Set on Cape Cod's farthest bit of land, Provincetown, Massachusetts’s small-town look belies its outsize reputation. “It has this vibrancy, this crazy culture of gay, straight, black, white, purple,” says Ray Booth, a principal at architecture and design firm McAlpine, who recently built a three-story, three-bedroom summer home there to with his husband, TV consultant John Shea.
Beaches are the couple’s lifeblood: They met on the sand in Ibiza, Spain, and also have a home on the Caribbean island of Vieques (which is part of Puerto Rico), along with places in Nashville and Manhattan. Provincetown has long been a major plot point for Shea: While bartending there as a young man, he made a close friend—and then lost him to the AIDS crisis. It wasn’t until Booth and Shea headed to Provincetown together as adults, and both felt instantly at home, that they decided to lay anchor. The only trouble? Finding any available empty plots in a land grab that’s been running since the 17th century. (Proof of the town’s antiquity: The Mayflower Compact was actually drawn up and signed in Provincetown Harbour, not Plymouth.)
When the couple first saw the property their house now stands on, it was hate at first sight. “It was kind of ratty-looking from the front,” Booth recalls. But once he actually set foot on the land, it seemed like Narnia: a pasture with towering, centuries-old maples and ferns six feet in diameter. “It was like there were fairies and gnomes—absolutely unbelievable,” Booth says. “To walk onto a virgin piece of property in this Colonial town, where the Pilgrims first landed, and know that it has never, ever been touched.” They made an offer on that trip.
Booth, who started as an intern at McAlpine and is now a partner, wanted to be respectful of all that untamed lushness. Fortunately, Provincetown’s strict building codes also demanded it. “We had a teeny, tiny possible envelope in which we could place any kind of structure,” he says. Which is why he thought like the part-time New Yorker he is and built straight up, stacking three levels on top of each other for a tidy 2,700 square feet. Booth centered two floors of screened porches against a swamp maple tree, the largest on site. “As the sun is setting, you see this extraordinary light come through the arms of this tree,” he says. “It’s really pretty magical.” He painted the home’s exterior black because he felt “it didn’t need to stand out—it needed to be a shadow.” All the better for seeing the trees.
The home’s interiors do justice to the frothy harbor views beyond, without a whiff of the beachy camp to which so many other vacation houses fall victim. A 60-inch-wide front door is painted as shiny as a mussel shell, and the living room’s rug was inspired by the rippling water that Booth and Shea see on the ferry back to Boston. To allow for airy 10-foot ceilings in the living room, the lower floor was capped at seven feet, six inches. And throughout the whole home, a finish called Dune was splashed onto the European oak floors—because, Booth says, “We basically wanted to have sand underneath our feet.”
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