You might have heard this story. The year is 1620, and after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, a group of English men and women landed in the New World and disembarked from their boat. The boat was called the Mayflower. The voyagers, Pilgrims. The location? Provincetown, Massachusetts. That’s right, five weeks before they settled at Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims arrived at this small sliver of land at the very tip of Cape Cod.
Legend has it a skirmish with the local Nauset tribe of Native Americans drove the Pilgrims on to their final destination. Maybe. Or maybe they just didn’t have Ray Booth on board to help them envision the possibilities afforded by the area’s rugged landscape and natural beauty.
Ray, an interior designer at the renowned design firm McAlpine, and his husband John recently built a summer home on a plot of overgrown, forgotten land at the edge of Provincetown. We had the opportunity to chat with Ray, who is also trained in architecture, about the home and his approach to design. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell us about your typical design process when you're working with clients.
At McAlpine, our process in any piece of architecture or any interior focuses on creating something that is meaningful, both for our clients and anyone who comes in and experiences an interior or piece of architecture. We want them to feel it. It's about more than just creating something beautiful.
Houses are emotional vessels. They contain all of your greatest loves, joys and sorrows. It's really sacred ground, so if we're designing on behalf of a client, our process usually starts with the phase of work that we call seeking. It's programming, it's talking, it's looking at pictures, it's trying to understand the reason that they want to do this project.
Our hope through the seeking process is that we find some little seed of something that has resonance within their hearts and within their emotions and their souls, so that you can use that as the seed from which you can grow a design.
What was the seed for this house?
For John and me, our life together began at the beach. We met on the beach in Ibiza, Spain. Eventually, we moved to Fire Island, which is outside of New York. It was great, but it didn't feel just right. Our next venture was a house in Vieques, which is an island just off the coast of Puerto Rico. It was a stretch to try and get down there and it wasn't part of us.
John is from Massachusetts originally. He grew up just 30 minutes outside of Boston, so as a young man he spent a lot of time in Provincetown. We came back for a friend's 50th birthday and I was riding around town on my bike, loving the architecture and the bike trails and the arts community. All of a sudden, we were like, "Oh my God. This is an amazing place."
We saw this piece of property that was totally overgrown with vines, briars, poison ivy—it was just this foreboding, unattractive piece of property. Nothing had been built on it since the Pilgrims landed here. I rode my bike to it on a fire road. When I arrived, there were ferns that were literally six feet in diameter. I arrived at the time of day when the sun was setting to the west and the light was coming through horizontally, and I was like, "Oh my God." I hopped on my bike rode back to John and screamed, "I found it, I found it, I found it!"
So how did the landscape influence how you designed the home?
Part of it was just geometry. We had a little circle where all the ferns and everything grow, so we were kind of pinned to a specific area for the footprint. The house is L-shaped in large part because we're just trying to fit in to this little spot. But it also allowed us to highlight a big swamp maple which was just the star of the landscape. It allowed us to design the kitchen and the screen porch around the tree, and then it told us that all of this needed to be glass to bear witness to that forest.
For me, light is the magic ingredient in any architecture that I work on. I like putting windows in corners so that your peripheral vision is expanded and you're able to really feel the piece of property. Those are all design elements that were informed by the natural landscape and trying to be respectful to it.
How did the Cape Cod area inform your design decisions?
When we come into the interior, our color cues and other elements were informed by our location. We're on the verge of a woodland here, but we found the colors on a ferry ride back to Boston. They’re as close as we could find to the colors of the harbor where the ferry docks. And the rippling patterns we used kind of echo the waves.
How did the design process work for the two of you together? Especially since this is your profession.
John's very astute in understanding things and having an opinion about something that he doesn't work on every day, so I would engage him in any decisions that we needed to make together. He'll have ideas that are different than I would think of, but a lot of times if you're listening, paying attention and allowing the design process to work in all the ways that it can, you come up with something new and different.
Tell us a little bit about some of the materials you used and how you came to those selections.
We're in this context of colonial Provincetown where everything is cedar shake, so I knew we were going to build a cedar house. I wanted to do something a little different, so we used a vertical black cedar plank, which was both informed by the context and a reaction to it.
We also wanted to use a local stone. We found the North Mountain Stone at a local stone yard, and it was just kind of the perfect counterbalance to the black of the exterior of the house.
How would you describe your style, if you had to describe it?
People do ask us to try and describe it, and I think the best things, whether it’s human relationships or design philosophies, don’t fit conveniently in one little box. You could use the word eclectic, of course, but it's an overused word and it oversimplifies our approach.
Plus, when putting things into one specific style, you end up dating them. And I think by combining modern and traditional elements and everything in between, something can be more timeless.
Our work at McAlpine ranges from very modern to very traditional, and it's about the people that show up at our door and invite us in to do this work. And that changes everything, every time.
You made some interesting material choices, like the use of carpet in the bathrooms. Can you talk a little bit about some of those softer textures that you've included?
Shown above: Veil wall-hung toilet
I feel like a bath or a kitchen is as much a living space as any space should be, and so I try to find opportunities to introduce textiles, art and other warm, welcoming elements throughout.
I also have a husband who loves a bath, and our bath is situated so he can lay in it and look out at the beautiful woodland. I always try to find opportunities to layer in those touches.
There are also some really interesting design choices that seem to break with traditional norms, such as putting mirrors in unusual places, or inverting sconces and mirrors. What led to some of those decisions?
A lot of it had to do with the geometry of the architecture. In the master bath, we were inhabiting that little gable with two vanities, and I wanted the window in the center because I wanted that to be what you saw coming up the stairs. I didn't want a big mirror there, so it allowed me to come up with using those pivoting mirrors off to the sides. It was primarily a lesson in geometry.
The same thing in the powder room. I wanted the window on center with the door so that you would see outside immediately upon entering the room. And since it’s a powder room, the mirror didn't need to be right there over the sink. In the master bath you need it right there, because you're shaving and brushing your teeth.
What do you typically look for in terms of faucet finishes when you're designing?
Shown above: One kitchen faucet
For me, I usually stay in a fairly narrow lane, not that I wouldn't like to expand some more, but I'm usually looking into the silvers and nickels. Occasionally I will use brass and stainless steel, so you get little bit of a play on those finishes, but typically we carry the same finish throughout a house. We did polished chrome here, which I had never done, but I fell in love with the faucet.
The house has a little bit of a traditional bent, and sometimes that leads me to go more contemporary on my faucet selections. I wanted something that's very clean-lined, and Composed is just brilliant. Simple, elegant, modern. The fact that it was in polished chrome, I said, "Okay. Well, then I'm going to go polished chrome across the board."
Are there certain rooms in the home that you and John use the most?
It depends. We haven't even been in it a year, but it's been fun in that short amount of time. We typically start our mornings out on the porch. I’m usually the first to wake up. I go out and have my coffee there. John usually follows suit later.
Most of our meals are eaten on the porch as well. A lot of times we'll take lunch to the beach, and in the evenings, we end up sitting out on the back deck. In our little barrel chairs, we’ll have a cocktail and watch the sunset over the forest.
The windows are really interesting. Can you tell us about them?
All of these double-hung windows are dropped. We designed the overhangs to be extra wide so that we can leave the house open all the time, even if it rains. We don't really use the air conditioning, so the screen porch is usually open.