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Redesigning a tiny Cape Cod cottage for year-round living

A couple’s yearlong house hunt ends at a compact fixer-upper in Dennis.

Fans of minimalist decor, Annika and Walter Richter have a collection of pieces by local artists that they rotate a few times a year. The landscape over the living room credenza is among their favorites. The Danish-modern style credenza and a similar one in the dining area were made by a company in California. Mid-century chairs acquired for a song on Craigslist were reupholstered in Knoll fabric.dan cutrona
Annika Richter on the deck overlooking Scargo Lake. The teak table and chairs are by Kingsley Bate.dan cutrona/Dan Cutrona

To say that Annika Richter’s home in Dennis was in rough shape when she first saw it would be an understatement. The house, built in the 1930s, had been a summer cottage for decades. The layout was choppy, a bathroom jutted into the dining room, a stench clung to the dingy wall-to-wall carpet, and the tiny kitchen had never been renovated.

Yet Richter immediately knew the house was The One. She and her husband, Walter, had lived in Provincetown for years before deciding to rent a home on the mid-Cape to ease his commute to Boston. “We discovered that we really loved the area and decided we wanted to permanently relocate there,” recalls Annika Richter. They had been house hunting for more than a year when she came upon this one, directly on Scargo Lake, in 2012.


“The lake is our backyard, basically, and it’s a walk to the ocean,” says Richter, who also loved the in-town location and hip roof, which creates a soaring ceiling in the living area. “My husband took one look at the house and, before even going inside, he said: ‘Give them a check. We’ll take it.’ ”

Making the home perfect for them would take time and professional help. The couple hired Alison Alessi of A3 Architects to draft plans for a renovation that effectively gutted the house. Says Richter, “We pretty much tore everything out and started over except for the front Dutch door and the fireplace.”

All of the walls in the kitchen and the living and dining spaces were removed to create a wide-open plan, knocking out that awkward bathroom in the dining room as well as a bedroom. The new layout maintains the original footprint of roughly 1,000 square feet. Two wings flank the living area, each containing a bedroom-and-bathroom suite.


“We tried to include details that nod to the old cottage style of the home,” says Alessi. Bleached oak floors, white painted rafters, and new windows throughout create an airy feel. Oversize sliding doors off the main living area open to the deck overlooking the lake. “We wanted to keep the classic front facade intact for historic integrity,” says Alessi. “We could be more modern on the back side, which worked out, because we want the house to feel very open to the lake. Also, since it’s such a small house, we wanted to make sure it was filled with light year round.”

The aesthetic is intentionally spare, a fitting backdrop for the homeowners’ modern treasures. “I grew up part of the time in Germany, so I’m into the mid-century Scandinavian sense of style,” says Richter. “I don’t like a lot of things around. I like the bare minimum and things to be very orderly.”

The couple scoured yard sales, auctions, antique markets, and eBay for mid-century furniture. Four chairs in the living room were gathering dust in someone’s basement. “We bought them for $100 and I had them reupholstered with Knoll fabric,” says Richter.

Every inch of the kitchen needed to be maximized, and the couple found German manufacturer Bulthaup’s cabinet designs both efficient and striking.

Richter also put some sweat equity into the renovation, tackling a bathroom project with help from her brother. “He flew out from Michigan and taught me how to tile,” she says. “That’s part of the beauty of restoring an older house — designing it and working on some of it yourself.”


While the compact floor plan might not suit everyone, Richter considers it the perfect size for two people. “It’s a privilege to live here,” she says. “When you wake up in the morning and see the view of the trees and the lake, it’s beautiful and very calming.”


The original fireplace works as a sculptural piece in the wide-open living area. “It helps to define the spaces,” says Alessi. On the kitchen-facing side, the brick retains its natural hue; the other side is painted white. dan cutrona
Hovering over the Eero Saarinen dining table and Eames chairs, an iconic mid-century Nelson Saucer Bubble Pendant by Herman Miller is the only exposed light fixture in the main living area other than table lamps. “All of the rest recede into the ceiling,” says Alison Alessi of A3 Architects. dan cutrona
Furnished with a simple fold-out futon, the tiny guest bedroom, which looks onto the backyard, doubles as a quiet place to read. dan cutrona

Jaci Conry is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.

This story has been updated to correct the name of the town where the Richters’ house is located.