A Selection of Editor’s Letters
from New England Home Cape & Islands
Changeless, Yet Ever Changing
One of the most universally beloved features of the region comprising Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket is its characteristic feel. Perhaps the archetypal American seaside vacation spot, its steadfast charms have beguiled generations of residents and would-be residents, short-term or committed. The very place names exhale a certain aura of low-key living, never pushing or forward, even pleasantly shabby (if only in a genteel sort of way). Story after story, article after article—some in these very pages—will mention sun and sky, dunes, shells, beach glass, gray shingles tailored with crisp white trim, salt spray, gnarled cedars. The enduring guardians of a prized mode of being.
Yet this eternal demi-Eden has never really existed outside the human imagination. The Cape Cod rhapsodized by Henry David Thoreau in the middle of the nineteenth century was a considerably wilder, more desolate place than we’re accustomed to contemplating. And, already at that point, a lot of the desolation was man-made. As with much of the rest of Massachusetts, trees were few, most timber having been cleared for firewood; unsuitable crops and overgrazing by sheep and cattle had clogged many harbors with eroded soil. Altogether a far cry from the scenic waters and pleasantly wooded reaches we know today.
As the Cape and islands became summer retreats for folk from more urban locales, the landscape gradually made a comeback and its romanticizing in the public imagination grew more general. Issues of architecture and development became more pressing. Evolving awareness made other passages from Thoreau’s Cape Cod sound especially familiar to present-day ears: “Generally, the old-fashioned and unpainted houses on the Cape looked more comfortable, as well as picturesque, than the modern and more pretending ones.”
My point is that human presence and human community have been primary in shaping the Cape and islands and our conception of what they mean (a shaping that began long before the appearance of the first European boat on the waters of the Atlantic, but certainly accelerated thereafter). This magazine and many of its readers are part of that network of relationships, which makes us all in some sense responsible as the process of change continues today and into the future.
We at New England Home try to do our part by emphasizing design that is sensitive to its natural setting and to its place in the communal fabric. But the fundamental secret, I think, is for all parties to keep in mind an idea possibly first articulated by Confucius some 2,500 years ago: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. Whether the argument is over infill building, wind turbines in the Sound, or a green stripe down Commercial Street, we must balance our needs as individuals with the needs of the greater society that makes up such a special region. If we always consider change with our neighbors in mind, the best natural and human qualities of the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket will remain changeless.
—From the Summer 2010 issue of New England Home Cape & Islands
Ingredients for that Special Life
The calendar has circled ’round, and once more summer has dawned over the marshes, on the beaches and kettle ponds, in narrow lanes lined with white palings and crisply painted window boxes bearing their freight of pansies and sweet potato vine. Crescents of white sail again dot the water, carefully shunning the ferry’s wake. A yellow warbler lurks in the undergrowth—or is that just a clump of honeysuckle?
Art galleries and t-shirt shops beckon. Brunch is suddenly much easier to find. Overheard conversations come in a larger range of accents—or languages—and through the long evenings snatches of laughter, punctuated by the chink of glasses and ice, waft in fitfully on the breeze. Tennis lessons, Tea Dance, and sidewalk obstructions multiply, while (it has to be said) more than one permanent citizen uncharitably shoots a sour side-glance at the encroaching seasonal hordes. Natural and human worlds alike have embarked on their warm-weather round.
I’m sure you have your own personal version of this litany, the things that come to mind when you think “Cape” or “Nantucket” or “the Vineyard.” Is it ferrying the young to riding class, perhaps? Lolling away the afternoon on sun-bleached canvas with a good book? Unchanging, somehow, in feel, even though so many details do change with time and circumstance.
The houses we feature in this magazine every year share some of that quality. They may be brand-new but steeped in the spirit of a gracious past, or historic structures sensitively adapted for styles of life their creators never imagined. The impetus behind each project will be different; one may be to introduce a spouse to family tradition, another the creation of recent parents striving to recreate an idyllic childhood experience for their own brood.
Your local roots may be deep or you may be an enthusiastic transplant from other climes, but if you’re looking for that particular kind of life and are open to its requirements, one of the timeless communities of the Cape and islands can become home for the summer or for good. And that sense of timelessness is a . . . well, timely reminder that the basic recipe for the good life hasn’t altered much over the centuries, though it may be dressed in a different sauce. Food, fun, friends, family: mix, marinate, and serve.
—From the Summer 2012 issue of New England Home Cape & Islands
True Homes Away from Home
There was once a time when Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—though they had always been a permanent home to someone, be it the Nauset or Wampanoag tribes, English settlers, Quaker refugees, whalers, or Portuguese fishing families—were also a region of distinctly seasonal getaways.
Guesthouses and vacation cottages could, even then, be rather grand, but frequently they weren’t. Lack of insulation, heat, and air-conditioning were perhaps more the rule than the exception. Open plywood shelves, held up by plain steel brackets from the local hardware store, might grace the kitchen (if, indeed, there was any separate kitchen at all, rather than a simple galley wall off to one side of the main room). And the sound of outdoor insects and breezes heard from your pillow, separated from you only by the thickness of a bare plank or Homasote wall, could give an inimitably summery feel to the act of falling asleep. The rough-and-ready quality of these temporary dwellings was part of their charm: a slight air of privation added spice to the brief time spent away from normal life, and even made for a bond among those who shared the experience.
That particular aspect of Cape and islands life seems to be less in demand these days. Formerly unassuming structures have been renovated, or simply razed and replaced by accommodations considerably larger and more elaborate. In many towns, it’s difficult to travel more than a block or so without coming across two, three, or more construction sites. The homes you’ll see here reflect that general trend. Though not all of them are meant for full-time habitation, they could certainly support it with ease. They may be places of escape—retreats in which to spend quality time with special friends and family—but they make no concessions when it comes to livability, incorporating all the amenities of home into what was once a more ad hoc, transitory setting.
The Cape and the islands are becoming ever more cosmopolitan. The continuing arrival of visitors from far and wide—who may stay for a few days, a few weeks, or forever—increasingly connects the region with the rest of the world. As a result, you’ll probably travel farther now to get your fix of steamers or saltwater taffy, but you’ll also have easy access to your poke bowl and kombucha. Ditto for home design. Shingles and shiplap still abound, but any knotwork in evidence is just as likely to be part of a Lindsey Adelman chandelier as a monkey’s fist doorstop.
So leaf through these pages for a glimpse of the current state of high style as, moving into the future, we jointly write the next chapter in Cape and islands life.