New Construction Cape Make its Debut

This sweet new construction cape can be easily defined as classic and modern with clean lines and calming aesthetics. But how did we get there? It’s been a journey, that is for sure!


The homeowners purchased a home that was in disrepair on a large .26 acre lot on a unique dead-end street in Portsmouth, NH in late 2017. Their plan was to tear the house down and build a new home of their dreams in this great neighborhood. In order to get financing, they needed to submit architectural drawings of the proposed home and it was advised to also submit landscape plans to maximize the loan. I was hired to come on this project to design the landscaping only.

Drama #1: THE DESIGN. In order to design the landscape, I needed the footprint of the house laid out onto the site plan. There were some inconsistencies with the plans from footprint to the roofline and long story short, I took over the architectural design as well.

Drama #2:  THE CITY. While .26 of an acre doesn’t sound like a large lot to some, in Portsmouth this means that you can build about a 7000sf house and not need a variance. We easily fit the house on the lot without needing a variance which meant that it just needed to go to the Building Department for permitting. But wait, Planning now has to review all projects to verify that they do not need a variance. It was in Planning that they stopped the project with a brand spanking new step called “Demolition Committee”. This required that we had to post a sign on the front door for 30 days before demolition could begin. This process took about a month (remember, time is money in the world of real estate).

Drama #3: THE NEIGHBORS.  A neighbor decided that she really like the old falling down the house on her street and went to City Hall to complain. Her argument was that the house shouldn’t be torn down because she was worried about water in her basement since she lived at the bottom of the hill. Now, this is a street that is not entirely on city sewer and the town hasn’t separated water and sewer in the neighborhood (a DEP requirement). It also is a street about mid-way down a steep hill and her home was at yet another hill and abutting wetlands. Logic would say, “water is lazy and it will always flow downhill” but logic was not to be had in this argument. Mostly because the water wasn’t the main issue, it was the fact that a new house was going to be built there and they were trying to block it in any way, shape, or form.

(remember, time is money in the world of real estate)

Months later, attorney fees, civil engineering fees, my design fees all adding up to about $25k the demolition permit was issued.

The reality is that a large house was going to be built on that property. It was priced very high and to offset that price, it only made sense to build a large footprint house – not to mention that it was completely legal. The sad thing is that the neighborhood will probably never be the same socially. It was a very close-nit neighborhood as most Portsmouth neighborhoods tend to be since we live so close to one another but there were things said and emails sent that were hurtful and cannot be taken back.

DRAMA #4: THE CONTRACTOR. While the contractor was connected with the city, he was not connected with the building community in Portsmouth. It is an incredibly busy market and the relationship between contractor and subs is key to getting them on the job site in a timely manner. The management of the project was insanely slow. The entire build took from 18 months with a large punch list remaining.

The homeowners moved in just before Christmas 2019 with family visiting and a young baby and the house still had many months of construction ahead of them. But this young couple was determined to see their vision become a reality regardless of the long process (so long that she conceived, delivered the baby, and celebrated his first birthday while still under construction). Patience is a virtue and they were very patient!


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