A Cape Cod Home Made for
an Adventure-Seeking Family

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

When Michael and Susan Johnston and their three kids moved back to the States from Rio de Janeiro, they knew they wanted to preserve the beach lifestyle they had fallen in love with in Brazil—boating, swimming, kayaking, cross-country skiing—and plant themselves in a community where they could open up their backyard to badminton games, cookouts, bonfires, and when adventure strikes—a dare to run through four-foot snow drifts after a late-night dip in the Jacuzzi.

The Johnstons landed in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in a neighborhood that predates even the Revolution. From the broad front porch to the vaulted ceilings, open floor plan, and family farmhouse table, everything about this home welcomes all those who step across the threshold.

Michael and Susan let us inside their 2,500-square-foot New England home just off of the Cape Cod Bay, and Susan shared some of her favorite memories in their home.

Entrance A major selling point for the Johnstons was the home's expansive, full-width front porch

Porch Susan and Michael often enjoy a glass of wine and a ukulele solo on the porch

Textures In the living room, a mixture of stone, leather, suede, and jute mimic the textures of the nearby beach

Details Little details like this cerulean vase add pops of playful color

Flow The open floor plan of this New England home is perfect for this active family of five

Shapes A lover of geometric shapes, Susan balances dynamic curves with the structured right angles she loves

Transition A powerful painting transitions the living space to the dining area

From the kitchen Being able to see between dining and living space was a much for the Johnstons

Details Pops of blue continue throughout, like in this geometric drawing in the dining area

Space A large, open kitchen serves as a conduit for conversation and activity in the home

Details A collection of yellow bowls hides playfully in the corner

Entertaining A wine fridge tucked beneath the kitchen counter make this home guest-ready at any time

Farm table The large family dining table is always ready for boisterous family meals

Gentle blues Upstairs, blues continue in gentler hues

Stairs Knotty oak stairs lead the way through the home

Outdoors On the back porch, a dining table stands ready for backyard soccer game spectators

Outdoors An aqua seating set on the back porch is accented with tiny potted plants

Blue More blues outside mix with cheerful patterns

Outdoor shower An outdoor shower is open to the sounds of chirping birds

Backyard A wood-clad storage building looks more cottage than shed, preserving the peaceful landscape of the large back yard

Relax The backyard Jacuzzi tub sit just outside the outdoor shower

Backyard The expansive backyard is a favorite for the family, who love hosting badminton and soccer games

Shakes The back of the house is clad with wooden shakes, a New England classic

A brief history of the home

As told by Susan Johnston

Our neighborhood originates from the early 1600s. Most of the streets are named after early pilgrim settlers, and the homes were all originally one to two bedroom, simple Cape Cod cottages that were part of a beach camp. Our home has had more than three additions, all happening before we arrived.

Why did you choose this home?

Our family chose to relocate to Duxbury after a four-year overseas placement in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with Michael’s company. We longed to maintain the fun beach lifestyle we enjoyed there, so we chose a town on the water with excellent schools and a maritime center so our family could sail, row, and surf. The bonus was that our home is within close walking distance to a sandy, family-style beach with a floating dock and a place to moor boats and stash kayaks. We love winter sports as well, so it was key to live close to mountains so we could cross-country ski and snowboard.

Duxbury has a strong sense of community, and we were drawn to the lively connection the people in our neighborhood share. We needed a home with a dynamic backyard big enough for a jungle gym, gardens, soccer goals, a fire pit, croquet course, and a badminton net set up all at once so that friends will come enjoy life with us. The home also has a lot of natural light, vaulted ceilings, and skylights—especially sunlit is the walk-out basement, which is the perfect kid hangout to divert the rough-housing and game-playing fun.

Where do you find inspiration for your home?

We lived in Portland, Oregon for 10 years before moving to Brazil, so there is certainly West Coast and South American influence.  

Tell us about a favorite memory in this home.

This winter, we had a tenuous drive home after a family ski trip during a winter nor’easter. When we finally arrived, we jumped out and played in the fresh lofty snow that had created four- to five-foot snowdrifts in our yard. Our whole family ended up in the backyard Jacuzzi, daring each other to get out and do a snow roll and then jump back in (where our youngest got top honors with boldness!). We were consumed with delight as the snow gently continued to fall around our steamy little paradise.

Tell us what you love most about this home.

The inviting front porch! We have it set up with rockers and a porch swing in hopes that neighbors with stop by for a chat and a glass of wine. I love to sit out there in the evenings and listen to Michael strum his ukulele, watch our teen ride his longboard down the hill, and giggle as the little kids frolic around the yard with friends and sway on the three-person tree swing. The other day an outdoor neighbor pizza party got diverted to our front porch when the rain started to fall—it was spontaneous magic.

Do you have a favorite room in the home?

Probably the eat-in open kitchen. This is where all of the family connection and action occurs on the daily.

What has been your favorite DIY project in the home?

We were in a mad dash to get the home ready to move in when we bought it, so we did hire out most of the work. Our best friends from Portland, OR, happen to be fabulous designers—Michelle Ruber and Klaas de Jong with Encircle Design and Build. Michelle designed our kitchen with glass tile backsplash, bright colors, and sea-glass kitchen pulls. We are elated with the beautiful results.

What is one project you will always outsource?

Design work!  We hope to add a new master and bath and a sunroom, and will certainly tap into the building and design expertise of our above friends. Them being on the other coast doesn’t seem like such a big obstacle for us anymore.

What do you wish you could change about the home?

We have dreams of making our living room into a two-sided fireplace with a sunroom on the other side. Michael wants a widow’s perch (a railed rooftop platform with an enclosed cupola) so that we can overlook Cape Cod Bay.

What part of this home is your biggest indulgence?

There’s nothing like starting the day with an outdoor shower—hearing birds sing, being able to enjoy the blooming flower gardens while watching the huge pine trees blow in the wind above.

Any advice for other homeowners?

Create a theme board with items/colors/art that inspires, and model everything around that to keep you on track with your heart’s desires.

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