If you grew up spending summers (and sometimes winters) in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, it was normal to run into architectural giants such as Serge Chermayeff at the grocery store, to sweep the floors of Lilian Saarinen's modernist cottage, to babysit Charles Zehnder's children, and to watch your mother drive off to a cocktail party in a Marimekko dress. It wasn't until later, when I was taking architectural history classes in college, that I realized how rarified the design scene was on the Outer Cape, where more than 100 modest modern holiday retreats were built over a 40-year span, merging Bauhaus ideals with New England fishing town building traditions.
The catalyst for all this architectural innovation? Jack Hall, a Princeton grad and self-trained architect, who bought a 180-acre swath on Boundbrook Island in Wellfleet from Katie Dos Passos (the widow of John Dos Passos). Hall sold the land to friends (a 12-acre parcel to Chermayeff, for instance) and went on to design the Hatch Cottage for Robert Hatch, the then-editor of The Nation, and his wife, Ruth, an artist. The house—the setting for innumerable summer soirees—is available to rent; go to the Cape Cod Modern House Trust for information.
Above: A woodstove is set into a circle of beach stones. Photograph by Raimond Koch for the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.
Above: Sliding doors connect the house to the beach and fill the room with sea air. Note the mismatched dining chairs. Photograph via the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.
Above: Beach stones collected by Ruth Hatch. Photograph via Salt Cellar Shop.
Above: A Bertoia chair positioned in the entry. Photograph via the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.
Above: A series of working shutters, operated by a rope and pulley system, allows the cottage to be closed off in winter. Photograph via the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.
Above: A simple stone-edged path leads to the house. Photograph via Salt Cellar Shop.
Above: A deck overlooking the bay. Photograph via the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.
Above: Sunset at the Hatch Cottage. Photograph via the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.
Above: Interested in learning more? Order a copy of Cape Cod Modern: Midcentury Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape ($30 from Amazon) by Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani.
See a 1970 Charles Zehnder house that's part of the Cape Cod Modern House Trust (and also available for rent) in our post Pilgrim's Progress. On Gardenista, tour Architect Sheila Bonnell's Cape Cod Kitchen Garden.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on May 28, 2014, as part of our Modest Modern issue.