A rustic cottage on a tiny midcoast island proves that when it comes to summer fun, size truly doesn’t matter.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photograph by Darren Setlow
Summer 2007: Kate Horgan and her husband, Bob, are out on Sheepscot Bay in their twenty-six-foot Redfern cabin-cruiser. But they are not happy. They’ve just sold their beloved sixty-five-acre island and home on nearby Townsend Gut, and they’re hoping the waves will wash away their remorse at parting with a place that held a decade’s worth of memories for them and their seven children. “It was a huge property, and our kids were coming less and less, so we wanted to downsize,” Kate says.
Looping home past Cape Newagen, the couple spy a tiny cottage perched on a dollop of land just a few hundred yards from shore. Its rough granite walls look like they simply sprang from the surrounding boulders. The Realtor who had just sold their home had mentioned that another island was for sale, and the Horgans realize this is it. “We called the Realtor from the boat, and he said, ‘Go ashore. The key is in the cooler,’ ” Kate recalls.
The steps and years that followed saw the cottage — originally a circa-1920s hunter’s cabin so primitive and exposed to the elements that storm-swept waves would regularly wash right through its two bedrooms — transformed into a delightful family retreat combining creature comforts like electricity, running water, and even cable television with all the rustic charm its ninety years of previous inhabitants enjoyed. “Make no mistake: We were not interested in being primitive,” says Bob. “We were interested in all the conveniences of home.” The scope such a transformation would require was readily apparent when the couple returned to the cottage in early 2008. “When we came in the spring, the kitchen window was blown out and I actually had to shovel sand and shells and seaweed out of it,” Kate remarks.
But since the one-acre island is covered by three different sets of FEMA floodplain rules, in addition to Maine’s own shoreland zoning regulations, the Horgans couldn’t have taken a bulldozer-type approach to their renovation even if they’d wanted to, says Rick Nelson, the in-house architect at the Knickerbocker Group in Boothbay who was hired to oversee the project. Instead, the restrictions forced Nelson and the Horgans to think creatively. Electrical outlets had to be wired high on the walls, to put them out of the floodplain, and existing rooflines and concrete floor materials had to be retained to allow them to be considered repairs, rather than renovations. To add a third bedroom and bathroom to the property, Nelson located an eight-foot-wide “banana-shaped” sliver of the island that was both above the floodplain and beyond the state’s seventy-five-foot shoreland setback. Here crews constructed a new 270-square-foot building. In keeping with FEMA rules, it was constructed with flood-resistant woods such as cedar and mahogany and even features “water vents” on its backside, should waves ever penetrate the building.
Perhaps the most ingenious area in the cottage is the kitchen, which when the Horgans bought the property consisted of a simple cooktop and propane-powered refrigerator. By expanding into a storage area, Nelson created a full-size kitchen. In order to comply with FEMA rules he put everything — cabinets, tables, appliances — on wheels. Once permanent components were thus transformed into furniture, they were able to be stored above the floodplain (or even off the island) if necessary and therefore meet the federal regs.
Even with all the amenities that Knickerbocker’s contractors created for them, the Horgans say living on an island, no matter the size, requires a certain amount of planning, even if only for four or five weeks each summer. “We were very naive when we bought the first island, and then quickly realized that you handle something a minimum of twelve times from the grocery store to the kitchen shelves,” Bob says. “You really need to decide that the benefits of island living are worth the hassles. For us there’s no question.”
- By: Joshua F. Moore