What started as a simple renovation in Chatham turns into a major overhaul for a family from Atlanta.BY LAUREL KORNHISER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN CUTRONA
One minute the sun backlights the marsh through a filter of smoky gray clouds. As evening sets in a few hours later, the sky is awash in watercolor pinks and blues. The hunting osprey is now in her nest, the heron hunkers down and hides, and the paddling kayakers seen earlier in the day have stowed their craft. “It’s a show by the hour,” says interior designer Alice Duthie.
With their twin chairs positioned to witness this daily spectacle, is it any wonder that Duthie’s clients, transplants from Atlanta, bucked the trend and headed north to Chatham? Their Cape Cod home is ideally situated at the center of a natural bowl, with its bank of sliders opening to the marsh and the Eel River, which flows from Taylor’s Pond to Nantucket Sound. It took years to find this view.
Though the view was perfect, the original house was a 1980s sprawler, and its bay windows and chopped-up rooms fragmented rather than framed the ever-changing picture outside. Redesigned by Duthie and rebuilt by Stello Construction Inc., the new home is much more suited to its stunning setting.
Duthie’s clients originally contacted her to help in choosing paint colors and to discuss taking out one wall in the living space. As they delved into the project, it soon became apparent that the house, added onto twice over the years, had serious flaws, including uneven floors and an awkwardly situated fireplace. The fireplace was, in fact, the catalyst for many of the structural changes. In order to create the open plan and two-story living that the clients desired, the fireplace would have to go.
Once the couple committed to a major overhaul, they were soon flying up from Atlanta once a month to consult with Duthie and Stello Construction. The house was taken down to the studs and the subflooring. While the builders were busy stripping and rebuilding the house, Duthie helped her clients re-envision all of the interior spaces. Pictures of her work featured in a 2010 Cape Cod Magazine article, along with the interiors from the movie “As Good as It Gets,” inspired many of the design choices. The living room sofa is called “Harmony,” and the design of the home reflects this theme.
In the original home, one of the five bedrooms sat right over the living room. During the renovation, that bedroom was moved forward, creating a two-story living room with a soaring stone fireplace and a wall of windows that allows an unparalleled view of the salt marsh and floods the room with light. The living room sofa and the dining room chairs are covered in ultra-white leather, and two armchairs facing the view were reupholstered in a blue soleil fabric. These fabrics are easy to care for and stand up to the sunlight, moisture and salty breezes that might blow in through the sliders.
In the main-floor master bedroom, white leather was again used, in this case for the headboard and bench at the foot of the bed. A custom-mixed midnight blue paint creates an accent wall in the master bedroom and picks up on the blue featured elsewhere in the home. Spoiled by their huge master bathroom in Atlanta, the couple did have to accept a smaller space in their Chatham home, but they made it more spa-like with a random glass and stone backsplash configured like a waterfall.
The original kitchen, with its bay windows, was dark, but with the redesign, it now takes full advantage of the light and the view. Initially for the kitchen, Duthie says, “We were looking at black and white. Black is easy to work with.” But when a kitchen consultant pulled out a piece of Mouser cabinetry in cobalt blue with a chocolate glaze and blue pearl granite, they knew they had found the perfect colors to complement the white cabinetry. The new kitchen is not only strikingly beautiful, but also efficient, including a wall of appliances—freezer, refrigerator, wine refrigerator, wall oven, microwave and pantry—all clad in cabinetry that blends together seamlessly.
Sensible use of space became a motto for the home’s design. Built-ins were added everywhere possible, and most are cleverly camouflaged. Storage was a particular challenge in the office space, which needed to accommodate both clients. With skillful use of built-ins for computers and other accessories, the room has space for a small library and an easy chair, which once belonged to the client’s grandmother and is now perfectly positioned for reading in front of the fireplace.
Family artifacts are found everywhere in the home: glass sculptures made by one sister sit on open shelves, and a niche holds a ship’s model made by the wife’s grandfather and named for one of her aunts. Such treasured family artifacts give depth to the fresh, new interiors. Keeping the stunning setting always in view is some of the art purchased for the home: a photo on canvas of the marsh by Kelsey-Kennard hangs in the master bedroom, and a Sylvia Cunningham Kolb painting depicting Cockle Cove is displayed in a guest bedroom.
A key factor in the renovation was the need to accommodate a family heirloom—a baby grand piano, a memorial gift from the client’s mother. A space opened up during the reconfiguration of the original entry, and using a newspaper template of the piano, Duthie realized it was not only the right size, but it also offered a water view for pianists. While much was accommodated in the new configuration, what could not be added was a foyer. Realizing this, the client had one simple request: “I asked for nine inches, enough for a little closet with hooks.” This was accomplished and serves to illustrate Duthie’s design philosophy: “It’s not what you have, but what you make of what you have.” An inlaid compass rose on the entry floor makes the modest space memorable.
While the piano was a heart-touching gift from the client’s mother, a less tangible but more precious legacy was her dedication to providing a getaway home where all family members could gather: “My parents had a lake house in South Carolina. My mother wanted her children to have a house where all could congregate.” With five bedrooms, including a space for future grandchildren, this Chatham home makes that dream come true for generations to come, all within the scope of an ever-changing timeless view.