The undertaking was almost daunting enough to deter Amy and former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy—son of the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy—from even taking on the renovation of the 1904 Hyannis Port “garage” that had fallen to them. But the desire to give their burgeoning brood of kids the same idyllic summertime experiences Patrick had grown up with overruled any hesitations.
Vivid images of the famed Kennedy compound are emblazoned in the eyes of several generations: Marine One landing on the lawn for weekends President John F. Kennedy spent with his brothers; cousins running toward the helicopter to greet their fathers. Patrick wasn’t born yet, but he speaks of it as if he remembers. But for one of the most iconic bloodlines in America, the approach to design is far from flashy. Amy and Patrick repurposed much of what was inside the dusty inherited former carriage house of the residence his Irish Catholic grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., with wife Rose Kennedy, purchased in 1928, “principally because they weren’t allowed to join any other community,” says Patrick of the place they famously raised their nine children. ”What my wife, Amy, did was transform what was frankly a garage into a home,” says Patrick of the year-and-a-half-long renovation.
Their thrifty, respectful renovation is an approach that must be genetic, since Patrick recalls knowing “it was never about the big house, the ornate architecture. The house was just a location. My grandparents were obviously very, very wealthy, but they never, ironically, invested a lot building out a really fancy house,” he says. “They were never trying to impress anyone. It’s very understated. [Our house] is a very glorified bunkhouse, a crash pad that has very nice architectural aesthetics.”
The crash pad definition rang true throughout the cottage’s history, since it was where the Kennedy boys—John, Robert, and Edward among them—hid out when they came in too late. Now the nautically inspired abode sleeps the couple and their five children quite cozily, thanks to a conscientious design that makes much better use of its 2,000-square-foot footprint than when it was a four-bay garage with a two-bedroom apartment on top. That was the biggest challenge, says Amy, who has a design business and played with the floor plan before collaborating with the “very creative” builder to find space in every nook and roofline.
They couldn’t touch the historical home’s exterior. So the refresh was entirely internal, save for the awning and second set of insulated garage doors. The first floor was being used for storage, but now comprises their living room, kitchen, and staircase. “We took things from the garage that were junk and dusty and we used them,” says Amy. Think lights, rudders, plaques, an antique gas pump, and flags. The original farmhouse sink now features prominently in the kitchen devised by Amy’s longtime friend and collaborator Tom Collins, of Colmar Kitchen Studio. “As soon as Amy mentioned she had this porcelain sink, light bulbs were buzzing,” says Collins, who knew it “obviously had to be the center of the kitchen. With the history of the house, the [idea] was that the kitchen would feel as if it was always [there], and not something we took from today and just plopped in there.” They used understated flush inset cabinetry—with nautical-style pulls—and paneled as many places as possible.
Stylistically, Amy felt the original brick walls and wood floors—which they bleached lighter—dictated her direction. “The rest fell into place knowing we weren’t going to change the brick. There were metal beams we put wood cladding over, and we built walls that never existed before, out of shiplap.” The easygoing nautical haze that pervades the design was intentional, an homage to the Kennedys’ sailing history. Plaques in the house bear the names of family boats—Victura, Le Grand Fromage, and Mya—and other tchotchkes are relics from the vessels. “The whole area has got his family history all around us, so it wasn’t that we had to shove it into this house,” says Amy. “Just being up there you feel it.”
Because they were building their house in New Jersey simultaneously, and Patrick was focusing on launching his own platform of advocacy for mental health and addiction treatment, he left this project mostly to his wife: “I knew Amy would design it way better than I could have hoped.” And while it retains its historical feel, bringing in some modern conveniences was important, to a degree. “Patrick was insistent on a steam shower,” says Amy, “but he doesn’t really use it—we use the outdoor shower all the time.”
It’s not surprising considering the family of seven is hardly indoors. Their wide evergreen doors are perennially flung open, letting in sunlight and salt air, and many people coming and going. In that way the house has life. “It’s got the feel of a very comfortable camping-out-with-all-the-amenities vibe to it,” says Patrick, adding, “We’re living kind of outside the house. The house has the airy feel that I and everybody in my family grew up with.”