Built to Last

A couple preserves a family tradition with a new house that bests the original while retaining its warmth and charm.

By Arielle Greenberg Bywater
Photographed by Sarah Szwajkos

Native American wisdom taught that we should consider how our decisions would impact descendants seven generations hence, a concept that has been adopted by present-day environmentalists. It’s the kind of thinking that guided a business executive and his wife in the construction of their home on the Blue Hill peninsula, where his family has roots dating to the 1930s.

The site — 6 quiet, tree-lined acres of field — came with an old farmhouse, built in the 1790s and expanded in the mid-1800s. As a babe in arms, the owner (who prefers anonymity) lived in a house on the adjacent property and spent his formative summers there. His father later acquired the old farmhouse. It had plenty of charm and a beautiful, classic deep-red exterior, but few other advantages. Low ceilings loomed over drafty rooms. There was rot in the wooden beams, and the foundation was crumbling.

Maine Home

Architect Robert Knight added a balcony to make the living room cozier without diminishing the airiness of the soaring ceiling. The balcony area is now a TV room.

The couple consulted local architect Robert Knight, and together they considered overhauling or moving the existing structure, but, as Knight notes, “Sometimes it’s hard to know which would be more practical, renovating or starting from scratch. In this case, it was an easy call.” Plans were made for a new house, built for year-round retirement and serene retreats for visitors. “We wanted to build a treasured destination that will serve our family’s needs,” the owner says.

The new house perfectly replicates the peaceful austerity of the original, but with higher ceilings, expanded doorways, additional bathrooms, and a screened porch, all while borrowing inspiration — and materials — from the antique farmhouse. Some of the original wood and glass have been put to new uses: the panes from the front door transom and sidelights weren’t energy efficient, so they’ve been repurposed into a built-in china cabinet. The ship’s knees from the post-and-beam structure now hold up the loft over the kitchen.

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Beloved by its owners, the old house that originally occupied the property “was completely exhausted,” says Knight, but some of its worn-out fixtures, like the simple tapered balusters and banister, provided inspiration for the new structure. Other parts were salvaged and put to new uses: the front door’s transom and sidelights, for example, were incorporated into the dining room china cabinet/wall divider.


It was a project with a budget — “the Rockefellers have done a lot for this area, but we are not the Rockefellers,” the owner laughs — and Hancock County tradespeople and materials were utilized whenever possible. “When a home like this was built 200 years ago,” he says, “it was an investment in the local economy. We wanted to do the same.”

The house is a work in progress, since both husband and wife maintain busy professional lives elsewhere. It’s nearly furnished, but they admit, “the landscaping has not caught up to the furniture!” They look forward to centering their lives around the home’s stone and brick hearth for years to come and take pleasure in the fact that they’ve already extended the family tradition. “The seventh generation, in the form of my infant grand-niece, came in July for a family picnic,” the owner says. It’s easy to imagine this house welcoming seven generations more.

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Arielle Greenberg Bywater

Arielle Greenberg Bywater is a poet and author of creative nonfiction. She lives in Belfast.