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Ship Shape
By Terry Ward Libby

Redesigned Buzzards Bay home stands as a symbol of owners’
and architect’s vision

At the Cape Cod home of Rhoda and Jordan Baruch, a second story balcony looks out to a sequin-studded sea that stretches out for miles across the expanse of Buzzards Bay. The balcony is not large but is, instead, an intimate and private space, just big enough to hold a pair of deck chairs. It is enclosed by stainless steel railings and is tucked into a sheltering alcove that leads into the bedroom behind it. A row of such balconies spans the length of the house, each one self-contained, and each one accessible only from a bedroom, via a pair of oversized sliding glass doors.

Cataumet-based architect, David R. MacLean, designed the plans for a top-to-bottom redesign of the Baruch home, which was completed earlier this year. He calls the house “a boat on land, with everything boat-like in scale.” It’s easy to see what he means. The balconies have precisely the feel and scale of those on a cruise ship, and the site of the house, perched on a steep embankment, hovering just above the surf, gives it a perfect cruise ship perspective. From the balconies, and from every room in the house, there is a perpetual view of the play of sunlight on ocean waves, creating the illusion of movement, a feeling of being underway.

The Baruchs first purchased a home on this site in the 1960s, when both were just beginning to embark on academic and public service careers that would, eventually, take them from New England to Washington, D.C. After serving in World War II, Jordan Baruch earned his doctorate in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked on the faculty until 1971. He then moved on to administrative posts at Harvard University and Dartmouth College. By the late 1970s, Baruch had established an international reputation in the area of innovative management strategies in science and technology.

Then President Jimmy Carter appointed Baruch to the cabinet post of Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Science and Technology. Dr. Rhoda Baruch, a psychologist, has also served as an administrator and faculty member at Harvard and Dartmouth. When the Baruchs moved to Washington, she founded the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives, which is now run under the auspices of the School of Public Health at George Washington University, where she currently retains her appointment as an adjunct professor. In 2007, she published “Creative Anger,” a book, she says, that offers a fresh approach to managing and re-channeling “the universal emotion of anger.” She co-wrote the book with her George Washington University colleagues, Suzanne Stutman and Edith H. Grotberg.

In the early days, summer trips to Cape Cod gave the Baruchs an opportunity to set aside the pressures of academic life in order to spend time with their children, and to enjoy life’s simpler pursuits.

The old house, which originally occupied the beachfront site on Buzzards Bay was, says Rhoda, “a big, useful house, but with what I always liked to call a dumb design.”

The house was long and narrow, like a railroad car, with a string of bedrooms, all opening onto a dark hallway which led to a communal living and cooking area. The house was very bare bones in style, says Rhoda, but the family loved it nonetheless, because of its extraordinary location and unobstructed water view.

“We kept it that way for seventeen years,” she says.

But eventually, the house was in serious need of multiple repairs and updates, and that’s when the Baruchs first enlisted the help of architect MacLean, who developed the plans for an earlier renovation to the property in 1981. Zoning regulations required that any new construction must lie within the original footprint and, at that time, no second story was added.

As time passed, the extended Baruch family grew. The Baruch’s three adult children had children of their own, all of them embracing the family tradition of summer vacations on Cape Cod. By 2003, the decision was made to embark on a new, more ambitious plan for the property. The Baruchs decided to construct an entirely new house in the footprint of the original one, this time adding a second story. Once again, they called in MacLean and gave him the kind of creative license that architects dream of. MacLean, in his signature modern style, completely re-conceptualized the house, focusing on every aspect and detail of both its exterior and interior design.

To counter the box-car-like shape of the footprint, MacLean rearranged the interior floor plan and softened interior corners and angles by adding rounded, sculptural walls and other architectural features designed to create curvature. MacLean says the effect is, in fact, much like the process of boatbuilding. The wood used to construct curved walls, moldings and stairwells was cut with precision jigsaws and special steam-generating machinery, all of which was brought to the site during construction.

“I love wood,” says MacLean. “I love how it can be sculpted. I am an owner of wooden boats myself. In the Baruch house, we were able to utilize the kind of boatwright’s craftsmanship that is nearly a lost art and build into the house a level of quality rarely employed in home construction now.”

From the foyer, the main staircase sweeps upwards with a curving wooden beam for a handrail on one side and a stainless steel rail on the other. MacLean placed these steel railings throughout the house – the same ones used on the outdoor balconies – in order to carry this boat-like feature into interior as well as exterior spaces.

The Baruchs were avid sailors not so long ago, so they find MacLean’s “boat on land” inspiration especially enjoyable. “David was once a sculptor, and you can see that in his work,” Rhoda says. “It feels like I’m living inside a sculpture when I’m in the house. We like David’s esthetic and his clever approach.”

Though the new house also has long hallways, MacLean has made them interesting by adding intermittent sitting areas and bay windows. The bedrooms are compact and functional. Each has a skylight installed in a steeply angled ceiling gable and a private, en suite bathroom done in sleek, modern style.

The spacious living and dining area is the communal center of the house. It has a large fireplace which incorporates the antique mantelpiece from the original house. Over the dining table is a light fixture called “Triple Linear Logico,” manufactured by Artemide, an Italian firm known for its unusual, contemporary designs. Three large glass pendants, each one like a flowing ribbon of glass, grouped together. Again, the curvature of the piece is a counterpoint to the more rectangular features of the room.

Adjacent to the dining area is a new state-of-the-art kitchen with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a vast ocean view. One of Rhoda’s greatest joys in the new house, she says, is watching as her family gathers in the kitchen to prepare meals together.

Outside, just steps from the living and dining area, is a swimming pool set within an intimate courtyard. Mac-Lean has used gray-blue squares of granite from Deer Isle, Maine, to cover the pool patio and as accents in other terraced outdoor spaces. A glass wall protects the pool area from the often brisk ocean winds, yet still allows for a full ocean view. Beyond the pool, a series of decks leads to a wooden staircase, equipped with stainless steel railings, which opens onto the idyllic private beach at the base of the property.

In 2007, Baruch was the recipient of the prestigious Arthur M. Bueche Award from the National Academy of Engineering. He was recognized “for the promotion of innovation and management of science and technology nationally and internationally, thereby enhancing the economy of the U.S. and developing nations,” cites the academy. His work in a U.S.-China diplomatic initiative that led to the establishment of the first Chinese management school on the industrial use of science and technology was also noted by the academy.

Adjacent to the swimming pool is an abstract sculpture, a group of elongated metal bands that seem to be unfurling skyward, wavering in the air. Baruch created the piece which he calls the “Pavone,” or peacock, inspired by the traditional Chinese peacock dance. To the casual observer, it is a pleasing and graceful work of art, but for the Baruch family, it stands as personal reminder of the international impact of his life’s work.