It would be hard to find a better example of strange architectural bedfellows than the combination of buildings that forms what is one of the most intriguing and attractive houses on Cape Cod. “This is the most unique project I have ever done,” says history buff and period perfectionist Judy Sobolik of Heritage Design in San Mateo, California. “Believe me, it’s not your usual dwelling.”
Lost to history is why two houses and a small commercial building were moved from various parts of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard and joined together on a beautiful ocean-side site on the mainland. The seemingly random moving and conjoining began in 1869 when a prefabricated Gothic cottage arrived via barge from the famed Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist Church campground in Oak Bluffs. “Who knows why?” asks Sobolik. “Perhaps it was just surplus.” In the ensuing decades, two more structures, one a small store with Gothic touches, the other a traditional two-story New England farmhouse, arrived separately from various locations on the Cape. In the late 1800s, the buildings were connected, the shop sandwiched between the houses. By 1900, the sprawling jigsaw of a house was an inn for 20 years before being sold as a residence.
Leap ahead to 2008, when the quirky, now deteriorated house was on the market and its space, history, and offbeat qualities proved irresistible to a dynamic San Francisco couple with six children, now ages 12 to 22. Bicoastal living was already something of a routine for them. The husband, a native Cape Codder from a big New England family, had grown up just two miles away. For 15 years or more, the family summered on the Cape, renting different houses, always on the lookout for the right one to buy. Despite its obvious decrepitude, the sagging, weary giant of a house spoke to them, wrinkles, warts, and all. “It would be hard to find anything like this anywhere,” says the husband. “With all its different angles and heights, this is very much a Cape Cod house.”
To do their prize catch justice, they hired E.J. Jaxtimer, a well-known custom builder in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and Sobolik, whose job it was to research and design historically accurate millwork and paneling, as well as determine the new layout. “E.J.’s work and crews are legendary, and Judy had already worked on our house in the Bay Area, so we knew we had the best possible talent,” says the wife, who also worked with Marsha Malone of Nautique, a home furnishings company and interior design store in Brewster, Massachusetts, which supplied much of the furnishings.
To renovate the approximately 5,500-square-foot house, Jaxtimer, who says working on the project “was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege,” had to coordinate with local historic commissions before any building could begin, a process that took 15 months. Next, each of the original three sections had to be jacked up and rolled out of the way so his team could excavate for a new poured-concrete foundation. The old shop was so far gone, it had to be rebuilt before the house could be reassembled on the new foundation, which now accommodates a large media room and sleeping spaces. A new two-car garage and generous mudroom with a bunk room above were also added.
The exterior is now a spruced-up and healthy replica of the original. Inside, it feels as though crisp ocean breezes have blown through to eliminate the original jumble of little rooms in favor of fresh open spaces. Among the most striking new elements is the custom lighting, all handmade by Eloise Pickard, whose business, Sandy Springs Gallery, is just outside Atlanta in Adairsville, Georgia. She specializes in “the period when gas became electric,” and according to Sobolik, “she’s an American gem who came to see the house first, then returned to oversee the lighting installation.”
Another of Sobolik’s bold moves was to turn the entire Gothic cottage into one big kitchen. She took down the original 7-foot-6-inch ceiling to expose a soaring 15-foot-high peak. “It’s essential to have a great kitchen with so many kids and guests,” says Sobolik. “The 5-foot range with two griddles can turn out tons of pancakes.” Next to the kitchen, the old shop now contains the dining room, den, and a guest bedroom suite. In the old farmhouse, the new 25-by-25-foot living room has multiple seating groupings, a game table, fireplace, and long side-by-side sofas facing the ocean. “A very congenial room,” says Sobolik. “Almost like an inn.”
Leonards New England in Seekonk, Massachusetts, was the source for the beautiful handmade beds for the master bedroom and two guest rooms. In California, Jessica Sobolik, Judy’s daughter and partner in the firm, sourced plumbing fixtures, fabrics, porch furniture, tile, hardware, and dozens of paint colors.
Last summer, two weeks after arriving, the family hosted a dual bridal shower for two cousins who were each about to get married. Thirty-five houseguests filled every corner, sleeping everywhere — on the wraparound porches as well as in the bunk room and bedrooms. “Kids particularly love to sleep on the porch,” says Sobolik. “These owners love to fill the house with family and friends.”
“It’s our one-of-a-kind dream home,” says the husband. “We reconnect here with old friends and hold family reunions. Every year when we arrive, it feels like coming home. Best of all, the kids love it even more than we do.”