Some houses are just structures; others can seem almost human and beg to be described in terms like ‘friendly’ and ‘gracious.’ Such is the case with Rose Cottage, a large, rambling Shingle-style house built in the late 1800s for Joseph Story Fay, a wealthy Boston cotton broker who bought up a great deal of land in Woods Hole and Falmouth, including this two-acre parcel. The five-bedroom, six-bath house sits on a bluff around the corner from Nobska Light in Woods Hole and has the same sweeping views of Vineyard Sound. Describing her days here as “favorite childhood memories,” one frequent visitor during the 1960s wrote recently:  “It may sound strange, but it is as though the property had a personality of its own and it had become like a dear friend to me. . . . I can remember laying in bed on a foggy night and hearing that familiar sound of the fog horn.”

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Photography by Josh Kuchinsky
Build: M. Duffany Builders
Interiors: Lou Lou’s Decor

Rose Cottage, so named for the prize-winning rambler roses cultivated by the Fays’ gardener, Michael Walsh, changed owners about seven years ago for only the fourth time in its 130-year history. In a stroke of kismet, the young family and the old estate are meant for each other. Years ago when renting a nearby house of similar vintage, the owners, born and raised in California, were fascinated by the house’s history. Hooked, they started looking for one of their own and purchased Rose Cottage.

Fully appreciating the “bones” of the house, the current occupants left untouched the decorative Victorian-style staircase, the focal point of the interior architecture, and the extra-wide Dutch door with original hand-blown glass and brass fixtures. Aside from the northeast corner of the house, where a porch has been enclosed to make a breakfast room, the exterior looks almost identical to photographs taken decades ago.  M. Duffany Builders of Falmouth, known for using the finest quality and most long-lasting construction materials, rebuilt a piece of foundation to match the existing stonework. Even the trees, lovely large oaks and maples among them, were spared in deference to Joseph Fay, who counted horticulture among his many interests. In fact, he is credited with having planted a variety of deciduous trees that have given Falmouth and Woods Hole an appearance distinct from the rest of the Cape.

Despite the house’s large dimensions, the husband explains, it wasn’t tailored to a family like theirs with two young daughters and a penchant for entertaining. The servants’ wing on the north side of the house was bigger than the family wing, a layout that suited its longtime occupant, Sarah Bryant Fay, a spinster daughter of Joseph, just fine. But for this active and creative family, renovating the interior to fit their modern lifestyle was a must. Involved in the local science and arts scenes, they enjoy the nearby Shining Sea Bikeway and sail from Quissett Yacht Club, where they also love to swim. On rainy days, the girls like to gather around the breakfast table, which doubles as a surface for projects. Arts and crafts supplies are housed in cupboards in the island between the kitchen and breakfast room.

Working with architect Stephen Hart of Hart Associates Architects, Inc., in Belmont, Duffany tore down a servants’ staircase to capture more floor space, eliminated three of four chimneys, and reconfigured the kitchen so that it now takes full advantage of the water view. By removing a fireplace between the kitchen and dining room, the two spaces were connected by an opening flanked by built-in custom cabinetry that, although brand-new, evokes an earlier era.

Using the word “brilliant,” the homeowner acknowledges how Mike Duffany’s team dealt with the “surprises” that inevitably arise during the remodeling of a house this age.

The homeowners “were delighted to work around the quirks of the house,” seconds Stephen Hart, adding that he was told “to have fun with [the house].” Interior designer Stacy Carlson of Lou Lou’s Décor in Portsmouth, R.I., joined builder and architect to address an antiquated bathroom under the stairs (the “Captain’s Lav”). Pooling their ingenuity, they took advantage of generous height to model the ceiling after an upside-down rowboat with ribs and a keel. The vanity base of alternating strips of teak and holly suggests the deck of a Herreshoff schooner, and the horizontal planking on the walls enhances the overall outdoorsy feel. Carlson had window treatments made from sails and hung a mirror from boat cleats using rope tied with nautical knots.

The third floor, two-thirds of  which was completely unfinished and had no bathrooms, is now a sunny, comfortable living and sleeping space for the girls and their friends. In one of a pair of new bathrooms on this level, the shower is tiled with sea creatures whose bright colors match the kids’ own artwork decorating the hallway. Similarly, the unfinished basement with a bulkhead entrance was transformed into a child’s fantasy of a rec room, replete with a stage, ballet barre and closets filled with costumes. The new entrance to this level was engineered to accommodate frequent foot traffic from the outdoors, bicycles coming in and out, and there’s even a heated, tiled wall the shape and color of a wave with hooks for hanging damp towels.

The first and second floors of the house, open and airy, sport a calming, beachy palette that’s punctuated with bursts of color from, for instance, a vibrant turquoise chandelier over the dining room table and kitchen backsplash tiles that match the blues and greens of the ocean. Here and there throughout the house treasures from the homeowners’ world travels, like an antique upholstered bench and a brass light fixture, add a personal touch. The items also perpetuate a certain worldliness with which the house has been imbued from its beginnings. “Rose Cottage has sheltered some distinguished tenants,” wrote the Falmouth Enterprise when the house changed hands in 1965.  During the summer of 1917, the article continues, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, the British Ambassador to the U.S. swiss replica watches and an intimate of Theodore Roosevelt, visited the Rose Cottage “as an escape from the pressures of wartime Washington.” Thanks replica watches uk to the love from its handful of homeowners over the years, this remarkable house in its unequalled setting will continue to soothe weary souls long into the future.