“Make this house feel spacious, but without using much space” is the simplified version of the original request for this project. Our client purchased an existing home that was modest in size, and wanted it to be larger, however the town would only allow a minor expansion beyond the original footprint and volume. Having grown up in the surrounding neighborhood, our client wanted to be respectful to his neighbors and honor the traditional house style (small, older Maine cottage) while also achieving a contemporary feel with plenty of glass to help take advantage of the extensive water views. The lot is situated on and slightly over a rocky ledge right on the ocean, with sight lines leading all the way to Portland in the distance.
Using the original footprint, the house was designed so that the street-facing entrance emulates the other neighborhood homes with double-hung windows that have divided lites. The façade is covered in wood shingles with a modest front porch and tiny dormer above. But as you travel around to the back of the house, the windows gradually become larger, lose their divisions, and turn into 8’-wide fully sliding openings on the rear. Any deck space would have eaten into the allocated footage for the house, so the open bays were designed with plate glass railings, allowing for the feeling of standing outside while still technically inside. At high tide, if you perch at the railing and look down, it is as if you are floating over the water.
The third-floor lofted space was built with an exposed structure so that you can see the beams on the ceiling in the kitchen and dining room below. It gives the house a modern cottage character while simultaneously allowing for an additional 10 inches of headroom. Moving from the intimate kitchen and dining room into the vaulted main living area suddenly conveys a sense of expansiveness, despite the modest volume allowable. Throughout the house care was taken to furnish rooms to the edges, including window seats that allow you to take in full views.
Nature is often the driver of design, and since the house is located over the water, the reflection of light off the surface plays up and onto the ceilings of the rooms. The fir boards that line the walls of the interior continue up onto the ceilings as well, giving the entire house a warm and bright vibe, which is only enhanced by light throughout the day. Wall space was at a premium, meaning some depth had to be sacrificed. Still, the house has a modified high-performance envelope and is very energy efficient. Solar panels on the roof provide energy and heat pumps keep the interior warm (and cool), while a small wood stove takes the edge off and provides a contrast to the winter sea beyond the glass.
Similar to building a boat, every possible square inch in the house had to be carefully considered. Three cantilevers work their way up the rear of the house, making a sort of layer cake of extended bays. On the ground floor, a tub is placed in the bay, allowing you to be enveloped in water literally and visually. On the second floor, the pop-out holds a continuous window seat. And on the third floor there are two built-in beds beneath the eaves, each with their own small bookshelf and a skylight for good stargazing. Like on a boat, you might not have much head space, but it’s still a wonderful place to be.