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At The Colony of Wellfleet, vintage Eames table and chairs sit inside unit 9A.
At The Colony of Wellfleet, vintage Eames table and chairs sit inside unit 9A. (David Lyon for The Boston Globe)
Cape Cod guide
Checking In

Wellfleet cottages wear starry, Bauhaus signatures

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / September 16, 2007

WELLFLEET - We liked Eleanor Stefani even before we met her. "Check in any time you want," she had told us on the phone when we booked a stay at The Colony. "We're not a commercial place. We don't run by the clock."

When we did arrive shortly after noon on a July day, she was industriously trimming the shrubs in her garden. She took off her work gloves to greet us and talk about her favorite subject: the little cluster of Bauhaus-style summer cottages she has owned since 1963.

"They were built by architects Nathaniel Saltonstall and Oliver Morton starting in 1948," she said as she gestured at the flat-roofed buildings set among pines on the rolling dune landscape. Saltonstall, one of the founders of the Institute of Contemporary Art, and Morton were proponents of then-avant-garde Bauhaus minimalism. The property included a larger gallery building, and the cottages originally housed artists who were invited to exhibit work - and the patrons who were invited to buy it. "It was a social club," Stefani said. "You had to have social and banking references to stay here."

Stefani, who now lives in what was the gallery, defied tradition from the start by opening up the cottages to all interested comers. She has hosted her share of celebrities, including a few movie stars. But she's prouder to have welcomed such intellectuals as novelist Bernard Malamud, journalist and historian William Shirer, and child psychiatrist Dr. Robert Coles.

Diana Trilling worked on her memoir here - and was photographed by Richard Avedon. The Colony also attracts architects and designers who want to inhabit and study a Bauhaus space. But Stefani seems to get the biggest kick out of showing more casual guests that you don't need a McCottage to enjoy a stay at the beach.

"We don't use keys," she said, leading us up a short path to 9A, a one-bedroom, one-bath unit with all rooms laid out along a straight line. We entered through a sliding screen door into a small dining room that opened into what Stefani called the bed-sitting room. ("Why do you need separate rooms for activities that you don't do at the same time?") The old-fashioned term conjured up an overstuffed garret in a period British film.

Instead, we found a large square room flooded with light from two walls of windows. Narrow but comfortable beds, which can be made up as two singles or a double, serve as couches during the day. The room was artfully furnished with clean-lined modern pieces, including an Eames table and two chairs and a clever wall-mounted desk. Original artwork hung on the walls and freshly cut flowers filled vases. Concrete floors were cool underfoot and completed the minimalist look. Had the architects also considered how easy it would be to sweep up sand? (The Colony provides daily maid service.)

Shortly after buying the cottages, Stefani added outdoor terraces, which function as fair weather rooms. We ate breakfast at a round table, positioning our chairs to catch a glimpse of Cape Cod Bay through a cleft in the trees. After strolling down to nearby Powers Landing Beach, we retreated to the terrace to negotiate which of us would get the sole lounge chair for reading. Later in the evening, we sipped wine on the terrace as shadows lengthened and the air cooled.

The small bathroom and kitchen were designed for practicality, not lingering. The classic galley kitchen featured a sink, under-counter refrigerator, and relatively new gas stove along one wall. In addition to tableware and a few pots and pans, it was equipped with most of the essentials: coffeemaker, toaster, tea kettle, ice cream scoop, and corkscrew.

One evening when we didn't feel like cooking, we took the short drive to Wellfleet Harbor to the Bookstore & Restaurant, which harvests its own oysters and clams. The clam chowder was a meaty affair redolent of fresh clams, and the fried oysters combined the best of a light batter with the briny sweetness of Wellfleet bluepoints. We sat on the covered front deck, watched other diners devour fried clams and fried Cape scallops, and enjoyed the breeze wafting in from the harbor as the sun went down.

And as the sky darkened, we returned to The Colony and to our terrace for a nightcap. It was time to watch for fireflies flickering among the pines.

Contact Patricia Harris and David Lyon, freelance writers based in Cambridge, at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

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