Inside A Renovated 1780s Cape Cod Saltbox
Gardiner Museum CEO Kelvin Browne and his husband fell in love with the Outer Cape when they visited New York friends at their weekend home in Truro, a village a few miles south of Provincetown, at the busy town at the tip of the Cape. They found themselves purchasing a 1780s saltbox in the area just one month later. The dignified two-bedroom was in rough shape, but it was set on a magnificent 1 1⁄4-acre property overlooking a pond and with access to the Pamet River.
“We liked our friends’ renovation of their ‘antique’ (the term used for heritage houses on the Cape), so we brought in their architect, Dan Costa, and contractor, John Hopkins, as well as Todd Westrick, a local landscape designer,” says Kelvin. See inside the renovated space that’s full of character and East Coast charm.
Built in the traditional saltbox style, the house has a symmetrical façade clad in cedar shakes that will turn silvery over the years, along with classic double-hung windows and a transom. The three dormers in the roof were added in the reno to brighten up the second-storey bedrooms. A new picket fence and simpler landscaping suit the clean lines of the house.
Created by merging the existing main room with two smaller rooms, the renovated living room spans the width of the house. Modern icons like lights by Isamu Noguchi and George Nelson and a glass and metal coffee table by Warren Platner offer a striking contrast to the rustic wooden structure, which homeowner Kelvin Browne left exposed to show off its spartan beauty. An antique carpet found in Marrakesh injects more warm color.
In a corner of the living room, Bertoia chairs — one upholstered, the other with its wire arms exposed — are paired with an 18th-century Chippendale sofa covered in dark blue velvet, the kind that might have been in the room when the house was built.
The Danish teak dining set and sideboard feel like a natural fit with the exposed hardwood beams. The table expands to seat parties as large as 12. Bamboo blinds throughout the house have a rustic look. The view from these windows is of the pond, so Kelvin selected artwork with a nature theme. The sideboard houses three contemporary metal pieces from India and a ceramic lamp bought in the nearby town of Wellfleet. Some of the floorboards are more than 18″ in width, a sign of status in the 18th century.
The mantel in the dining room was likely added in the 1950s, when the house was “modernized” with drop plaster ceilings and new bathrooms. The two photographs of green fields are by Toronto-area artist Pamela Purves.
The high ceiling in the completely rebuilt kitchen is a welcome change from the coziness of the lower ceilings in the rest of the main floor. Stainless steel countertops and a slate floor infuse a contemporary spirit that works well with the simple, traditional cabinetry and classic double kitchen pantry — the left side for food and the fridge, the right for dishes and the bar.
In the office, the plaster ceiling was left intact to hide a mass of plumbing. With its walls and ceiling painted in pale hues, this southwest-facing space is the brightest in the house, and a nice break from all the dark wood in the surrounding rooms. A sleeper sofa here lets the room act as a TV room or third bedroom if needed.
Aside from the wonderfully patinated old floors, the second floor was completely gutted and reinsulated. A peaked ceiling makes the principal bedroom feel larger than it is. It was panelled with beadboard to add texture and “so it wouldn’t look like tract housing,” Kelvin jokes. The headboard is a repurposed door taken out in the reno.
Originally the home’s stable, the guesthouse was converted to living quarters in the 1950s. It took days to clear the tangled bushes that used to fill the property, especially in the area by the guesthouse. Beyond the house, the property backs on the Pamet River and its tidal marshes.
Kelvin upholstered the guesthouse’s sofa and chairs in summery and washable white Sunbrella to contrast the dark, rough wood walls. The painting on the mantel depicts the nearby dunes in Provincetown and dates to the 1950s, while the herons are pieces Kelvin has had for decades.
The guest house kitchen was pushed from the middle of the main room to one side. The cabinets were reused from the main house and ooze cottage charm.