A Place of Her Own
Hidden in the woods on Deer Isle, just a stone's throw from the ocean, sits a house that was built backwards. "I went about it the opposite way that most do, where you have form follow function," says the owner, a fifty-something retiree with several years of architecture training. "Instead, I said, 'Here's the form, let's pack the function into it.' "
To complete her project, she enlisted help in the form of South Brooksville architect Eric Chase. She soon discovered that this collaboration, along with local builder Jeremy Stewart and landscape architect Stephen Mohr, of Mohr & Seredin in Portland, would yield a home that was greater than the sum of its parts. "Because I was doing this house myself — I didn't have a husband or partner to bounce things off — I used the architect, the contractor, and the landscape architect to ask, 'What do you think?' Everybody's input was valued, and it became a real team-oriented project."
"They were following a program when I arrived," says Chase, explaining that the owner and a previous architect had already poured a foundation for a garage. "But there was no length and breadth of the house at that point — there weren't a lot of specific needs yet." It was the architect's job to tease the function out of the form, but his design went well beyond that. Two bedrooms are tucked away on the first floor, one for the owner and another built specifically for her elderly father, while the second floor yields a vaulted yoga room, office, and a third bedroom. From the stone pillars that flank the wraparound Douglas fir deck ("That granite has never left the island," the owner boasts), to the kitchen's Deer Isle granite countertops and the massive, two-story exposed chimney that divides the cavernous living room, the house appears to have evolved from its site, rather than just being built upon it. Wide chestnut floorboards, salvaged from mills in Massachusetts and finished only with tung oil, are juxtaposed against walnut railings and simple moldings to create an atmosphere that is as luminous as it is livable.
Builder Jeremy Stewart placed his own mark on the house through its unique details. Take the narrow stairs rising from the owner's quarters to her second-floor office: based on a design that the owner had noticed in Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, it includes ash strips added to its underside to create the appearance of a tambour on a rolltop desk. The double-sided fireplace, complete with a woodstove on one end, actually represents one of the few concessions made by this inspired owner, who had originally requested a four-sided fireplace. Chase and Stewart eventually convinced her that the draft from such a chimney might inhale small furniture.
As for the very hands-on owner, her distinct imprint can be seen throughout the thirty-five-acre property, from the placement of the house beside a field rather than in it ("If I want to see the sunset unobstructed, then I feel that I can walk down across the field to the water to see it," she says) to the upstairs bookcase that masks a hidden doorway to the owner's office, a nod to her self-proclaimed past as a "Nancy Drew freak."
Certain last-minute details ended up being pivotal to the house's overall success. Matching stained-glass windows found at Architectural Antiquities in nearby Cape Rosier break up the living room's tall walls. A sitting alcove beside the chimney that the owner says has become the "el primo" spot in the house was added to the plans just moments before the house's foundation was poured. "It's one of those things that we think 'Thank God we did that,' " she remarks.
While the owner admits her new house, together with its one-bedroom guest apartment situated above the detached garage, is spacious for a single woman, she fully expects to fill it with her three grown children and countless friends and relatives who have begun making plans to visit Deer Isle. She says the extra space will help her enjoy the darker, chillier months. "I like to pace around a house and think, to just wander around with binoculars on," she says. "And if you're going to spend time up here in the winter, you need enough house to not go nuts."
Working backwards with a talented team, she clearly got exactly what she wanted and more.