Mary Michael O’Hare knows a treasure when she sees one. The architect and director of MMO Designs in Swampscott, arriving at the end of a remote street at Peach’s Point in Marblehead, remembers the astonished three-story house. Built in the early 1900s as a summer vacation for city dwellers, it was the charming embodiment of an earlier era, one of the great waterfront homes that unfold like a string of pearls on the north coast.
But there was a different story in the house. Parts of the structure – including the internal systems – showed the devastation that 100 years can wreak on a wooden house by the sea. The new owners also needed updates to transform it from an old style summer home to a year round home.
The only answer was rebuilding. But not just any modification.
“Not only did we need to make it habitable year round, we also had to replace and add new systems to update it and make it function like a modern home,” says O’Hare. “However, it was important to make sure we kept the historical character.”
It would be a delicate balance: keeping the identity of the original while creating a more expansive feel, adding modern amenities and enjoying the exquisite view, a stretch of blue-green coast from Salem to Manchester.
Working with Windhill Builders in Ipswich and a number of subcontractors, O’Hare transformed the interior through many deft, low-key measures, including redesigning the interior walls, replacing dark, flat paneling and expanding the windows.
“To create a more modern and cleaner layout, we removed one of three flights of stairs and one of six chimneys,” says O’Hare. “The owners now had a real heating system and didn’t have to rely on fireplaces for heat.”
O’Hare’s design details transform any room into an artful presentation: corridor lights that are reminiscent of candlelight but have a touch of sophistication; a flower-shaped wall lamp made of crystal and brass in the dining room; A magnificent, renovated three story mahogany staircase with an elegant brass ball that fills the area with light. At the base is the home’s original southern yellow pine floor, which has been stained and refinished for a rich, polished sheen.
The front entrance shows a warm entrance room with an original fireplace and a seating area. A series of original double doors to one side lead to the living room, which has an original fireplace, with new blue-green slate tiles on the stove for a subtle modern look. On the other side is another set of original double doors that lead to the dining room. In the entrance area, however, the eye trains the gaze straight ahead: the foyer with a Dutch door and behind it the original veranda on the water, which is surrounded by a view of the Atlantic.
Despite the large windows, the original interior felt dark, O’Hare recalls. “Not only were the floors dark, but all of the cladding and cladding were stained dark. It was all too much and didn’t feel inviting. We all agreed that the wood floors were beautiful, but the woodwork needed painting. “The team also added waterfront windows to let in more light and provide more views and connections to the water.
On the second floor, triple-sized windows in the four bedrooms and the family room create a bright, homely atmosphere and open spaces with a view. A collection of small rooms – the former servants’ quarters and guest rooms – has been rearranged to create spacious bedrooms.
The third floor, formerly “a mess of teeny rooms” as O’Hare puts it, has been opened up to accommodate an office and bedroom suite. She kept the existing claw-foot tub in the suite’s bathroom, but left the exterior painted dark, another nifty mix of old and new. Outside, the original dormers on the third floor – and their distinctive silhouette along the roof line – have been retained.
The kitchen is a standout design with shiny light cabinets by David Hayes of DRH Custom Woodworking in Salem and a natural stone backsplash with a printed Moorish pattern. The kitchen is designed on an axis, with doors leading to other rooms, offering options for privacy or openness. A sliding glass door gives access to a wide deck. “It’s easy to move around and see great views,” says O’Hare. One of O’Hare’s most popular restoration details was the repurposing of the house’s original kitchen sink for use as potting soil on the deck.
The landscape architect Matthew Ulrich created outdoor spaces on the five hectare property, which expand the possibilities for meetings with family and friends. Ulrich, the LEED-accredited director of the Ulrich Landscape Collaborative in Beverly, designed an idyllic outdoor destination centered around a circular bluestone terrace and fireplace. The area, lush with native plants, gently opens onto a deck, lower courtyard and covered porch, an original beauty and symbol of the spirit of the 1930s summer home.
Further memories of the past are preserved: The original carriage doors of the former stable have been restored and integrated into the exterior design. A separate 200 square meter hut with the affectionate name The Schoolhouse, in which children were taught by summer residents decades ago, has been converted into a recreational pool room.
It’s easy to imagine a century’s worth of homeowners sitting on the porch and taping their own experiences into the tapestry, depicting the home’s colorful history and steeped in a refined but simple charm. As O’Hare says, “The classic beauty of the original home is retained but now incorporates modern flow and amenities that make it an inviting ‘forever home’, not just a summer home.”
mmoharedesigns.com; windhillbuilders.com; drhcustom.com; ulrichlandscape.com