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TIM THURMAN DID NOT JUST DESIGN AND BUILD an addition for the house at Sunset Rock in Gloucester. He celebrated its past, enshrined its defining feature, and almost certainly saved it.
“Everyone who looked at this house considered it a tear-down,” says the architect, whose Rockport firm, Treehouse Design, has built houses on Cape Ann for 23 years. “And my wife and I had no intention of moving” from their own home.
“We were happy in our West Gloucester home, which Tim designed,” says his wife, Cheryl. “We loved the location on the salt marsh. But a client of his company kept telling him about the Harvey cottage.”
Originally just 1,300 square feet, the 1904 cottage in Annisquam is a picture-postcard example of English Arts and Crafts style. Designed and built by Charles Harvey, who applied his architecture training to this one summer home before becoming a Swedenborgian minister, it features prominent eave brackets, arched transom windows, high dark oak wainscoting, and red cedar shingle cladding. The house’s most salient feature is the enormous granite rock that has always been a part of its foundation — the house was literally bolted to the rock with steel rods in 1904.
Harvey’s daughter, Dorothea, also a Swedenborgian minister, died at Sunset Rock in 2010. That was when Tim first heard of the house. “His client said, ‘You have to save this house!’ We would have resisted if we had not fallen in love the first time we saw it,” Cheryl says.
“You don’t tear down old houses like this,” says her husband. “But it was small and in rough shape. We saw that if we added to the south side, we would get great solar gain, bring the house down to the ground level, have sunny new space, and do it all without zoning issues.” In fall 2010, the Thurmans bought the Harvey cottage and restored the main floor. Soon after, they broke ground to expand it.
The 1,500-square-foot addition wraps around the original house. The old living room and bedrooms are as before, though restored, but there is a new entry and new terraces, roof-mounted solar panels, thickly insulated walls, a handsome new kitchen/living/dining area, and a master bedroom and en suite bath. Best of all, Tim made Sunset Rock itself a powerful feature of the new front hall, where it bulges out from under the stairs. “Originally we wanted to enclose the rock, but it grew on us,” says Tim. “The curve is a lovely form.”
The rock did pose a challenge: Some blasting was required to make way for the water and sewer lines. “At one point, the house itself was shored up in the air while we worked under it,” Tim says.
The addition itself is a product of Bensonwood, a Walpole, New Hampshire, company that prefabricates timber-framed structures, then erects them on site. “I came up with the design and worked with their engineers to realize it,” Tim says. “One day they appear,” Cheryl says, “and three days later you have a house!”
The new rooms feature “roasted’’ red oak flooring, walnut counters, and European beech cabinetry. Exposed beams are suspended from black metal strap hangers, and visible metal tie rods are part of the massive wood trusses made by Bensonwood. An artisan-fabricated bronze baluster with wooden railings is planned for the main stair hall.
Where once the house perched atop Sunset Rock, it now flows over and around it, making space for the Thurmans and their guests as it opens to terraces and gardens. “Our goal was to make room for our families to visit,” says Tim. Adds Cheryl about their new southern exposure, “I have the first garden I’ve grown in 20 years.”
“The Swedenborgians were very aligned with Arts and Crafts,” Tim says. “This house has come full circle: The prefabricated part built in the shop and assembled on site is industrialized handcraft.”
Regina Cole is a writer in Gloucester. Send comments to email@example.com.