Enchanting cottage

A 500-square-foot place that sleeps 5? Sounds just beachy.

By Molly Jane Quinn
June 26, 2011

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In Nantucket, many houses bear the same kind of wooden quarter board signs that were once affixed to ships’ bows. This tiny house in Madaket is no exception, and “Smallcraft” truly lives up to its name.

Katie Dadagian spent her childhood summers in cottages on Nantucket. She and her parents and sister made an annual trek from New Jersey, and the family eventually bought a home.

“We’d rented houses for about 10 or 15 years before we found Smallcraft, which my parents loved for its location so close to the boatyard,” Katie says. (Her father, now in his 70s, had spent summers as a child on Nantucket, too.) “They love the Madaket part of the island; it’s very low-key, and most of the buildings tend to be smaller.”

By any standard, Smallcraft is small. Its oldest section, what has become the living-dining room today, was built in the 1900s as an eel-drying hut. The now 500-square-foot structure grew slowly as it was made into a house, with additions built as necessary. It consists of a central galley kitchen, a bedroom big enough for two twin beds on one end, and a three-quarter bathroom and the living-dining room on the other. New sleeping lofts above the bedroom and the bathroom (which also houses a laundry) can be accessed by ladder.

The place needed some work after 100 years of surf, sun, and proximity to a creek that sometimes flooded it. So when Katie’s parents bought another house down the road and turned Smallcraft into a guest house, Katie’s husband, Steve, a principal at Lilley Dadagian Architects in Lexington, was drafted to update the home.

“The first challenge was to raise it 4 feet,” says Steve. Preservation bylaws dictated that the side of the home facing the street not be changed significantly, and the location of the home on the site was grandfathered; they were not allowed to tear this house down and rebuild elsewhere on the property. So the project started with raising both the house and the grade to prevent future flooding and to meet Conservation Commission requirements. To do this, Steve says, “we had to disassemble it to its framing and knit it back together one board at a time.”

The renovation also added insulation and modernized the interior; new windows and siding were installed, and two decks built. But the family was set on retaining what made the house special: its intimate size. So even though the renovation didn’t add to the home’s footprint, Smallcraft now comfortably sleeps five. Other touches include the pint-sized two-burner Aga stove in the kitchen, reclaimed wide-plank heartwood pine flooring, and walls and ceilings finished in cedar.

“There aren’t a lot of compromises, except to stay out of each other’s way,” says Steve of family life there. “It’s just amazing that at 500 square feet how functional a house can be in summer mode.”

Molly Jane Quinn is a freelance writer on Cape Cod. Send comments to