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Major Renovation & Restoration

Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA

Architect: Cotuit Bay Design

The 1775 Colonial Georgian structure that houses the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit is a Cape Cod landmark.  Initially a private home, it served as a tavern and inn for travelers during the 1820s.  Artists Ralph and Martha Cahoon purchased the home in 1945 and lived and created there until Ralph’s passing in 1982.  Rosemary Rapp then purchased the property with the intention of making it a museum.  In 1984, the Cahoon Museum of American Art opened (and Martha Cahoon continued to live in the building until her death in 1999).

Almost 250 years in a sometimes harsh climate take a toll on a building: wind whistled through the windows, the art storage area threatened to collapse, and accessibility was limited by the steep narrow stairs leading to the second floor. 

In the spring of 2014, Cape Associates joined a talented group collaborating on the restoration and expansion of the museum. Funded by a capital campaign and a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Facilities, improvements include foundation repairs and replacement, structural repairs to the framing, and installation of all new utilities while maintaining the character of the original building. 

A 3,700-square-foot addition provides space for a light-filled vaulted ceiling gallery, a multi-purpose classroom, workshop space, fine art storage and three restrooms.  A spacious lobby and gift shop, three-story stainless steel elevator, new stairway, and outdoor courtyard complete the new features.  

“The intent was to create an addition that looked like it had always been there while integrating modern amenities, including a fire suppression system and environmentally controlled climate,” said Project Manager Rich Bryant.  “All the framing and windows are new, but we used the same color palette and adhered to the same architectural look.”

Thoughtfully selected materials, like hickory flooring, contribute to the cohesive aesthetic while providing long-term durability.  Trim in the new gallery is painted the same custom sage tone as the trim and molding in the historic part of the building.  Two main entrances, one with a ramp for wheelchair access, open into the lobby/gift shop area. A wide opening with a transom above leads into the airy two-story gallery off one side of the lobby; on the opposite side, visitors segue into the original portions of the museum. 

“The addition almost doubles our exhibit space,” said Sarah Johnson, Director of the museum.  “Cape Associates succeeded in executing a sensitive, balanced treatment of old and new. The scale is proportional and the materials, though new, are compatible with the historic elements. The hickory floors and the wood beams add a lot of warmth to the (gallery) space and help integrate the new with the old.”

Wherever possible, materials were repurposed; in the courtyard, the bluestone terrace, mermaid wrought iron plaques, and armillary sphere were all salvaged from the pre-restoration museum. Expanded and improved parking space allows for bus tours.

“The community response to our historic building restoration and new addition has been phenomenal,” Johnson said.  “Not a day goes by that we don’t receive compliments on the quality of craftsmanship involved in the construction.  The details and finishes reflect a high level of skill and care.”

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