Coastal properties, whether at the beach or in established historic towns, tend to be prime real estate. And for a builder who can satisfy demanding buyers, that can make the coast a great place to do business, even in a down economy. That rule holds true for Polhemus Savery DaSilva, architects and builders based in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. "We've been fortunate to be in the high end of the market," says principal Peter Polhemus. And that niche has stayed strong for the firm through the current downturn so far, he reports: "We still have a good amount of work. I don't take it for granted — I mean, we've been working harder — but just the fact that we have this work and we are able to work harder is great." But Cape Cod, with its historic towns and neighborhoods, has also been a good venue for Polhemus and his colleagues to refine and extend their design vision. Their online portfolio of completed homes reads like an encyclopedia of classic New England coastal home design.
The traditional rooflines, shingle exteriors, and pillared porches of the 6000-sqft "House on Champlain's Bluff" and the smaller "House at Harding Shores Overlook" grow out of the traditional architectural style of Cape Cod village homes and beach cottages. (Photos by Brian Vanden Brink) Polhemus says a key factor in the company's success has been combining design and construction in a single seamless operation. Polhemus took time off from college to work on a building crew on Cape Cod; after graduating from an undergraduate architecture program at Vermont's Goddard College, he worked in Vermont for a few more years before going to the MIT School of Architecture in the late 1970s. But it wasn't until 1996 that Polhemus teamed up with Cape Cod builder Leonard Savery to form his current design-build firm. Yale-educated architect John DaSilva joined the firm in 1998, and Savery retired two years ago; today, son Aaron Polhemus is the manager of building operations. As president of the Homebuilders Association on Cape Cod, Polhemus has a foot in both the construction and design camps. And integrating design and construction is something he has felt strongly about since his days in the field, he says — "just seeing how when the two are separated, there are inherent pitfalls — whether it's because the builder doesn't figure the job properly, or because the architect has his head in the clouds and doesn't know what the hell he's doing. Either way, it's a horrendous situation for both people and the client ends up losing." Single-point responsibility can prevent a lot of potential misunderstanding and confusion, says Polhemus — "especially because 95% of our clients don't live here where we are. We have clients from England, France, California, New York, New Jersey, Boston -- so to have one entity that is responsible for their design conception through finished construction, works really well and our clients really like it." Historic surrounding architecture informs all the firm's designs, says Polhemus. "A lot of our work is referential -- you know, recalling the past. My partner John DaSilva quotes one of his mentors, [Yale Professor of Architecture] Robert Venturi, who said that 'architcture is evolution, not revolution.' And that's certainly the way we see it. We are not looking to do a building that says, 'Look at me, I'm different, I stand out.' We are rather looking to do something that is special, but is rooted in the architectural history that surrounds us." But in a demanding market, says Polhemus, construction quality is as important as an awareness of classic style. "A critical part of what we do, is sort of marrying the art and the craft together. Our construction supervisors … each one of them could build a home on their own. They're very skilled, talented guys. And they appreciate doing the kinds of buildings that we do, as much as we appreciate what they do — because they do a great job. So, it's really the combination that works." Symmetrical windowed wings and pillared porticoes shelter the door openings and make the most of a seaward view at the "House on Champlain's Bluff." For more designs, visit www.psdab.com. (Photo by Brian Vanden Brink)