Sea and Be Seen

After seven years of North Shore summer rentals, a Cambridge pair makes the relationship permanent with a Federal-style seasonal home atop a hill in the village center.


Norton and Chapin watch the sun set from their new wraparound porch. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

If the weather is warm, you’ll find Lauren Norton on Cape Ann. The Cantabrigian has spent almost every summer here since 1967, perfecting her tennis game at the yacht club and sailing her 15-foot boat. So when she began dating fellow lawyer David Chapin in 1992, she had some hesitation. “David’s family summered on a lake in New Hampshire,” she says. “I wasn’t sure he’d really enjoy Cape Ann.” To find out, the couple rented a local cottage. The next summer, they rented it again. And the next year. And the next. And so on, for seven consecutive summers—they were hooked.

Nearly a decade ago, a Federal-period house on a hill overlooking the yacht club came up for sale. The once-grand white building had been divided into a two-family unit, then poorly stitched back together. Norton and Chapin, now married, bought the house anyway; they loved its quiet dignity and prominent position in town. “Inside, every room had views of the water,” says Norton. “I knew with a few changes, I could unlock its potential.”


Lauren Norton and David Chapin’s golden retriever, Potato, catches ocean breezes in the main foyer. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

The pair hired Newton-based Huth Architects to rework the interior for an “old-new, clean-living, nothing-fussy feeling.” Project architect David Rubino remembers that “Lauren didn’t want a showpiece. She wanted a summer house, something light and breezy.” What seemed simple—taking down a few walls, installing a new kitchen—turned out to be a much larger undertaking. “The rough-hewn tree timbers that made up the original framing had been cut over the years to accommodate additions and redos,” says Rubino. “It was amazing the house was still standing.”


The kitchen opens to a comfortable seating area with casual slipcovered furniture and dark-stained hardwood floors. Beyond the French doors is the porch, the epicenter of the couple’s summer social life. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

Reconstruction and renovation began in the fall of 2004, and contractor Michael Nimon of Nimon Construction in Gloucester finished just before Memorial Day. With an open kitchen, a second staircase, new bathrooms, and a more rational plan, the house finally felt like a single-family home again. The linchpin of the new design is a covered wraparound porch, which replaced a small exposed deck. “We live out here in the summertime,” says Norton. “We entertain friends and eat every meal outside.”Norton and Chapin consulted with a friend, artist and decorative painter Sara Egan, to choose a color palette and furniture. “There are some beautiful summer houses we wanted to reference, but we also wanted it to be modern and fun,” says Egan, who knows the home quite well—her grandmother once lived here, and it was her cousin who sold it to Norton and Chapin. Norton shopped at the Casual Furniture Outlet in Ipswich for outdoor furnishings and trolled the Todd Farm Flea Market in Rowley for antiques.


The galley kitchen features a large granite-topped island often used as an impromptu gardening table. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

Now every morning she wakes with the sun and rows her seven-year-old golden retriever, Potato, across the river to a local beach. Then she plays tennis (shelves overflowing with silver trophies attest to her killer backhand). She’s also shifted her focus from law to writing, having completed an M.F.A. at Lesley University, and is working on a book of short stories. Evenings are spent grilling fresh seafood—like swordfish or tuna from Steve Connolly’s in Gloucester—and making salads from vegetables Chapin grows in their garden. Most nights, the couple and their friends sit on the new porch, either sheltered from light rain or taking in the gorgeous sunset view. “The scene from the house is never the same,” says Norton. “The Cape Ann light soothes and shimmers.”


Morning light floods the master bedroom, whose centerpiece is a simple slipcovered headboard. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski



White painted floorboards, rattan furniture, and images of the ocean never let Norton and Chapin forget they’re on vacation. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski


ARCHITECT Huth Architects, Newton

CONTRACTOR Nimon Construction, Gloucester

INTERIORS Sara Egan, Charlestown