Something sort of amazing started happening on Cape Cod in the beginning of the 20th Century. Designers, architects (trained and untrained), Boston brahmins and bohemians created something of a modern design mecca in the dunes and woods of Truro and Wellfleet. The result was a myriad of beautiful Bauhaus summer cottages scattered amid a remarkable landscape, and an active community of builders, intellectuals and others all connected by their love for the aesthetic.
This history is detailed in Cape Cod Modern: Midcentury Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape, a book as well-researched as it is beautiful, with amazing pictures shot by Raimund Koch.
Most of the houses are notable for their simple single-floor rectangular designs, sometimes cantilevered above a dune or cliff, minimal clean layouts, and of course, beautiful views framed through big windows and from porches. This, for me, is the ideal combination of architecture and landscape. Relaxing, inviting and timeless.
Cape Cod Modern reveals the characters behind this modern movement. My personal favorites are Jack Phillips and Nathaniel Saltonstall, two brahmins who headed for Cape Cod to create dwellings conducive to a simpler more peaceful existence. It’s a legacy that still endures.
It turns out that Cape Cod Modern is just part of a much larger movement to preserve these homes. That effort is shown in Built on Narrow Land, a documentary about the efforts to restore those houses.
Cape Cod Modern House Trust is also actively restoring some of the older homes that have fallen into disrepair. They recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to rebuild the Weidlinger House, which fell into disrepair after some unfortunate bureaucratic workings:
“After the Cape Cod National Seashore was created in 1961, a number of important modern houses were bought by the Federal Government and fell into administrative limbo. The Weidlinger house (one of these) has been derelict for 15 years. Though it will soon be listed on the National Registry, protecting it from demolition, the house is in urgent need of restoration to stop further decay.”
While some homes are clearly in need of restoration, many of the houses featured in Cape Cod Modern are still enjoyed to this day, which should be a great reminder to architects who wish to create lasting projects.
In a time of over-the-top opulence and ridiculously-sized summer homes commonly torn down to make way for larger ones to dominate the landscape, Cape Cod Modern is the perfect reminder that timeless design is not about size but function, and that sometimes, small and simple really is better.