Classic on Cape Cod

July 13, 2018

A Cape Cod home updated by its original architect and given a sunny new interior design attests to the fact that a classic is always timeless.

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Michael Partenio    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

True, it’s a well-used adage, but sometimes the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. Architect Richard Wills, like his father, famed American architect Royal Barry Wills (1895-1962), favored beautifully scaled traditional homes and fine craftsmanship. How a house functioned was every bit as important as how it looked.

This Osterville, Massachusetts, house, with its symmetrical dormers, pitched roof, and handsome central chimney (all father and son signatures), was designed by Richard Wills back in 1986. By the time the current owners arrived, despite the home’s irresistible charm, a twenty-first-century update was needed. Having successfully renovated numerous homes in the past, the couple had more than enough experience. “We’ve also done houses in Florida, Cape Cod, and New Hampshire; probably all together almost a hundred,” says the husband, who deals in high-end real estate.

Their penchant for rescuing and refurbishing houses has made the pair familiar with a huge number of experts, among them Richard Wills. Without hesitation, they smartly enlisted Wills (after all, who could know the place better?) and contractor Craig Ashworth of E.B. -Norris—another longtime acquaintance—to help. Sadly, not long after the project was completed, Wills passed away at the age of eighty-eight. “Dick and I worked together for many years,” says Ashworth, remembering his late colleague. “Here, we kept within the original vocabulary of the house. The strong design and sense of detail gave us a perfect template.”

Interior designers Richard FitzGerald and his colleague Kathleen Sullivan, with whom the couple have also collaborated for decades, lent their input, too.

Of course, before any decoration could take place, there were other more pressing matters. The heating and electrical systems needed upgrading, as did baths and windows. In addition to necessities, there also came a slew of thoughtful enhancements to elevate Wills’s original concept even further.

The talented owners, for instance, tackled the grounds, designing a landscape befitting the classical look of the house. They moved dozens of trees to let in light and form a privacy barrier, and they created a pretty shell driveway that speaks to Osterville’s watery location.

Inside, you’ll find the rooms brightened by new French doors and glazed paneling finished by decorative painter Eder Tatara. Some ceilings have been raised and some walls tumbled to encourage a better flow. There’s also a spacious master suite and a brand-new kitchen. “It was a fairly big renovation,” says FitzGerald. “Every room was touched.”

To devise a kitchen with an open concept, an adjacent summer porch was transformed into a sunny sitting area. Outfitted with antique rattan furnishings, the spot makes a fine perch for surveying the lush garden. At the kitchen’s opposite end, a wall came down to make way for a family room with a fireplace. The work area occupies the middle ground, its pristine Carrara-topped island and counters creating a perfect contrast to the wide-board floors.“The idea,” says FitzGerald, “was to make the house more like people want to live today.”

The pantry has been given new marble counters as well as cabinets sporting blue interiors, the better to show off a host of pretty wares. Most likely, however, the La Cornue range is the thing that nabs the spotlight. Nestled in its own tile-lined niche, the grand appliance is flanked by sleek stainless-steel cabinets, crafted by Scott Horgan of
Horgan Millwork, that seem to make its color—the azure of a French sky—that much more engaging.

Splashes of blue show up throughout the quietly elegant house. Consistently favoring pastel colors and understated furnishings, the design-savvy owners have been able to transfer many pieces—including beloved antiques—from one house to the next. Theirs is a timeless, tasteful aesthetic that complements Wills’s architecture.

Take the living room. Newly painted and glazed (goodbye dark paneling), it’s altogether airy. A large French screen adds drama, but it’s as subtle as the jaunty trim on the upholstered arm chairs. A Chinese-inspired, linen-wrapped coffee table anchors the congenial setting and, for added interest, cupboards at the fireplace wall display leather-bound antique books and porcelain figurines.

The nearby dining room exudes the same old-school, ever-so-comfortable vibe. It’s a room where, if you’re lucky, you might be invited for Sunday brunch or a holiday feast. The FitzGerald-designed floor, with its stenciled pattern of lattice, leaves, and berries hand-painted by James Alan Smith (who’s also responsible for painting the foyer’s dramatic floor), underscores the owners’ passion for gardening, as does a cache of botanical prints. The gleaming dining table and sideboard are antique. To accommodate the length of the latter, an existing door had to be eliminated. But as Ashworth jokes, “a useful sideboard is more important.” The slipcovered dining chairs—lest the room seem too formal—have been cleverly painted white.

Were the home’s overall ambiance not so serene, it wouldn’t be a surprise to come upon the red study. The unabashedly cozy study is located between the living room and master suite. The husband, who favors the room for television watching, launched the idea of raising the ceiling and adding a fireplace to make it even more inviting. Nautical prints and paintings line the walls. There’s a marble mosaic inlay top on an antique occasional table, and the welcoming sofa is clad in a gorgeous thirty-five-year-old Arthur Lee chintz.

Make your way to the owners’ private quarters and the palette quiets down again. The bedroom walls are covered in a blue-and-white-striped Peter Fasano paper, and chintz curtains, also in blue and white, temper the sun in case someone wants a nap on the French directoire daybed. New French doors provide easy access to the patio and pool. The renovation also created an enlarged bathroom with a glorious shower, marble tile, and custom cabinetry.

As wonderful as all the alterations are, what stands out is that Wills’s design has been sensitively modernized without diminishing its character. It’s a tribute to these accomplished owners and their adept team. Lovely to begin with, this New England classic is just about perfect now.
Project Team
Architect: Richard Wills, Royal Barry Wills Associates
Interior design: Richard FitzGerald Company
Builder: E.B. Norris & Son Builders

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