When Greg Lombardi drives to his weekend home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Friday nights, he pauses on the front porch to listen to the billowing song of the plants swaying in the darkness. Sometimes he is so eager to see what has grown or changed in his absence that he inspects the garden with a flashlight. Lombardi, a noted landscape architect, and his partner, Kent Newton, bought the home in 2017 “as an escape hatch” from their fast-paced Boston lives.
They first came across the historic 1960s home when a friend booked it as a vacation property for a group getaway. “I pulled up in front of this forlorn house and felt heartbroken,” Lombardi remembers. “I thought, How am I going to spend a week in this place?” But it grew on him almost immediately. The home is perched on a hill with large windows boasting views of the Long Point Lighthouse and is situated on one of the seaside town’s busiest drags. The design doesn’t fit in with the neighbors’ classic beach cottages, and that’s precisely what won Lombardi over. “We get to be Bohemian pirates here,” he laughs.
The couple purchased the home in 2017 and, amazingly, the renovation plans passed the Provincetown Historic Commission’s vote on the first go-round. With the help of LDA Architects, the couple moved the kitchen to the second floor, and that shift led to a total reimagining of the house, with a sleek front porch, and shiplap, and cedar board-and-batten awakening the exterior. The project was completed in 2019, just in time to hold a family gathering for Thanksgiving before it became a haven during the pandemic.
Reached by stone steps, a pollinator garden on the front slope attracts monarch butterflies, goldfinches, and bumblebees, all interacting with milkweed that seeded over from an adjacent property and Lombardi welcomed happily. The wide swath of driveway was repaved in reclaimed Chinese planks supplied by Stone Curators in Newburyport, and Lombardi sips his coffee there in the mornings with his two pugs, greeting neighbors passing by on strolls and jogs. “For better or worse, it’s a very exposed public site and there’s a fair amount of traffic on the street,” he says. Tourists and townspeople parading down the main stretch often roll their car windows down to comment on the unusual home and introduce themselves. The lack of privacy can be overwhelming but is made up for by the genuine warmth of the community.
When it came to the garden, “I wanted it to be a little impolite,” confesses Lombardi. “Because it doesn’t necessarily fit with the neighbors, it became an announcement of thinking outside the box.” This free-spirited banquet of chromatic opposites is a far cry from the traditional hydrangeas one would expect to find at a seaside retreat. Color guard yucca (yucca filamentosa) in variegated yellows, purple irises, little geums in Totally Tangerine, and even a stalky South African variety fittingly named “Red Hot Poker” (Kniphofia uvaria) add a bold palette that doesn’t take itself too seriously and plays off the front door painted Naples Blue by Benjamin Moore. A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) with leaves the color of ripening plums is what remains of the original foliage, while various sages add overall textural interest.
The backyard posed an unexpected challenge early on when a steep slope hemmed in by old retaining walls began to collapse. Fearing that the land would quickly become a mud pit if they didn’t take immediate action, Lombardi quickly put in two poured concrete retaining walls and then scrambled to design away from the Brutalist mood created by their stark, functional presence. “In that moment, I became as over-committed to the landscape as my own client,” he recalls. Altogether, an overwhelming 1,000 plants were included in the landscape design. Schumacher Companies achieved the hardscape, while R.P. Marzilli & Company did the planting installation, and Parterre Garden Services supplied plant material.
Ultimately, Lombardi believes, “For vacation homes, you have to find a way to be alone together. If you don’t, it can feel very crowded and people get agitated. Everyone needs space, so I thought hard about how to break up different centers of gravity on this property.” To that end, there is a balcony on the second floor shaded by a custom canopy and featuring a bar that cozies up to folding windows for a versatile inside/outside entertaining element. Expansive grass below welcomes children, while a fireplace table seating area adds an outdoor lounge space for the grownups. Around the side of the house, a wild bamboo grove channels Bali holidays, with a path leading to an outdoor shower for rinsing beach sand off before cocktail hour inevitably starts up.