Repeat History

To save a modern gem on the cape, an architect builds a kindred addition.

THE ONE DOWNSIDE of owning a summer home (other than midweek longings when you’re stuck at work) is that at some point, you’ll have to drain the pipes, unplug the fridge, and close it up for the winter. Andif the house in question is on the Cape, that means spending six months out of every year waiting for warm weather.

[sidebar]But what if you didn’t have to say goodbye come October? That was the question that nagged Rick and Ellen Grossman when considering the beloved Truro property they’d owned for 30 years. Originally built in the early ’50s by architect Henry Hebbeln (who studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art under Eero Saarinen), the residence was a modern gem – a classic midcentury house connected by a breezeway to a small, simple building that once served as a World War II army barracks.

Rick, who co-owns Boston’s high-end Ligne Roset furniture store, and his wife, Ellen, a Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater board member (and the business manager of Newton boutique W.O.W., where she works alongside the couple’s daughter), adored the house’s wide swaths of glass, butterfly roof, built-in furniture, and tongue-and-groove siding. They cherished it so much that over the years, they’d replaced the breezeway with a kitchen and rebuilt its 50-year-old windows. They also knew the location couldn’t be beat. It overlooks Slough and Round ponds inside the Cape Cod National Seashore Park, about a mile from a secluded beach.

“Because we’re in our sixties, we knew it was the last time we’d really be comfortable making this change for our future. We didn’t want to have to do it again in 20 years,” says Rick. Even so, they worried that winterizing the bright and breezy beach house would destroy its midcentury spirit, so they turned to friend (and neighbor) Mark Hammer, of Cambridge-based Hammer Architects, for help.

As a young man in the early 1970s, Hammer was so smitten by the modernist style that he worked for the Architects Collaborative in Cambridge, a firm founded by Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius. “I grew up on Long Island, where all the houses looked exactly the same. I’d never been exposed to anything like it,” Hammer says of the cantilevered roofs, oversize windows, and vertical wood siding characteristic of Boston’s midcentury homes. When he bought his own Cape house, he found that dozens more had been built here by his design heroes, including Marcel Breuer and Eero Saarinen. In fact, he ended up renovating several such cottages in the area.

With the Grossman project, Hammer says he set out “to respect and honor the best of what was there and take away some of the worst pieces.” Instead of winterizing the Hebbeln structure (which he agreed would have seriously