The Best of Both Worlds

Casual elegance preserves the Cape Cod cottage style appeal while carving out space for a modern lifestyle.

Text and photography by Mike Ciolino

In the process of building and remodeling homes on Cape Cod, Longfellow Design Build sees a distinct design style and sensibility emerging from their clients’ choices. Whether they are in Falmouth, Osterville or Chatham, these clients ask for a casual elegance the company calls “Cape Cod coastal.” If you travel off-Cape, just a mile or two past either bridge, it’s just not the same.

Many individuals these days are building or remodeling a second home on Cape Cod—a retreat from the stress of their hectic lives in Greater Boston, Connecticut or New York.

Historically, a cupola or captain’s walk topped the homes of successful Cape Cod shipowners so they could search the horizon for their ships due in port. This cupola sits atop a home on Mashnee Island in Bourne.

“After our youngest went off to college, we regrouped and noticed that our fondest life memories, both from our childhood and as a young family, were on Cape Cod,” says one new homeowner in Pocasset. “And we wanted more of that. We wanted a simpler lifestyle with space to create more memories with our kids and grandkids.”

Grandkids are a common theme on Cape Cod. Recently, Longfellow received thank-you notes from all five grandchildren of a homeowner on Bourne’s Mashnee Island who added a dormer with new bedrooms, bunk beds for the kids, an outdoor shower and a cupola. “The cupola is my guilty pleasure,” says the homeowner.

Clients typically want a space that retains the Cape Cod cottage style, scale and charm, with the addition of carefully chosen, high-end features such as a redwood wine cellar and tasting room for a collection of fine wine, customized storage for fishing rods and boating gear, or a one-of-a-kind handmade chandelier.

Longfellow’s owner, Mark Bogosian, defines this approach as “casual elegance.” “By respecting the architectural scale and natural lines of a space, using beautiful materials and finishes that reflect the natural environment and then adding smart customizations that are in line with the homeowner’s interests and lifestyle, you get a comfortable space that really can elevate your quality of life,” he says.

A creative use of space, this dining area has a custom hutch in place of a breezeway.


Many of the iconic features that are typically attributed to a Cape Cod cottage design were historically used out of a necessity to survive the cold, windy and wet climate. Early Cape Cod homes had a floor plan with one common room used for daily living, cooking and dining. Cape Codders would typically gather around a large stone fireplace that helped conserve heat, while wainscoting and bead board addressed the problem of preventing moisture within interior walls.

Large open floor plans with a combined kitchen, dining room and family room are a popular choice today, and nothing evokes a Cape Cod coastal look better than bead board and wainscoting. “We use bead board often for kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and staircases,” says Mark Bar, Longfellow’s lead designer. “Sometimes a hint of bead board works well as a design element on cabinets, or as a backing for custom built-in shelving. Beaded, recessed panel wainscoting with a thin chair rail and coffered ceilings are two additional elements that often work well in a Cape Cod coastal home, adding sophistication without overpowering the room.”

An open floor-plan dining/living room with a coffered ceiling, natural stone hearth and bays of windows creates an ambiance that is both casual and elegant.


Another of Longfellow’s clients says: “It was on one of those stunning, late summer beach days that my husband and I decided to build our second home in North Falmouth. That same afternoon I picked up a shell from the sand and realized I was looking at the color palette for our home.”

An ineffable quality of light that blurs the boundary between indoors and out has drawn artists to Cape Cod for decades. It also attracts people who want to build here, which is why Longfellow pays careful attention to the placement and style of a home’s windows, doors, decks and patios, in order to integrate light and landscape into their Cape coastal homes. A strategically placed window seat, reading nook, or a three-season sunroom, along with an open floor plan, can create a magical dance of light and scenery that changes subtly throughout the day.

This Falmouth home has a large side-entry mud room. Custom built-in storage bins, wardrobe hooks, a laundry closet and a small bathroom provide a buffer—keeping sand and clutter from an active family’s sports/beach gear away from the main living space.

Typically, a Cape Cod coastal homeowner chooses a color palette inspired by soothing tones in the natural environment: crisp white walls, warm neutral tones of beige and tan, warm gray hues, cool tones of blue and green and maybe a splash of contrasting yellow or orange. Year after year, white cabinetry remains popular in Cape coastal homes; however, variations are seen more and more frequently, such as the addition of a contrasting darker gray-blue or green island or pantry cabinetry.

“Careful attention to materials and texture can really make a room spectacular,” notes Bogosian. At Longfellow Design Build’s new Chatham showroom, customers can admire a butler’s pantry that uses a custom-crafted barn door entry and a gorgeous 2 1⁄4-inch black walnut countertop with a marine oil finish similar to what is used on the decks and woodwork of fine yachts. Also featured in Chatham is a leather finished quartzite countertop and a cold cast zinc countertop. Says Bogosian: “Both are a great opportunity to add texture and understated sophistication to a room.”

Whether you want a traditional cottage look, something a bit more contemporary, or a Cape coastal transitional style that draws from both, Longfellow Design Build can make your dream a reality.

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