Cottage Times Two

The Old House Web

By Anna Kasabian
Photos by: Julian Wass

inside bedroom
Cottage charm: This bedroom maintains its original board walls and floors. Stained glass, now restored, is also original. Only a fresh coat of paint was added.

David and Sharon Robinson summered in the same house on Martha's Vineyard since 1965. But as the couple's circle of family and friends grew, their Carpenter Gothic cottage in the summer colony of Oak Bluffs felt cramped.

They thought about adding on, but feared losing the cottage's charm. Cape Cod architect Mark Hutker came up with a solution: Buy the cottage next door and unite the two buildings with common architectural elements.

"When I said that, I saw a lightbulb go off," Hutker says.

Within a year, the Robinsons owned the house next door. Hutker got to work. His goal was to update and freshen the cottages. His constraint was to do it without compromising the original look and feel of a simple summer cottage -- outside or inside.

The original cottage (right) is informally and simply connected to the second cottage (left) by a common courtyard.

Old and new materials blend seamlessly on this sidewall.

Cottage porch remains a gathering place for friends and family, or a quiet place to read a book.

Tub and hardware in the new master bath came from the second cottage. Woodwork and windows are faithful to the original Gothic style.

New stair colors evoke images of the summer sea and sky.

Oak Bluffs, founded in 1835 as a Methodist revival camp, holds one of the most perfectly preserved collections of Carpenter Gothic cottages in the country. Unlike the more substantial year-round homes on the Cape, these simple structures were never intended for winter use. They were simply more comfortable replacements of the earlier canvas tents. Their whimsical colors and fancy woodwork reflect the origins of Oak Bluffs as a vacation retreat.

In keeping with the original nature of the cottages, David and Sharon wanted any new work to be low-key.

"It's a simpler life here," Sharon says.

David adds that the couple's style of entertaining in the summer is "uncomplicated."

"We wanted to retain that," he says. "Our year-round home is more formal; this is about instant relaxation."

The second cottage serves as guest quarters for friends and family. Plumbing and electrical systems were updated. A new kitchen is the only major change in the otherwise perfectly preserved house.

With summertime overflow taken care of, Hutker turned to satisfying David and Sharon's other desire. They wanted to be able to use the cottages in the cooler months when guests and summertime crowds were gone. Rather than winterize one, or both of the cottages, Hutker suggested an addition to the original cottage. The addition is tucked in behind the old cottage, and out of view from the street. The new kitchen, family room, master bedroom and bath give David and Sharon a private -- and easily heated -- retreat.

To unify the two homes, Hutker built a fireplace on the outside wall of the new family room. This faces the narrow space between the two homes. A terrace and garden visually weave the elements together. Other work the firm completed included restoring (rather than replacing) the windows, re-roofing, porch repair, and shingling the addition to match the original siding.

"These were simple structures, with a simple purpose -- to dwell comfortably on the water," says Hutker. "What's charming is the utter simplicity and casual way of life they support."

New electrical and plumbing work is concealed behind the same wide boards that originally covered the inside walls. The look of the old walls was duplicated in the addition. Carpenters measured and cut every board in four-inch increments. Then they hand nailed, patched, sanded, and painted everything to match. Mouldings and finishes are faithful to the original buildings.

With vintage techniques come vintage, um, features. As any old-house owner knows, wood contracts when it dries and expands again when humidity is in the air.

"My clients will call and say, 'my gosh there's a crack between the boards'," Hutker says. "I tell them that's because the wood is alive and reacting to the natural environment. That's the natural beauty of it.

Architect: Mark Hutker
Company: Hutker Architects, Inc., Falmouth, MA

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