How Two Provincetowners Transformed a Fishing Shack Into a Charming Cottage

Transformation is par for the course in any town, and certainly in one as historic as Provincetown, Massachusetts. What began as a 17th-century fishing village later evolved into a retreat for artists and writers and a refuge for the LGBTQ community. Today, visitors flock to this picturesque destination at the extreme tip of Cape Cod, and the town’s charming shingled homes have become highly coveted.

For Terrence Meck and Bret Alberti, Provincetown has been their primary home year-round for almost a decade. The couple met 12 years ago in a flying trapeze class; Alberti was the teacher. Now he tends to their homes and life together, while Meck runs the Palette Fund—a philanthropic foundation started in honor of his late former husband.

a galley kitchen has cabinets topped with a white marble counter, sink with a glass pendant above, open shelves, an open Dutch door, bead board cabinets, stove and oven with tools hanging above, green tiled backsplash

The kitchen’s design was inspired by a ship’s galley. The sinks are by Kohler and the fixtures by Newport Brass; the early-20th-century Tabriz runner is from Cafeero Select.

Stephen Kent Johnson

In 2018, Meck and Alberti were looking for help with a historic cottage they had purchased in town. The choice of designer was easy: David Cafiero, who is based in New York and has a home in Provincetown, had already worked with Meck on his New York apartment and several other homes. “I met David on the beach during one of my early trips to Provincetown,” Meck says.

Meck and Alberti had been living in another house nearby when they learned that the cottage, the home and studio of the late painter William Maynard, was for sale. Maynard was well known in the region for his Impressionist style and maritime scenes. After he died in 2016, his neighbors next door, who owned the studio, rented it out before deciding to sell. They were so invested in the spirit and history of the place that they asked prospective buyers to write short notes explaining why they wanted to live there. Meck and Alberti’s letter stood out. “They wanted good stewards,” says Meck. “That was our goal and will remain our goal.”

Another Provincetown regular, the New York architect Jeffery Povero, was hired to work alongside Cafiero to bring the house up to code and restore its antique features. It was little more than a shack when it was first built in the mid-19th century. “It was a working shed in a fishing town,” Povero says. “All of these houses once had fish drying in the front yard.”

“After 35 years visiting, I’m very particular about how things should look here.” —David Cafiero

First the house was raised 30 inches—a precarious but necessary process, as it was rotting and had a minimal foundation. For a new concrete one to be poured, the house had to come apart. Paint-splattered floorboards from the artist’s second-floor studio were raised and numbered, as well as planking (with a stain made from blueberries) removed from a downstairs bedroom. When it came time to put the pieces back together, the top floor, once a single room, was divided into two bedrooms, with new dormer windows bringing in additional light. The blueberry-stained bedroom downstairs became a dining room. Tiny windows frame a collection of small artworks, giving the space the sensation of a ship’s cabin. “I’ll always lean into a fishing aesthetic, if possible,” says Cafiero, who was a scallop fisherman in his 20s before opening his antiques business and becoming a designer. Other nods to the sea surface throughout the house: In lieu of a banister, Cafiero used salvaged netting lashed together into a series of rings. “After 35 years of visiting Provincetown, I’m very particular about how things should look here,” he says.

a primary bedroom has deep blue bedding, vented windows above bed, a tufted leather bench at foot of bed and another by a second set of windows, wrought iron chandelier, and a taxidermied deer's head on wall

The primary bedroom’s vintage furnishings include a Gothic Revival wrought-iron chandelier from Cafeiero Select. The custom bed is by Nate McKean, and the Tabriz rug is antique.

Stephen Kent Johnson

In the living room, art defines the narrative. “We pulled a lot of inspiration for our colors from Terrence and Bret’s art collection,” Cafiero says. Above the olive velvet sofa, a Hunt Slonem floral artwork jolts the space with its vibrant palette of yellow, purple, and green, while a landscape by Robert Cardinal plays perfectly into the room’s deep, soothing hues. Over the mantel is a coastal scene by the home’s former owner, Maynard. In the end, the house is a testament to its setting. “Here the tide comes in and goes out, and things remain the same,” Cafiero observes, “while constantly changing with the water.”

Styled by Michael Reynolds

march 2023 cover elle decor

This story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE