Darren Commerford waited years to get his hands on the South Portland plot where his dream house now sits. “I saw the land come on the market, and by the time I called, it had been snatched up by a Realtor,” he says. “A few years later, I happened to be looking for some land for a client, and it popped up again. It had just been listed.”
He jumped on the opportunity. Finding a residential lot to build upon in South Portland isn’t easy. Finding one on a quiet street within walking distance of Willard Beach and next door to your children’s school is a miracle.
Natural light and plenty of wooden building materials are the secrets to a sleek, contemporary living space that also has warmth. Commerford’s architectural style borrows from Scandinavian and Japanese design traditions, with their emphases on simplicity and function. The result is a house that makes the most of its ¼-acre South Portland lot.
Commerford, a LEED-certified architect who hails from Minnesota, calls his 2,100-square-foot home “The Nest” because it feels perched among the trees. Completed in 2013, it’s the first house the 37-year-old has built for himself, but he’s been dreaming and sketching his designs for years. Waterhouse Builders out of Cape Elizabeth executed his vision. “I tried to do everything local,” he says, sourcing most of the building materials from Maine and Canada.
He considered the ¼-acre lot carefully before starting construction — the orientation of the sun and positioning of windows were important. “The budget was tight, so I made each space flexible and only as big as necessary for function and comfort,” he says. “I used only high-quality, durable, low-maintenance materials.”
Commerford credits modern Scandinavian and Japanese architecture for his design aesthetic. “When I design, I like to take cues from nature and local vernacular architecture, then adapt them to current living situations and environmentally conscious energy and comfort standards,” he says. “I try to find a functional, flexible, and sometimes funky layout, and the form evolves from there.”
The Nest is decidedly funky and functional. The 12-inch-thick walls are filled with recycled newspaper insulation, keeping the house at a comfortable temperature year-round. The meandering dark-blue staircase leads to the top level, where the kids’ bedrooms are tucked under the eaves. A roof hatch allows access to the flat membrane roof above the main living space. Commerford plans to add vegetation to the roof to cut down on sun reflection, add an insulating layer, and absorb rainwater. Right now, the sun-soaked deck facing south provides space for potted herbs and vegetables in close proximity to the kitchen.
Commerford and his family — partner Sara and children Max and Zoe — spend most of their time in the large kitchen/dining/living space, which has an entire wall of west-facing windows. “I love the way the light changes throughout the day and across the seasons,” he says. The house may not be built on branches, but the woodsy view certainly imparts the feel of living among the leaves.