After an addition and a major renovation, a South Shore home finally settles into the landscape.
When they bought their South Shore house in the early 1980s, Gordon and Motoko Deane were childless, looking for an investment property and weekend getaway from Boston. "It was the spot that sealed the deal," says Motoko. Perched high on a hillside overlooking a salt pond and the ocean beyond, the house is an aerie with commanding views up and down the coast.
State of the art when it was built in 1955, it featured copper-tube radiant floor heat, low-voltage lighting, an upward-thrusting flat roof, and all modern conveniences, including a refrigerator that hung from the wall. By the time the Deanes bought it, however, the hanging fridge had died, the exposed I-beam columns that held up the porch were rusting badly, and, on deeper study, the house's interior partitions were cutting off most of the killer views.
In the mid-1980s, after they had their second child, the couple decided to make the house their main home. That meant expanding the tiny original by adding three bedrooms, a second-floor master suite, and a two-car garage. In 1995, they hired the Cambridge firm Carr, Lynch, Sandell to renovate the entire structure.
Jim Sandell had come highly recommended by friends (including an architect who had passed on the job, saying he wanted to remain a friend). "The Deanes were the kind of clients you dream about but rarely get," recalls Sandell. "They said, 'You're the architect. You tell us what we should do." One thing they all agreed on from the start was that the house's essential style had to survive the renovation, so, in effect, Sandell's job became "contemporarizing" the contemporary.
Another thing they agreed on was that the house needed to take full advantage of its seaside site, which meant opening up the main floor. To do that, Sandell made three cuts through the floor plan, opening up views of the coast while creating individual spaces for the living room, expanded kitchen, powder room, and library. At one end, three fixed windows measuring 6 feet by 8 feet and flanked by sliding glass doors look out on a new full-length porch. Uniting the entire space is a floor of French limestone tile.
"We aimed for an uncluttered aesthetic," says Sandell, "with as much timelessness as we could muster." Clean-lined modern furniture sits in calm relief on the limestone; simple moldings frame the doors and floors; and a stack of brushed aluminum shelves holds Motoko's museum-quality collection of Japanese dolls and pottery. Giving the living room definition from the rest of the space is a massive fireplace wall, clad in panels of dark-stained wengé, a West African hardwood. "That was a bit of a triumph," says Sandell. "We had to lobby Gordon hard to cover what's underneath, which is rough brick—a bit too 1950s."
Down the hall, past the lime-stone-clad powder room, the Deanes' custom kitchen has also stood the test of time, in terms of both its styling and wear and tear. "I was a high-maintenance client," laughs Motoko, "looking for a low-maintenance kitchen." Inspired by European cabinetry, its maple-fronted doors and drawers are free of handles or knobs, but are easily pulled open by edges exposed through the clever use of recessed fascia. Black granite countertops seem to float above the lower cabinets, separated by a band of stainless steel, which matches the 48-inch Thermador cooktop.
Expert cabinetmaker Charlie Peterson agreed to build the boxes in his Pembroke shop—but not until he got Motoko to come out and review a full-scale mockup of the layout, built out of quarter-inch luaun plywood. "He absolutely insisted," she remembers, "so I packed up my two little kids and went."
Outside, it's clear how well the building has held up in its littoral environment. Minimally detailed, its exterior has little of the fussy woodwork that's been the bane of many a seaside Victorian. "We clad those rusty posts in cedar and removed a rather gloomy overhang," Sandell says. In its place is an airy lattice that defines the building's upper edge, like a capital on the column of the building. Glowing from within and dramatically uplit on the exterior, the house finally feels complete.