“It was a shambles,” says architect Jim Estes of Kyle House, a client-owned Cape Cod summer home in Brewster, Mass. Cramped and riddled with structural problems, the place needed a serious redo. The client wanted a home that was modestly sized enough for living solo, yet one that could accommodate visitors in the summer months.

Estes/Twombly Architects in Newport, R.I., met those requirements with a series of smaller structures on the existing half-acre site. The one-bedroom cottage functions well for one or two people, and when guests arrive, the two-bedroom house next door accommodates them gracefully. A painting studio and an equipment shed (for boats, bikes, and kayaks) round out this right-sized compound, which has 1,344 square feet of living space.

The main house and three outbuildings are clad with white cedar shingles that weather to a seaside gray. The structures are connected by another classic oceanside element—a boardwalk. The 110-foot walk does much more than give a nod to its beachy surroundings—it connects the separate buildings, progressing from the home’s public front to the more private spaces in back. Some of the boardwalk is flush with grade, while the main portion that connects the buildings is raised. In between buildings, lovely little spaces like a private shower and a garden are created.

The plan didn’t present any great technical hurdles. There were the usual Cape weather considerations, like 110 mph hurricane winds. Anchor bolts in the foundation were spaced every 18 inches instead of the usual 3-foot spacing, and decking needed to be securely anchored, as well. “The challenge wasn’t so much in the process as it was getting our minds wrapped around the project,” says Ron Welch of Osterville, Mass.–based Kendall and Welch Construction. “All the subs looked at the plans and said, ‘Wow, that’s different.’ But in the end, there wasn’t one who didn’t leave having fallen in love with the house.”

The house is built in a casual, one-story style that’s slung low—the very style that drew people to the Cape in the first place. There’s a barn door on the bike shed, the home’s rafter tails are made from 2x4s, and the structure’s roofs are standing seam metal. The white cedar shingles go right up to the roof, which is a very thin plane, and the buildings have minimal trim.

Built on grade, the compound’s expandable/collapsible setup affords a combination of privacy and unity that’s increasingly in demand as Americans age, as disparate households merge, and as different generations living together becomes more common.

“I like the idea of a series of small buildings,” Estes says, “so a house can be different things, depending on how many people are there.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Boston, MA.