Making Change

Ned Hand and Marcel Albanese almost didn’t see their tiny Gloucester home when they were looking to move from a 3,000-square-foot loft in Boston’s Chinatown. “The realtor said, ‘It’s really tired. And it’s been on the market for almost a year,’” says Hand. It turns out it was just what they were looking for.

NED HAND AND Marcel Albanese almost didn’t see their tiny Gloucester home when they were looking to move from a 3,000-square-foot loft in Boston’s Chinatown. “The realtor said, ‘It’s really tired. And it’s been on the market for almost a year,’” says Hand. “It had dark brown paneling and was a real old-lady cottage.”

Bordered by water on two sides, the house’s front looks north over Wingaersheek Beach and its sunsets; the back faces south onto Goose Cove. “It was the first and only house we looked at on Cape Ann,” says Albanese. Trusting their instincts, they bought it on the spot, and immediately moved in—paneling and all. “We went to the closing with two crowbars and a hammer in the trunk, and immediately came into the house and began ripping up the carpets and taking down the kitchen cabinets,” says Albanese. Hand adds: “We had a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to go along with it.”

Fitting In

HAND, A TALL, WILLOWY BLONDE from Ireland, and her Italian, Boston-born husband have lived together for 20 years. Hand owned Fresh Eggs, a funky modern home store, for 10 years before closing it this winter for remodeling (the store reopened with a new owner under the name Urban Living Studio, though Hand still does all the buying and merchandising). Albanese and his business partner own a design-build business called Studio, which handles build-outs of lofts and commercial spaces.

But when the design-savvy couple moved to Gloucester in November 1999, Hand was in total shock. “For the first six months, it was, ‘What did we do?’” she says. “[Before,] you’d walk out of the loft and you were in the middle of Chinatown. Now we had to drive to get a cup of coffee.” But Albanese remained calm. “When I saw the house, the scale of it and its size didn’t scare me because there was nothing I couldn’t fix,” he says.

Starting with the first floor, they gutted the house themselves, tearing down every wall that wasn’t holding up the 1,500-square-foot structure. Albanese built the kitchen first, and chose materials—maple wood, stainless steel, Plexiglas—that they would carry throughout the house, creating the kind of continuity and flow similar to what they’d had in their loft.

Shifting Landscape

THE OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE WAS next—scraping, painting, replacing shingles and gutters, and working on the garden, which was another gut job. They demolished a steep bank that led down to the cove and created three tiers that allow for a gentle slope and productive land.

The water-level tier leaves room for a dock and a Finnish-style, four-person wet sauna that Albanese built. The next tier is reserved for flowers and a vegetable garden that provides the couple with plenty of culinary inspiration. Albanese grows 12 heirloom varieties of tomatoes, arugula, collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, lots of lettuces and hot peppers. The tier closest to the house is the spot for Hand’s herb garden, which is filled with various sages, bay leaves, nasturtiums, chives and basils. There is a grassy lounging area on this tier as well, and it’s all made private by a controlled bamboo border.

The move to Gloucester forced the couple to become commuters, each making the 45-minute trip into Boston during the week. “But it’s like a summer house within driving distance to work,” says Albanese. Hand’s parents ask when visiting from Ireland, “Are you guys retired? It seems like you’re always on vacation.”

That’s because they go in the front door, out the back door and down onto the boat. There is a 17-foot motorboat and a small boat Albanese uses for lobstering (he has a license for 10 lobster traps), as well as three kayaks. The change of address yielded a different entertaining style—the couple went from throwing urban shindigs to hosting casual outdoor gatherings where guests walk the beach, fish for flounder and clam.

Cottage Industry

THE COUPLE’S LOVE FOR ENTERTAINING led them to design the house’s flowing first level. The kitchen is open enough to hold large parties, as is the dining room and the deck (a popular summertime dining spot).

Creating more room for daily life was on the agenda, too. On the second floor they ejected a crawl space to raise the ceilings. A 200-square-foot addition houses an inviting master bedroom with built-in furnishings, a private deck and a bath equipped with a stainless-steel tub, and his and hers rectangular stainless sinks, all encased in maple. Sliding, Asian-style panels of maple and frosted Plexiglas can be closed for added privacy. The home’s other bedroom is an airy, light-filled space for guests.

Everything in the house was either built by Albanese or came from Fresh Eggs, with the exception of a handful of items, including the kitchen chairs they bought in San Francisco in 1992 and the coffeemaker. One piece had unconventional beginnings: A chest of drawers that Albanese built for Hand began as a baker’s rack found in the trash. All the sumptuous bedding, linens, couches, some chairs, and all of the kitchen and dining room accoutrements came from Fresh Eggs.

A mixed-medium painting created by friend Christopher Frost hangs opposite the kitchen. Both of them fell in love with the piece, and Hand bought it as a Christmas gift for Albanese when they lived in the Chinatown loft. Fortunately, there was a wall in the cottage’s dining area to accommodate the work of art—a perfectly acceptable adjustment, much like leaving city life for the serene.