Doreve Nicholaeff, the Johannesburg-born architect known for marrying linear modernism to voluptuous curves, worked her magic with a 7,000-square-foot Cape Cod home and its guest house. On a prominent point at the entrance of a sheltered bay on Nantucket Sound, the house is expansive and supremely functional. Upon first glance, however, it is all about dramatic good looks, inside and out.
“We wanted to make the most of the incredible views,” says Nicholaeff. “From every room, you look out at beauty, whether it is the Bay or the Sound. The prime location, however, made it important for us to consider how the house would look to boats coming into the harbor.”
Returning sailors see symmetrical shingled wings converging on a curved façade largely composed of windows; at night, the house shines across the water like a lighthouse.
As gracefully integrated a part of the landscape as it now appears, this home was not easy to build.
“As it’s in a flood plain, no mechanical systems could be located where they usually are: in the basement,” Nicholaeff says. “Instead, they’re invisible, but accessible, in one part of the first floor. Below the ground-floor level we put breakaway panels that open for flood water if there’s a 100-year storm.”
The proximity of a notoriously stormy stretch of sea wasn’t the only building obstacle: Nicholaeff spent six months acquiring the variances and permissions that local boards and commissions require to grant building permits in such environmentally sensitive areas. Now, that’s a distant memory.
While the exterior nods to local building tradition with cedar shakes, traditional porch railings, and white trim, the interior is decidedly modern. The large kitchen is softened with pale flooring and cabinetry. Like every other space in the house, the kitchen orients toward the outdoors: Working at the granite-topped island is to gaze at a glorious view.
“My client wanted very clean lines, so we used no crown moldings,” Nicholaeff explains. “The rooms are all painted the same warm white, with mahogany doors and windows. ”
The open layout flows around a circular central staircase that recalls a chambered nautilus or Federal architecture. While beautiful, it also knits together far-flung rooms with curves of varying arcs along their water sides. The central spiral appears to hold the house’s curvaceous exterior close and safe.
“While the house has traditional and modern elements,” says Nicholaeff, “what makes it work is the rigorous geometry that responds to the contours of the land.”