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Cluster of cottages proves just right for couple’s vacation home

Design New England Cape Cod
Merrifield cottage (right) has been on the site since about 1880. The newly built main cottage (left) includes a screened porch. Both it and the one-room guest cottage (center) were designed  to look as if they, too, had been there for more than a century.
Merrifield cottage (right) has been on the site since about 1880. The newly built main cottage (left) includes a screened porch. Both it and the one-room guest cottage (center) were designed to look as if they, too, had been there for more than a century. Eric Roth

“We used to walk along the beach and say if that place ever became available, it would be a dream house,” says Steve Corkin, who has spent most of his career as a global real estate adviser to large institutional investors. Serendipitously, the circa 1880 Dutch Colonial-ish shingled sweetheart of a house did come on the market, and Corkin and his partner, Dan Maddalena, who once made horror films with Wes Craven, went for it.

Then they reimagined it into three dream cottages.

From its vantage high on a bluff in Truro, the home has magnificent views of Cape Cod Bay that don’t disappoint. The sightlines stretch from the tip of the Cape’s final curlicue at Provincetown across the water and all the way up the state’s South Shore. But at just 1,280 square feet with four tiny bedrooms upstairs and a couple of cut-up rooms on the first floor, Merrifield Cottage did not suit the couple’s penchant for inviting overnight guests and throwing large parties.

They could have built a big house on the 1-acre parcel, but, says Corkin, they didn’t want “a humongous McMansion. We wanted to be super-respectful of our neighbors and of the history” of the area, which is known for its small cottages on dunes.

The screened porch is furnished in wicker and a bright canvas that says summer. In cooler months, screens are replaced with glass, turning the space into a three-season room. —Eric Roth

They called architect Paul Krueger of Krueger Associates in Truro and Watertown, Massachusetts, who is known for building cozy compounds that distribute massing over several smaller structures. It was a perfect client-architect fit. “I wanted to make it comfortable but not lavish,” Krueger says. “Those McMansions with double-height breakfast rooms really bother me. It doesn’t feel like a house anymore. It feels like a hotel.”

The result of their collaboration is a combination of splendid and sublime, with nothing that overwhelms but the heady view, which Krueger ensured could be seen from every room. He accomplished that by creating a courtyard flanked on three sides by buildings — the original cottage and two new ones — with the fourth side open to the sea. That configuration means that the first thing a visitor sees upon entering the newly built main house from the parking area is the bay view.

Painted all in white because “we really wanted the view to steal the show,” says Corkin, the open living/dining/kitchen space is made more open still with a high, vaulted ceiling and windows set near the roof ridge.  Opposite the 5-by-12-foot kitchen island, carefully chosen furniture and art take their places among bespoke pieces such as the 10-foot dining table topped by wood from an old church in Salem, Massachusetts, made by their  friend Jason Rodricks of North of Boston Studios in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the custom sofa designed with the help of another friend, Kevin McLaughlin of McLaughlin Upholstering in Everett, Massachusetts.

From the one-room guest cottage, friends and family wake to a view of the sea. —Eric Roth

Past a narrow hallway, a space the couple call “the link,” is the master bedroom. It’s smaller than they originally envisioned — “Paul hates huge rooms,” says Corkin —  but,  he adds, it is “so right-sized.”

Maddalena agrees. “It’s intimate, it’s comfortable, and it’s perfect.” Downstairs is a screening room — the eldest of Corkin’s three grown sons is a film producer — where board-and-batten walls painted a soothing green provide a homey backdrop to two 8-foot-long sofas. A kitchenette, half-bath, and framed movie posters complete the scene.

For guests, Krueger designed a one-room cottage. Its white tongue-and-groove walls and ceiling reflect the aesthetic of the main house. With its own private bath, commodious armchairs, and artwork such as a driftwood piece by Cape artist Paul Bowen, it is a perfect place to enjoy a little privacy in between gatherings at the bigger house.

The original cottage, uninsulated and strictly for summer, will no doubt someday be the favorite haunt of grandchildren to come. Upstairs, the four cramped bedrooms have become two. Downstairs, a red refrigerator with a curved top, orange wooden kitchen chairs of all shapes and sizes, and a floor painted pool blue complete the felicitous counterpart to the white-on-white palette in the other cottages. Its old kitchen, now open to the courtyard, has been converted into a party pavilion, where a bartender can set up shop for outdoor gatherings.

Krueger, who is also a landscape architect, judiciously placed a tree to block the view of (and from) neighbors and turned a small field of weeds into a meadow of native grasses that gets mowed only twice a year. He also replaced an 80-step wooden stairway that dropped straight to the beach with one that has switchbacks and built-in benches to ease the descent.

The couple credit Krueger for executing their vision so beautifully, while Krueger credits builder Eric Winslow of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, who over the course of 30 years had constructed 17 other houses for him.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” Corkin rhetorically asks a visitor who is wowed by the expansive view from the great room.

It sure is.

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