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Creative Collaboration
By Terry Ward Libby

Teamwork among owners, architect and builder takes shape in summer dream home in Chatham

From the start, the chemistry was right between the Carole and John Dowd and the team of professionals they signed on to build their new house in Chatham.

When they decided to build, they made an appointment with company president, Jim Gable who, in turn, brought in house designer Mark Zibrat.

The first project meeting with Gable and Zibrat took place around the dining room table in the former Dowd home, where Carole and John pointed out the features they liked and disliked about it. They were impressed with the fact that the builder and designer asked them a lot of “lifestyle” questions.

“They were good listeners,” said John, “the first set of plans they developed were ninety-five percent right on the money.”

Carole comes originally from the mountains of Tennessee, and in her home office she proudly displays a panoramic photo of Lookout Mountain, where she grew up. After many summers on Cape Cod, she says, she’s come to love New England, too. She comes to Chatham by way of Chattanooga. “Mind you, I had seen the ocean before,” she says with the easy-going Southern charm she still retains.

John is a native of Massachusetts, but the Dowds’ home base is Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., where John works as lawyer. There he has had a role in some of the most high-profile trials and legal proceedings of recent years. His clients have included John McCain and, more recently, former Department of Justice official, Monica Goodling. In his Chatham abode, however, one would never guess that Dowd is a man grappling with controversial issues under a national spotlight. He seems to be mostly focused on his flowerbeds and the “riot of color” he says they add to his new front lawn.

From childhood, John has vacationed on Cape Cod and, during his teen years, he took on summer jobs. In 1975, his parents, Mary and Paul Dowd, purchased a small retirement home in Chatham. Eventually, that property passed on to Carole and John, who have five married children and eleven grandchildren, ranging in age from just ten months to fourteen years, making up an extended family of twenty-two. By 2006, the Dowds had outgrown the original house, one that designer Zibrat describes as “a typical Cape Cod-style summer home, probably built in the 1950s.” The decision was made to raze the old house and build an entirely new one.

The primary design goal set for the new house was to make it highly functional and child-friendly, a place that would comfortably accommodate a crowd.

The dining room, for example, occupies a distinctive space of its own, yet it opens onto the larger living room and kitchen area. For special occasions, Carole’s antique dining table, with its multiple wooden leaves, can be extended into the living room to seat the entire Dowd clan. The floor plan was specifically designed with this option in mind.

The Dowds also wanted to incorporate a few echoes of the older place by creating some nooks and features that would evoke memories of summers past. The old dining room had built-in cabinetry, so similar cabinetry was designed for the new one. An old corner cupboard, which belonged to John’s mother, also occupies a prominent space in the dining room. Years ago, the inside of the cupboard had been painted a rich aqua, a color very popular in the 1940s and ‘50s. Carole chose a hue of the same vintage aqua for the dining room walls. On display inside the cupboard is a set of old Franciscan dinnerware, bordered with a homey pattern of pink and white blossoms. The effect is a charming blend of the old with the new, a theme Carole has carried throughout the house.

Displayed in both the dining room and the living room is the Dowds’ collection of original works by painter Lee Winslow Court, known for his paintings of coastal Maine and New England snowscapes. He was a long-time personal friend of the Dowd family and often provided his signed prints as gifts to them. Carole and John value the works for both their beauty and their importance as family keepsakes.

A super-functional, state-of-the-art kitchen, with every amenity Carole had desired, is situated behind the main seating area of the living room. A long kitchen island is all that separates the space from the living room, making this expansive, open area the home’s central gathering place. A large, three-season porch opens from the living room and provides another, more casual dining space with a bird’s-eye view of the backyard, which is fully equipped with swing sets and other safe play spaces for grandchildren.

Also on the first floor, comfortably separated from other, communal living spaces, is a large master bedroom suite. One wing of the suite includes Carole’s office, while the other end features a master bathroom, which leads to a much-used private outdoor shower.

The entrance to the house opens into a two story-high foyer, appropriately the grandest feature of the home. From it, a staircase leads to the second floor. At a turn in the stairs, an oval window frames an idyllic view of the Chatham streetscape outside.

John’s office, with sliding, pocket-style French doors, built-in bookcases and many windows, occupies one side of the second story, while family bedrooms with en-suite baths are arranged on the other side of a central hallway. Carole is especially happy with the custom tile work done in the bathrooms where, to the grandchildren’s delight, whimsical ceramic creatures like turtles, crabs and shellfish are embedded among the floor tiles.

A large finished basement provides a television entertainment area big enough to accommodate the entire family, a game room with a pool table, card table and a second kitchen area. Another basement play space is lined with shelves that hold mega-sized buckets of crayons and other art materials, an ideal rainy day retreat for grandchildren.

Ultimately, the interior floor plan created by designer Zibrat perfectly suited the Dowds’ needs, but they also had some specific ideas for the exterior design of the house. They liked the look of a gambrel roof line, they told him, so Zibrat came up with a design that features three separate, intersecting exterior gambrels. It’s a style that has two major advantages, he says.

“A gambrel roof keeps gable ends small, thus giving the building a smaller overall exterior appearance,” he said, “which gives the house a traditional look in keeping with the styles of architecture associated with an historic town like Chatham.” At the same time, Zibrat explains, the high sides of the gambrel roof allow for more interior space. The gambrel style also makes for interior ceiling angles inside second floor spaces, which lend cozy, old-fashioned character to the rooms.

The exterior landscaping for the house was done by The Home Team, a subsidiary of Gable Building Corp., which was established, says Gable, because of high client demand for on-going landscaping and home maintenance services. Rich Carey, formerly the landscape designer for the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill and now manager of The Home Team, designed the grounds surrounding the new house. The Dowds are particularly delighted by the profusion of colorful flowerbeds that line their yard and walkways.
The couple has great praise for the team who made their home building project both pleasing and painless. “Jim (Gable) is beautifully organized and transparent,” John Dowd says. “He has good ideas. He kept in touch with us almost daily, even when we were not on site, providing Internet updates, including pictures of the on-going project.”

Gable and Zibrat are quick to assert that such a successful collaboration is only possible when clients are as attentive and involved as the Dowds.

“Working together with clients on a building project,” says Gable, “is like a marriage. It works when everyone is communicating. You’ve got to start out honest and stay honest.”

“It works both ways,” he adds. “The Dowds were ideal people to work with. They made every design decision early, which made it much easier for us to stay on schedule and on budget.”

Atop the new garage is perched an old grasshopper cupola, another heirloom preserved from the original house. It gives the new house a look of completion and gives the Dowds a satisfying sense of continuity for their summer days in Chatham