Built From Scratch
Welcome to Old Silver Shed and my first post!
Just a few years ago I started sharing our home on Instagram without a clue where the journey would take me... what a ride it’s been! I am grateful to have found so many kindred spirits along the way who inspire and encourage me! Thank you for joining me here.
First, I’ll explain the name “Old Silver Shed.”
When we bought our property on Cape Cod, I knew we would build a house, but what I really wanted was a shed. I have always wanted a shed where I could do my work and collect my stuff.
In April of 2015, the extraordinary stylist and photographer, Matthew Mead, came to shoot our home for his new magazine “Decorating”. Our conversation went everywhere; from my collection of old silver in the pantry (if you live on Old Silver Beach, you collect old silver!) to my dream of building a shed overlooking the salt marsh. He suggested I start an Instagram page so people could connect with me once the magazine was published. I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but he walked me through setting up an Instagram account. I needed a name; Old Silver Shed? If I used that name I would have to build one! (For the record, there’s still no shed.)
Built From Scratch (Part 1)
Phil and I had each summered on Cape Cod before we met. Our love for the Cape was a common bond for us. Phil had a small cottage in West Falmouth where we would escape to after long work weeks in NYC. In 2000, we moved to Silicon Valley and sold the cottage. The years we spent out west made us miss those peaceful Cape days so when an exit opportunity arose, we decided to head back east. We would raise our twins (then 7 years old) on Cape Cod.
We bought the property in 2004, a rundown Folk Victorian built in 1905, with the hopes of restoring it. The home was perched high on a bluff overlooking Old Silver Beach on one side, and the Herring River salt marsh on the other.
We had fallen in love with the simple details of the original home - West Falmouth pink granite in the foundation now famous, from the historic West Falmouth quarry -ca. 1800’s, (the same iconic stone Jackie sourced for JFK’s grave in Arlington as a tribute to his Cape Cod roots), the arched entry to the covered porch, and how the porch sat on a pink granite pier, the character of the old doors, the original trim work, the beach-rock fireplace, and the quirky butler’s pantry with it’s two swinging doors.
Unfortunately the house was too far gone. We carefully disassembled it, piece by piece, down to the deck leaving only the original beach rock fireplace and chimney, saving all we could.
(The porch rested on a West Falmouth pink granite pier, we reused the same pier to support our new side entry porch, you can see the subtle flair at the base of the shingles.)
We set out for inspiration, to the big turn-of-the-century beach “cottages,” that lined the New England coast. We researched shingle-style architecture, and drove up and down the shore taking pictures, noticing important features of those period seaside homes. We agreed we would build a house that looked like it had been here for a hundred years, and would be perfectly appropriate a hundred years from now. Our house would meander across the property the way those old legacy cottages did, having been added on to over the years by the generations of family members who inherited them.
(We collected inspiration.)
Some of the architectural features that resonated with us: the silvery grey shingles, the cross-gambrel rooflines, shed dormers, the use of positive/negative space, the large covered porches and lookout decks, the decorative diamond pattern frequently used in the courses of the shingles, the “flared skirt” at the belt line of the house where the shingles meet the foundation, and the unique window mullion patterns.
We would respect the design elements important to shingle-style architecture while paying homage to the original cottage. We would build a LEED certified house, employing modern sustainability principles. To take advantage of the expansive views of Buzzard’s Bay, the strategic placement of windows would be important. We wanted a home that felt cozy but airy with an open, easy floor plan. And I hate narrow hallways--ours would be wide practical spaces, extensions of the adjoining rooms. Our family bedrooms would be on the same floor. The twins didn’t need big elaborate bedrooms to “escape” to - they should be simple, comfortable and personal.
I knew we would have a lot of company living in a tourist location (side-note: my rule is if you want to come and visit us in July, you have to show up in February too!) but I did not want a dedicated guest room suite that would only be used when we had company. The idea of a cottage “sleeping-porch” was interesting to me - one where our guests would enjoy a classic Cape Cod experience but we could enjoy, too. And, Scout - my sweet golden retriever - would run to the door of our rental when she heard someone arrive but couldn't see who was there because the window was too high - I would make it so Scout could see out the window of every room!
(Our Scout, passed away in Aug 2017.)
After interviewing a few local architects, I realized I couldn’t get exactly what I was imagining, so we sat at a local bar one night, and drawing from my graphic design experience, I sketched the house on a paper placemat. We took the drawing to a draftswoman and she re-sketched the cottage perfectly! We asked her to draw up the plans.
(We would change the roofline to a cross gambrel to allow for more space in the bedrooms upstairs)
We used the original cottage for design direction; the ceiling height, window style, the interior trim work. We stripped and reused all the original doors, and reinstalled the butler’s pantry. The family room was designed as an“addition” following the details of the original cottage with it’s arched entry, shed dormer and pitched roofline.
(Exterior view of our Family Room)
I bought or found many of the interior design elements at salvage yards and junk shops, including bathroom fixtures, cabinet and door hardware, lighting and newel posts. For personality, we added leaded glass transoms to our entry hall as a way to subtly divide the space without affecting the beautiful light that streams in throughout the day.
The house sits on a promontory about 30 feet above sea level on the first floor, with the third floor at nearly 65 feet above the sea. We are surrounded by water and exposed to the wind (which often blows to over 50 knots). By adding structural steel in the house frame, it can withstand the forces of wind and hurricanes. We used closed cell foam super insulation for high “R” factor, those cold winter nights when the wind is howling off the water are brutal.
Then, we added recycled denim for sound-proofing from floor to floor and in all the interior walls for an acoustic barrier, knowing that a great house is defined by how quiet it is. In true Cape Cod style, we finished the circular driveway approach with crushed seashells, giving the entrance an old world sense of belonging like the original seaside cottages that became known as shingle-style back in the 1880’s.
Building our new-old home from scratch allowed us the creative opportunity to put our family’s stamp on it. This house was a family effort, each of us put our hearts, souls and collective ideas into designing and building it.
True to the process Gianni found a 2006 quarter on the beach and decided to mint the foundation; the year we ALL built it.
And that is just scratching the surface, trust me! I will go into more details about the way we made this house our home. Thank you for reading along, I would love to hear your questions and comments!