives the illusion of flowing directly into Oyster Pond.

The soft, yet sophisticated palette throughout is reminiscent of sea and sand, as befits a Cape Cod home. There is a confluence of contemporary furnishings and antiques, some with innovative uses (An heirloom French linen press now houses beach towels, for example.) In the kitchen, there is both a family owned West Barnstable table that holds their own memories, as well as a newly constructed center island breakfast bar made from wood from the 1700s part of the house, repurposed for 2015 but still bearing markings from the original builders.

With plenty of space for their children to spread out and pursue their interests—a music room and recording studio for their son and an artists’ nook for their daughter—the house truly fits the homeowners’ lifestyle. They love to entertain and play host to family and friends, and are overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that their dream of a home on Cape Cod, where memories can be created with their loved ones, has come true.

“Everyone loves to relax and read on the couch facing the pond. The home is perfect for our family and friends,” says the homeowner, who credits all of the people who helped pull the renovations together.

“There is something very special about the craftsmen on Cape Cod. They have a personal pride in their work that is unmatched by any other place we have experienced.”

Two hundred and sixty five years of craftsmanship and design have gone into this Chatham house and the current owners are hoping their family will enjoy it for years to come. “If the day comes that it is no longer our home, we hope whomever is lucky enough to own it next can feel how we cared for it, loved it and how it brought joy to our family.”

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