Theories of Relativity

In 1993, after almost a decade of making day trips from Boston to Cape Cod in order to windsurf Kalmus Beach, brothers Mike and Tom Hill started to explore the adjacent neighborhoods of Hyannis. That’s when they spotted a washed-up Cape Cod house for sale.

IN 1993, AFTER ALMOST A DECADE OF MAKING DAY TRIPS FROM BOSTON TO CAPE COD in order to windsurf Kalmus Beach, brothers Mike and Tom Hill started to explore the adjacent neighborhoods of Hyannis. That’s when they spotted a washed-up Cape Cod house for sale. Though it was in obvious disrepair, it was sitting on a majestic lot just west of their favorite windsurfing beach.

The very next weekend, the two were back on the Cape looking at multiple properties, but nothing appealed to them as much as that seaside property and its awkward, crude cottage.

THE BROTHERS BOUGHT THE HOUSE TOGETHER, AND WITHIN A YEAR, HIRED ARCHITECT Paul Rovinelli of H.P. Rovinelli Architects in Arlington to renovate two rooms of the 2,000-square-foot traditional Cape Cod cottage. Topping the remodel list was the kitchen, which was spread into various rooms, probably from prior use as a seafood shack. The tiny upstairs bath was their second priority, but it quickly became apparent that the remodel was not going to end with these two projects.

“The plan started as opening up the kitchen and expanding the bathroom, but the house wasn’t up to modern construction standards,” says Mike, an environmental scientist. “We’d touch one thing, and five more [projects] would surface.”

With the brothers prepared for a bigger project than they first imagined, Rovinelli (along with Cotuit builder Lawrence McCutcheon) considered several structural and aesthetic elements. “When we first saw the house, there was no central dormer, which set in motion a plan of punching the house forward on the ocean side to add some space,” says Rovinelli. “We wanted to open the house with glass, but didn’t want to use a completely modern wall of glass that would clash with the traditional architecture, so we used traditional double-hung windows and sliding glass doors.”

Before long, they gutted the entire first floor and rebuilt it into one large open space, separated only by the staircase leading to the four petite bedrooms and newly enlarged bath upstairs. The faulty staircase was renovated and became a central point in the living area. Though, in hindsight, it may have been easier to demolish the house and start from scratch, Rovinelli says, “The house has a charm that it wouldn’t have if we tore it down.”

They also changed the exterior, interspersing striking turquoise cedar panels among the home’s traditional cedar shingle. The colorful addition gave the house chic beach flair and had a practical use: “When you’re out windsurfing and you’re trying to come back in, it’s hard to differentiate the houses,” Mike says. “So we wanted to add something to our house that was a little different, but still traditional and blends with the sea.”

For the next decade, the house served as a windsurfing retreat for the brothers and their five siblings. But then, after Mike and Tom married, four quickly doubled to eight, as Mike and Sue Bear welcomed Wyatt and Jessie, while Lucas and Ian graced Tom and Nancy Hagens. Suddenly, the small cottage was not enough, and in 2001, they had to sit down at the drawing board again.


THE HILLS CONSIDERED TIME-SHARING the house between families, but with finicky winds dictating “the perfect visit,” the windsurfers passed on that idea. Building a guesthouse was the next option, but that was ruled out due to zoning issues. Against conventional norm, the families decided that building an addition onto the main house was the best option for sharing the space.

“It might have been easier to time-share or to sell,” says Tom, a film and video producer. “I don’t think a lot of people would make this choice today.” They called Rovinelli and started planning a 2,000-square-foot addition.

“The biggest challenge was adding the space without overwhelming the original cottage,” says Rovinelli, who worked with Osterville’s Steven J. Bishopric on the second project.

The families wanted simplicity and efficiency to be the guiding principles. A closet off the driveway was built into the entrance gallery for the quick stowing of bikes and toys upon late-night arrivals. A walk-in basement that was accessible from outside was maybe the most critical addition, allowing Mike, Tom, Sue and Nancy to keep their sails rigged between windsurfing sessions. “Time gets more precious after having kids,” says Tom. “Saving 15 minutes is a big thing.”

Complementing the house’s original small bedrooms, the addition has three spacious bedrooms and two full baths. And while the original floor plan includes an ample kitchen, inviting living area and dining room with a family banquet table that can seat 16, the new section has a modest kitchenette attached to a quiet den.

For privacy, a connector hallway (which, says Tom, the family refers to as “the link”) was built between the structures, with pocket doors on either end that can be closed when one family wakes up before the other.

Because both spaces offer something different, it wasn’t long before the families decided to switch sides every two years. “It’s a different experience living on either side,” says Sue. “On one side you have ample living, on the other, ample sleeping area.”


AFTER A DAY OF WINDSURFING, EASY alfresco dining is the way to go, so the Hills worked with Dan Solien, principal architect at Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects in Falmouth, to help create a low-maintenance landscape suited for family life and outdoor entertaining.

Solien developed “an intimate courtyard space within the embrace of the house.” He worked with Allenby Tree Movers & Tree Farms in East Falmouth to transplant a beautiful mature cedar tree that now shades the courtyard. “It was important to find a tree that would tolerate the seaside conditions yet provide a lot of character,” says Solien.

Solien joined forces with landscape construction firm Francisco Tavares in East Falmouth to address the overall exterior aesthetic. “When we arrived, the house was sitting on an open shoreline lot without privacy from the adjacent neighborhood, or without any real connection to the shoreline,” says Solien. “So our aim was to create private yard space that, with a selection of plant materials, connected more closely to dune vegetation along the shore.”

The perennial plants, dune grasses and other ornamental grasses Solien planted around the house require little attention so the families can focus on more important things, like grabbing their sails when the winds reach 20 knots or more.