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Rustic exterior hides sleek style in a Gloucester family home

Fifty years ago, the client’s parents purchased the cottage, located on the edge of Gloucester’s iconic Good Harbor Beach. “It wasn’t just a real estate purchase; it was a deliberate attempt to maintain a tangible link with my father’s upbringing and his extended family in Gloucester,” says the current steward, who took over ownership from his mother in 2022.

Having lived most of his adult life in urban environments such as New York and DC and abroad, he was keen to maintain the family’s roots in Gloucester. “The city has always been my anchor,” he claims.

But that’s not the whole story: the structure’s history goes back even further to the early 20th century, when it was a carriage house, part of a grand estate on Bass Rocks. In 1965 it was converted into a residence, essentially a modest two-bedroom cottage with a simple galley kitchen; a quirky octagonal addition in the ’80s expanded the footprint even further.

“As a carriage house, it had four bays that in its heyday were probably filled with Model Ts,” says Mike Gray, principal architect and general manager at Carpenter & MacNeille, the firm responsible for the property’s 2022-2023 overhaul. “The starting point was to update the kitchen and bathrooms and add more bedrooms,” Gray recalls of the impetus behind the restoration/expansion project. “But one thing led to another and the project grew in size.”

The client was attracted to Carpenter & MacNeille’s strong presence on the North Shore and its understanding of the region’s context, landscape and heritage. “Their local expertise was crucial as I felt it was important to keep the house respectful of the natural beauty and architectural history of the area,” explains the homeowner. In addition, Carpenter & MacNeille’s full-service capabilities – architecture, construction, interior design and fine millwork (performed in the woodshop in Essex) – provided a unified approach.

The goal was to preserve the building’s rustic exterior elements while updating the interior layout for modern living and frequent family gatherings. Outside, red slate, granite and cedar shingles pay tribute to Cape Ann’s rugged landscape and coastline dotted with stone and pebble ‘cottages’. The durable slate roof, pebble driveway, improved insulation and modern mechanical system upgrades contribute to a more sustainable footprint.

Inside, however, the tenor of the house shifts to a more contemporary approach, incorporating the client’s preference for Scandinavian design. “The cottage initially felt closed off, and Mike did an excellent job of opening up the first floor, bringing in much-needed natural light and maximizing the views,” says Elizabeth Arkins, lead interior designer of Carpenter & MacNeille.

Impactful changes included the addition of a new dining room off the kitchen, with glazing and views in two directions. Gray created a more functional entry sequence by incorporating a seven-foot-long stone portico as an interior space, leaving the original interior stone walls exposed. For additional storage space, the company’s carpenters created a custom white oak cabinet recessed into the wall. They also painstakingly inscribed a floating bench against the bumpy stone. A single master mason performed all stone-related tasks.

In the living room, Gray maximized the connection to the outdoors with a massive sliding door that extends almost from wall to wall. (This door system leads to a new deck, oriented toward the view like the bow of a ship.) A polygonal window above brings in even more light and plays off the unique shape of the ceiling.

“It’s an incredible room made largely of glass, where there used to be a solid stone wall,” Arkins continues of the transformation, adding that the beams, which were originally dark black, were sanded and finished with a honey stain. For the gas fireplace, the design team engaged Gloucester artist Alexis Marshall to execute a Venetian plaster border. In the custom mix, copper and mica specifications catch the light. A solid base of recycled fieldstone anchors this new function.

Contemporary design reaches its peak in the kitchen, outfitted with carved white oak cabinetry from Carpenter & MacNeille Woodworking. “We used a clear matte stain so you can see the beautiful grain pattern, which really emphasizes the height of the room,” says Arkins. A back wall of hand-glazed ceramic tiles, arranged vertically, reflects the wood grain pattern.

For the island base, cypress finished with Shou Sugi Ban (a Japanese technique that chars the wood surface) contrasts with the smooth white oak. “The char creates an almost alligator-like feel and is super textured,” Arkins explains, adding that the island stools are an iconic Norman Cherner design from 1958.

To accentuate the kitchen as the focal point of the home, Gray created a new two-story clerestory space, creating dramatic light well above the kitchen. “It really opened up the core of the house from a volume point of view and introduces bright natural light into the center,” explains the architect. The opening reaches upward to a view-laden destination: a second-floor observation room/library. The only entrance door, disguised as a bookcase, leads in from the main suite.

Inside the vault, visible from many different angles, is a striking chandelier from Essex-based Bubble Factory. It extends over a length of 4.5 meters and contains 40 hand-blown glass pieces hanging from copper rods of varying lengths. James McLeod, creative director of the Bubble Factory, developed several versions of sketches and models.

“I had a vision to integrate an element that would serve as a focal point but also combine local art and functionality,” recalls the homeowner. “Our goal was to create a piece that embraces organic shapes and plays with light and shadows to animate the kitchen throughout the day,” adds the client. “We wanted to avoid symmetry in favor of movement and fluidity.”

One of the client’s favorite aspects of the renovation is the flexibility of the final layout. For example, the living room effortlessly transforms from a conversation area into a lively space for children’s dance parties in just a few minutes. “The integration of glass fills the room with light, and the fireplace adds warmth and charm,” he describes. Likewise, the outdoor fireplace attracts friends and family to the stone patio, regardless of the temperature.

When the house becomes full, the owner can retreat to an outbuilding, rebuilt on the footprint of an old barn. With floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and a sleek, modern sauna on the other, this bonus destination doubles as a landing for guests or a quiet workspace. But most of all, the family likes to spend time together, with a particular preference for an extensive, relaxing family breakfast and everything that has to do with sports.

“Living near Good Harbor Beach, we wanted to ensure that our renovation respected the local community and the environment,” the owner summarizes. “In a place already blessed with iconic homes and breathtaking nature, our goal was not to overshadow the surrounding beauty, but to complement it.”