There’s more than meets the eye at this architect’s Provincetown retreat, from nostalgic touches to exotic elements that bring the outside in.
Lisa Pacheco Robb fell in love with her Provincetown home in classic rom-com style: She happened to see it when she joined her friends who were house hunting in 2005. It wasn’t quite right for them. But, with renovations, Pacheco Robb knew the unassuming Cape-style house would be perfect for her and her wife, Barbara, and their Bernese mountain dog, Ensign, so she bought it. “I thought, Someday down the road, I could make this into something pretty fabulous,” she recalls. And in 2017, she did.
The exterior remains unassuming—it’s in a historic district, where most homes look alike. At 1,800 square feet, it’s also compact. “But then once you walk through the front door, people are really surprised with what’s on the other side,” Pacheco Robb says. This is probably because she is a principal at Pacheco Robb Architects who focuses on designs that engage the full spectrum of senses. She’s also sentimental and wanted to infuse the home with memories of her childhood cottage, for example, with its wooden screen doors, and elements from her hometown of New Bedford.
Nostalgic natural materials, textures, and finishing touches set the tone throughout. Most guests first comment on the ceilings: reclaimed snow fence from Wyoming, sourced from Centennial Wood Products in Montana. “We loved this choice because you can see a history of wind, snow, and sun in the beautiful patina of the wood,” she says. “It’s funny how many times people come in the house and say, ‘Oh, my God. I love this ceiling.’ And then I get to say, ‘Oh, it’s Wyoming snow fence!’” Inevitably they ask, “How did it end up in Massachusetts?” she says. “As an architect, I always search for things that add just another layer to the architecture as a story and that add history and memory.”
That’s the case with the simple white tile backsplash in the kitchen, which mimics the Japanese tradition of shou sugi ban, or charring wood to preserve it. It’s a nod to Pacheco Robb’s study of Japanese design during her architecture school days, where she completed her thesis on sensory, experiential environments with Asian influences. “I wanted to bring in materials that had special tactile qualities,” she says, especially those that revealed nature’s beauty, right down to the white-oak floors. “Grain tells a story of the wood and the age of the wood. I feel like it’s artwork. You’ll see grain over and over in my house,” she says, including the white-oak cabinets with a cerused finish from Bespoke of Winchester. “I’m trying to create a connection to nature.”
Meanwhile, pendant lights above the kitchen island are a “crossover between industrial and marine, like what you’d expect to see on the docks near fishing boats. I grew up in New Bedford, which is a fishing town; something about those lights reminded me of home,” the architect says. The maritime feel was important: Her dog is named Ensign, after all, and she and her wife are avid boaters. They wanted the house to feel cozy and inviting, like battening down on a ship during a storm, even in the sun-drenched sitting area. In keeping with a personal touch, Pacheco Robb did all of the interior design herself, sourcing the living area chairs and glass lamps from the South End’s Hudson Interior Designs.
O&G Studio, cofounded by Rhode Island School of Design alumni, made the kitchen’s ash counter stools using a stain method that brings out the depth of the grain. “One of the things I always try to do in my projects is use local craftsmen, and real artisans who make products from scratch,” Pacheco Robb says. Steel stair stringers were also fabricated locally by Wellfleet Steel Works, with solid oak treads from a Connecticut mill. Pacheco Robb was initially lukewarm about the railing—a playful riff on the shiplap walls—but visitors loved it. “So it never came down, and as it turns out, with those stairs, you need a railing,” she says, laughing. The handrail attached to the wall is a mast from a Beetle Cat sailboat from a boat maker near New Bedford.
The maritime whimsy continues at the top of the stairs, with an abstract painting by local artist TJ Walton of a fishing pier at the end of the street. “We love her work, and when we originally bought that painting, it was actually before we renovated the house. She carried it down Commercial Street and hung it herself, and the paint on it was still wet,” Pacheco Robb says.
Speaking of water, a blue desk by Iowa’s Aronson Woodworks in an upstairs bedroom resembles a waterfall, thanks to “Claize,” a proprietary woodgrain finish that brings out the wood’s natural grain. “It’s my favorite thing in the entire house. I absolutely love it,” she says.
In the primary bedroom, the bathtub at the foot of the bed was also Pacheco Robb’s idea. “I love taking baths throughout the year….. Since the room is for me, I can do whatever I want,” she says. “On a fall night, I just open the door and sit in the bath, and I’m happy as can be.”
Pacheco Robb Architects
Bespoke of Winchester
LeBlanc Jones Landscape Architects