It Takes a Village
Traditional Maine buildings inspire an architect's year-round retreat in Castine.
Hans Strauch and Darisse Paquette have fond memories of snowstorms in Castine, a four-hundred-plus-year-old town of antique homes and towering elms perched at the mouth of the Penobscot River. Their first was on their honeymoon in 1989, when a surprise November storm snowed them in at the PentagA¶et Inn. "We were forced to walk around town, and we immediately fell in love with it," Strauch says.
The couple returned to Castine every year to rent a place, but they longed to build a cottage of their own that they could enjoy in every season. An opportunity came in 2002, [for the rest of this story, see the February 2008 issue of Down East. For more photographs of the Strauch house, see the gallery in our "Real Estate" section.]when they happened upon a small, wooded lot that others had overlooked - and not without reason. It was overgrown with gnarly spruce trees, lacked water views, and sat smack-dab in a residential neighborhood directly across the street from a large, busy inn. Hans Strauch, however, was intrigued.
The couple bought the three-quarter-acre lot and Strauch, principal of HDS Architecture in Watertown, Massachusetts, sat down at the drafting board. "I love modernism, but on the other hand, here we are in Castine," Strauch says. "This is an attractive, charming community, and I decided to design a house that embraces that."
Inspired by the village he loved, Strauch integrated traditional building forms in a fresh way to harmonize with the neighborhood and accommodate the lifestyle of his active family. "It's basically three little houses put together," Strauch says. "I took simple Maine house shapes and assembled them on this site to create a family village within the larger village of Castine."
The "center" of Strauch's family village resembles a charming single-story seaside cottage with yellow shingles and green trim. Inside, the foyer opens onto the public space and the heart of the house: a sparkling sunroom that brings the outdoors in with a gabled wall of glass framed by green painted posts and beams.
"In winter time, it feels like you're in a snow globe," says Strauch, who loves to sit in the sunroom on snowy days. Warmed by the sun and radiant heated floors in the winter, the room stays surprisingly cool in the summer, thanks to windows that provide cross ventilation and a roof design that creates a heat chimney, drawing hot air up and away from the house and cool air into it. Strauch evokes the feeling of a cherished old porch in this contemporary space with time-honored materials like fir flooring and exterior shingles on the wall. "This gives the sense of an outdoor porch that has been enclosed and immediately builds in `history,' " he says.
The kitchen and dining and living areas are housed in a wing that recalls a small chapel with half-round windows at the gable ends, a cathedral ceiling, and classic proportions. The spacious kitchen gleams even on gray days thanks to simple, white painted cabinets and big windows and skylights that let in abundant light. Strauch incorporated two striking elements to enliven this big open space: cedar collar ties and a soaring fireplace that divides the dining and living areas. Built of gray and umber granite in a shape that suggests a steepled church, the fireplace provides a cozy gathering spot on cold winter nights. "I was intrigued by the old New England design of building a house around a central fireplace," Strauch says.
Four bedrooms are tucked into the two-story "farmhouse" wing on the opposite side of the house. Each is painted in a soothing tone of blue, lavender, pink, or soft yellow-green and adjoins a private bath. To streamline costs, Strauch scaled the bathrooms at a comfortable, but modest, six by eight feet, stacked them, and used simple cabinetry, floor tiles, and fittings, splurging only on granite countertops.
A spacious hallway that Strauch jokingly calls "Main Street" connects the private spaces in his village, which also includes a tiny computer room just off the front entrance. Bamboo flooring covers the hallway and rooms throughout the house, making for an elegant and sustainable alternative to conventional wood floors.
Throughout the three thousand-square-foot home, Strauch has struck a comfortable balance between a sense of privacy and a feeling of connection, just like the best villages. Still, don't they miss the seclusion of a private retreat at the water's edge? Not at all, says Strauch. He says the sound of the bell buoy on the harbor and the distant shimmer of light on the water glimpsed through bare winter trees create a lovely sense of connection to the sea. Life in the village suits them perfectly.
"Throughout the year, we see people taking walks and they stop and say hello," he says. "We're part of the community. You don't get that living at the end of a long dirt road."
- By: Kim Ridley