When a recently retired couple decided to build a house on Gloucester’s back coast, they asked architect John DaSilva to use local materials that tell a story. DaSilva, the design director of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders (PSD), was thrilled. After all, Gloucester’s profile as a bucolic summer community on Cape Ann is only part of its rich history.
PSD, an integrated Cape Cod architecture and construction firm, relished finding special pieces that reflect the deep history of this North Shore town to add to the shingle-wrapped home overlooking Brace Rock. A fireplace surround was made from granite mined from the Johnson Quarry in Rockport. Serving as a coat is a cut newspaper that had been stored for use on the Constitution of the USS—“Old Ironsides” – and finally buried in mud and recovered from the Charleston shipyard. Paintings by Côte-Nord artists are hung throughout the house.
“The owners love the character of Gloucester,” says DaSilva, “and so do I. It’s a very vibrant waterfront. There is the working harbor and a shoreline of rocks and ledges with fishing boats, freighters and sailboats visible on the horizon. The architectural history is also incredibly rich.
For the couple, longtime residents of Boston, the treasure trove of materials was perfect. “We wanted a house with an architectural personality, but it didn’t seem out of place,” explains the owner.
The details aren’t the only thing driving the dynamism here. DaSilva’s skillful touch gives the whole form and space a spirit of movement, inviting visitors to new discoveries. A touch of anticipation begins at the front door. The earth-facing front porch is defined by a “cobweb” screen wall, as DaSilva describes it. The ocean side is largely left free for large expanses of glass, providing pleasant ocean views.
It was crucial for everyone involved that the house reflect the culture and architecture of the region. “The overall style and ethos here is contemporary Shingle style,” says DaSilva. Eclectic details dot the exterior: subtle curves in the shape of the house, impeccably crafted shingle brackets, and a knife-edged roof with no fascia panel add distinction and charm. The large-scale flat screen wall arouses interest. “It’s very emphatic,” DaSilva says. “The big tassel in the center is set low so the opening seems compressed. There’s a certain tension, if you will, of anticipation. An off-center front door strikes a laid-back note.” a little more unexpected and mysterious.” Also, it worked better for the floor plan, he adds.
Plantings by PSD Principal Landscape Architect Rob Calderaro also draw the eye to the entrance. Feather reed grass lends movement and grace to the front side. Large masses of plantings, such as Black-Eyed Susans, Russian Sage and Fountain Grass provide privacy and interest. A berm and masses of flowers add ocean-side privacy. “Because we are an integrated architecture, landscape architecture and construction company, the process was seamless,” says Calderaro.
The entrance offers a direct view of the ocean to the back of the house. On the wall is a striking painting by marine painter Frederick Judd Waugh. Upon arrival, visitors pass a flight of stairs to the second floor and a butler’s pantry, and then reach the centrally located Great Room. The living, dining and kitchen areas are arranged in an open plan, with each space defined by individual ceiling treatments: at the highest point of the living room ceiling are checkerboard plank and batten panels. The dining room has an octagonal dome highlighted by a light from the cove. Nearby are built-in geometric shelves. The first floor also houses the master suite, with a private terrace and stunning water views. On the second floor is a guest suite, office, music room and sitting area with patio doors that open onto a porch above the living room.
Interiors, by Dennis Duffy of the Duffy Design Group in Boston and Tampa, Florida, are filled with soft colors and natural textures. Duffy has worked with the owners for years on other projects. “Whenever we build a house with a strong architectural framework, we try to complement the structure and connect it to the surrounding environment,” says Duffy. It was also important to keep a somewhat informal tone. Wilson Kelsey Design was also involved in the interior design.
A muted interior palette continues throughout the home, with shades of taupe, gray and creamy white, occasionally tinted with a deeper color. The floor is oak of random width of characteristic quality, stained in honey color.
Even the most understated pieces have character. In the dressing room is porcelain tile flooring, a hint of gothic spirit and, yes, another view of the ubiquitous Atlantic Ocean, the best feature of all. The owners realize their good fortune. Said the owner with a smile: “We like to sit in the living room, in our comfortable armchairs, have a coffee and look at the ocean. We are lucky to be here.