As a TV producer of docudramas, my producing partner and I meet some very fascinating people from around the world.
We are currently developing a design show, which I have always wanted to do. The show features two brothers who are sought-after contractors. They, along with their team, are now trying to save the antique homes in Litchfield County, Connecticut, where they grew up. This has become their passion.
There is something to making something old new again rather than discarding the old, to salvage and reuse materials, that makes for interesting design. I learned this from doing a complete renovation on our 1700s home on the Hudson River years ago.
The original home was 1,400 square feet. To accommodate our lifestyle we added an additional 3,200 sguare feet, using every bit of usable original wood, brick, beams and flooring in order to keep the feel and integrity of the original home. To tear it down was never an option; to work with and save the original structure, modernizing it, that was always our intention.
Driving through the back roads of the Cape you still see many antique Cape homes, although that seems to be changing rapidly as these historic homes are taken down and new construction goes up. Are we losing some of the charm of the Cape, where white picket fences laden with roses welcome visitors into these weathered cottages and homes? Some have been lovingly renovated, with renovations that respect the history of the home and landscape of the Cape.
There are many fine local contractors and craftsman that specialize in old home restoration. C H Newton is one and highly respected for beautiful renovations. David Newton said this about renovating these classic gems: ”We love bringing back history; you have to have a passion to undertake this type of commitment.” People like David Newton see the beauty, the strong lines and the history of a home built 50, 200, or even 300 years ago. These were sturdy, well-built homes made with materials that have lasted many lifetimes over.
As I arrived back on the Cape for the summer, I noticed two more homes in my neighborhood leveled to make way for new construction. Not only are historic homes coming down that date back to the early 1700s, but so many of the small beach cottages built in the 1950s and ’60s are also coming down.
I was talking to my friend Jane, a lifelong summer resident who has now made Falmouth her home year-round. Jane’s family had a quaint summer cottage on Mariners Lane, where they spent all their summers. The house had three bedrooms, one bath, living room, kitchen and outdoor shower. There were seven kids in the family, along with her mom and dad. She said, “We had our big home in Wellesley in the winter, but nothing compared to our Mariners Lane house. It was tight quarters for our big family but no one minded; we were at the Cape, we didn’t need need a big summer home. My mom encouraged us to be outside all day, we had bunk beds in each room, one chest of drawers where we were allowed only two drawers each. We had a clothes line and a picnic table where we ate all of our meals unless it was raining. We didn’t need big. We made it work and, looking back, those are some of the best memories we have as a family.”
What were once affordable beach cottages that families flocked to and made work over the years are sacrificed for more indoor space. Where families used to play kickball and volleyball in the back yard, families now sit on decks or inside for more space. However time marches on, lifestyles change with the time and so do our wants and desires for that perfect summer home.
Lisa Hessler is a realtor in Sandwich who specializes in historic real estate. You can find Lisa at historichomescapecod.com. Thirteen years ago, before she was a realtor, she and her family wanted an authentic Cape antique home. As a realtor took her around, they would try to highlight all the new things the house had to offer, overlooking all the original treasures only an old house can boast. They would say “Oh the floors are uneven but you can have them replaced or sanded down.” Lisa said she was horrified. “No, I want authentic. The big old wide-plank, uneven floors are what I love!” She said she has so many clients who are looking for authenticity; they prefer to have a house that may need a ton of work, so they can retain the character and history of the home. The homes listed on the site start with the years they were built beginning with, 1600 through 1700, 1700 to 1890, and they continue all the way up to 1945.
My grandmother’s home in Falmouth recently sold again. I saw the new owners had a big dumpster in the driveway and a builder’s sign on the front lawn. I stopped by and said, “If you ever decide to change out the doors, please let me know; I would love one,” because everyone I loved so much opened and walked through those doors, since my grandparents bought the 1890 Victorian in 1948. She told me they were renovating the kitchen, porch and downstairs bedroom but keeping most everything else in the home as it was. They did not use three of the original doors and graciously gave them to me. One I used in my 1836 home in Connecticut as my master bedroom headboard and the other two at the Summer House as barn doors into the guest room downstairs.
Don’t bypass a classic antique Cape Cod home. Before thinking of doing a tear-down, consider the history of the home and the quality material used, some from 300 years ago. Consider retaining the beautiful landscape of the Cape.
I’ll end with a quote from the wonderful book—“The Big House” written by George Howe Colt—a memoir of a family that summered in this Cape house for a century and sadly decided to sell it; however, the new owners Forbes and David lovingly restored this grand Victorian built in 1903. Thus the poignant quote by Mr. Howe at the end of the book: “Its first century had ended, but its second was only beginning. As the ebbing tide, at some indiscernible moment, begins to turn, the house too, had reached an ebb, and was slowly filling up again…”