Spirits they choose to live with...

Spirits they choose to live with...

For the residents of Provincetown, Massachusetts, the old Martin House conjures up a variety of impressions. 

Some see the shingled structure, built in 1750, as a place where fishermen once lived. Others identify it as the home of abolitionists. Still, others will tell you it’s populated by ghosts.And there are plenty who remember it as a restaurant and bar where Norman Mailer liked to sit at a table by the enormous hearth in the back, drinking and scribbling notes.

Charmed by the place

But David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea know it simply as home. It wasn’t supposed to be a year-round arrangement. When they bought the 2,200-square-foot house in 2010, for $6,00,000, they had no intention of leaving Manhattan permanently.
 But before long, they had fallen for the house. “There is a sense of history in Provincetown that obviously, being British, resonates with me,” said David, 44, a hotelier from Stratfordshire, England, who had recently sold property in London and needed to reinvest his money.

He and O’Shea, an interior designer who is now 32, ended up buying two other properties in town as well: the Fairbanks Inn and an old house on Conwell Street that they renamed the Salt House Inn, both of which they run as hotels. Their first love, though, was the Martin House – despite the backbreaking renovation, which took a full year and cost $2,50,000.

The restaurant had closed in 2005 after 30 years of operation, and when Shea first toured the building with a real estate agent, he found it in a frightening state of disrepair. Rooms were piled to the ceilings with furniture; decades of grease coated the kitchen walls. 

Large-scale restoration 

“We had to rezone the property from commercial to residential and remove huge industrial kitchen equipment,”David said. “There were no bedrooms, no bathrooms.” O’Shea bought a late-19th-century claw-foot bathtub without taking into account the home’s complicated plumbing logistics, and installing it proved so taxing that the first plumber who tried quit in frustration.  

The couple rebuilt all five fireplaces, three of which are downstairs and share a central flue, one of the home’s most distinctive features. Legend has it that fishermen used to dock nearby and stop in to warm themselves beneath this tripod of chimneys. 

One of the few rooms that wasn’t previously used for dining is, oddly, the couple’s dining room, which had been the restaurant’s reception area. They furnished it with a table given to them by David’s grandparents and reproduction Ashlen Windsor chairs, arranging china and ceramics on the mantel over the Colonial-era cooking fireplace.

The two downstairs dining rooms became a living room and a study-and-eating area, and the upstairs dining spaces were converted into two guest rooms and a master bedroom, where the original wood beams still span the pitched ceiling. The couple tried to preserve details like that wherever possible, but to make room for a second bathroom they had to remove a small ladder to the attic, where the restaurant used to store its liquor. 

And perhaps that was for the best, O’Shea said. The attic “is where the ghosts are said to live,” he explained. “Though we haven’t seen sign of them yet.”

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox