A Falmouth family’s home is filled with seaside memories, past and presentBy Lenore Cullen Barnes | Photography by Matt Kalinowski
Summers on Cape Cod were the stuff of childhood dreams for Paula Hennessy and her seven siblings. Moving from their hometown of Newton to their rambling house in Falmouth Heights for the months of late June, July and August was a perennial ritual of freedom and joy. Paula’s mother ran The Horizon’s Inn out of their gambrel-style home. With a houseful of guests, the girls slept in cots in the dining-room-turned-dormitory, and as Paula remembers, “usually in our bathing suits.” A picture window with views across the sound to Martha’s Vineyard inspired sweet dreams and an impetus to jump out of bed in the morning. Paula’s brothers bunked in a room in the garage, dubbed the “sock room,” due to the earthy aroma emitted by the boys’ socks. In this pleasantly crowded family home, summers were all about being together and days were ruled by the briny water just outside their door, splashing treasures onto its sandy beaches every day.
Those summers set the stage for the rest of Paula’s life. She met her husband, Paul, through her summer job, when she worked with Paul’s brother at a local grocery store. Paul is a Falmouth native and spends his days on the water as a captain for the Steamship Authority. Like Paula, he comes from a large family, and his mother and two of his five siblings live in Falmouth. One brother works for the Woods Hole Oceanography Institution; another lives off-Cape but brings his three sons for some serious clamming whenever possible. They’re all ardent fishermen, drawn to the coastal life into which they were born. Eventually, Paula speculates, “they’ll all end up here.”
“Falmouth is the kind of town you can’t get out of your system,” says Paula. “When you grow up on the ocean, it becomes necessary. There’s a strong feeling of calmness it creates.” That serenity is the backdrop for the hustle and bustle of daily life in the Hennessys’ contemporary Cape-style home. Paul began construction of the house in 1997, and he, Paula, and their six-month-old daughter, Lily, moved into the fledgling version of the family’s current house. “We moved in while the house was still a work in progress,” Paula says. “The upstairs was unfinished. And it’s been a work in progress ever since.”
The couple had two more children, daughter Emma, now 18, and son Harry, 14. Over time, they added a mudroom, office and fourth bedroom to the original floorplan. The addition allowed Paula to transform the former laundry room into a hardworking but elegant pantry, perfect for her collection of antique barware. A small refrigerator, sink and three dishwasher drawers facilitate entertaining. Salvaged wood and a Carrara-marble counter bring an Old-World feel to the space.
The Hennessys regularly host their extended families on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Paula relishes the decorating, which is right in her wheelhouse. She owned two home decor stores, Smith Pratt in West Falmouth and HennHouse in Cataumet, consecutively for more than a decade. The Hennessys’ ever-evolving home reflects Paula’s exuberant creativity and passion for interior design. “My taste is based on memories of summers at Falmouth Yacht Club,” Paula says. “We love boating and I love that look—the use of wood, brass and neutral masculine colors with touches of navy and tan.”
Paula integrates a mid-century modern look amid the neutrals and woods, exemplified in the unexpected chrome and faux leather chairs that surround the dark-stained pine table in the dining room. She bought them from a used office furniture company. “I drove two hours to western Massachusetts to this big warehouse to get them, then reupholstered them in faux leather,” Paula recalls.
With no less than three inviting seating areas, the kitchen is a favorite spot to gather, as cozy for two as it is hospitable for a holiday crowd of 30. A pair of upholstered chairs on the sunny side of the kitchen is where the couple start their mornings over coffee. The window seat and bistro table is where Paul and Harry like to watch sports on the television on the opposite wall. Friends love to linger on the comfortable stools at the island Paul built, crafting the base from two old doors and topping it with poured concrete. A vintage door from the china closet in Paula’s parents’ house now graces the Hennessys’ china closet.
Even the functional mudroom is customized with thoughtful features and vintage materials. Dark-stained doors that Paula found at New England Demolition (now closed) front three closets, one for each child. Inside, they are clad with old gray wood. The back entry door is also from New England Demolition.
Paula designed each child’s bedroom to reflect his or her personality. “Emma loves the water, so she has serene, very light blue walls,” says Paula. “I took out the closet and made a built-in desk and full-size closet system. She’s really into makeup, so we made her a vanity table.” Lily’s gold and yellow-toned room reflects her love of clothes and design. A chandelier lends a “funky cool look,” says her mom. Her closet system looks and functions like a piece of furniture. Paula added old furniture legs to a countertop to create Lily’s desk. “Harry’s room is all boy and athlete,” says Paula. She indulged her fondness for the yacht club look in its masculine tones and textures. A horizontal stripe with Harry’s initials is painted along one wall and barn wood adds coziness to another.
When the weather allows, the Hennessys love nothing more than to be together on their boat, a 28-foot Bertram named Classic, cruising to the Vineyard, Cuttyhunk, Woods Hole and the Elizabeth Islands. Even now, the family’s summer days are filled with salt air, whitecaps, and beaches offering a treasure trove of flotsam and jetsam. At the day’s end, together they head back to a home infused with their essence and personal history and in place that has always been home.
“Falmouth has always been a special place for me,” reflects Paula. “It’s a combination of the sea, the architecture and the people,” says Paula. The Hennessys really felt the support of their hometown a few years ago. “We realized how amazing the community really is when our daughter Emma got sick. The town, the teachers, our workplaces, people we don’t even know offered their help. It was amazing and touching to receive such kindness. Emma will tell you all the support really made a difference in her recovery. We are proud to be a part of this community, which is beautiful inside and out.”