Your home: Light

Cape Cod gothic

Dramatic arches, colonnades, and windows move sunlight in enchanting ways inside this Chatham home

By Scott Lajoie
February 20, 2011

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The light on Cape Cod illuminates its waters differently at different times of day. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the shallow flats surrounding Monomoy Island, south of Chatham, where a pair of avid fishing enthusiasts first fell in love with this part of the Cape. The experience was so memorable that they wanted to create a unique relationship with light in their yet-to-be-built retirement home on the other side of town.

But when they bought what they thought was the perfect lot looking north over a salt marsh and Pleasant Bay, they faced a dilemma: How would they enjoy the summer sun in both the morning and the afternoon if their view faced away from it? Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects-Builders, the firm they chose to design and construct their dream home, had some creative solutions.

The team at Polhemus conceived of a house with Gothic features and a T-shaped floor plan. The front door of the 2½-story structure is tucked under an elegant porte-cochere, above which sits the house’s art gallery. A cozy studio extends past the gallery over a two-car garage. Sloping down to the end of the garage, the long roofline is scattered with small triangular dormers, which help illuminate the art gallery and the soaring foyer. The windows cast light through an arched opening in the wide stonework chimney that sits in the center of the house and through the two-sided fireplace at its base. As the day advances, small triangles of sunbeams move up and around the foyer. Light dances across the stylized balusters of a grand staircase that leads to the gallery and second-floor library and then to a roof deck.

While the design’s orientation to the sun doesn’t quite reveal the location of the Ark of the Covenant (a la Indiana Jones), the homeowners relish the surprises the light creates, including a beam that conspicuously settles on the beacon of a lighthouse painting by Provincetown artist Paul Resika hanging high in the foyer.

Design principal John DaSilva lined up south-facing clerestory windows high in the main structure. (Those windows and the metal roofs above them lend the house a look of a New England mill building.) The windows send light deep into the second story, where the master suite and three guest bedrooms are located.

The homeowners’ extensive collection of glass artwork benefits especially from DaSilva’s creative use of windows. Grand pieces sit atop specially designed platforms inside the gallery’s dramatic circular windows, while smaller works populate the home’s many built-in shelves. To diffuse the light, DaSilva incorporated Gothic-arched colonnades, and that design element recurs on the exterior, notably on porches at opposite ends of the house. The Gothic influence is also apparent in a jewel box-like sunroom on the eastern end, its axis slightly angled to maximize light. The windows curve up to peaks like those in a cathedral. In the daytime, the homeowners read and listen to music here; at night, they get a view of the stars.

Scott Lajoie is a writer and editor in Mashpee. Send comments to