A Stunning First Impression

An “ocean girl” and her boatbuilding husband transform a snug cottage into a summer dream home in Owls Head.

By Laura Serino
Photographed by Brian Vanden Brink

After years of vacationing near Sebago Lake in Maine, Donald and Teresa Epperson finally considered buying a summer home. “I’m an ocean girl, so before we bought a house I thought we should try just one summer on the coast,” says Teresa.

They thought they’d take the summer to decide. But they knew within a week. After driving around the Owls Head area and taking in the sights, the two came across a cottage by the water with a “For Sale” sign on it. “We looked at the water, we looked at the sign, we looked at the water, we looked at the sign again,” says Teresa. “By the end of the week, we put an offer in. This was the spot.”

The family used the original cottage for several summers before deciding to build their own home. They enlisted the help of John Priestley, an architect who knew the neighborhood very well. “It was great for me to design in this location because I own a cottage just a few hundred yards away,” says Priestley. “I have been part of this beach community for so many years that knowing what it should feel like was a natural part of the process.”

At the top of the homeowners’ must-have list was to keep the sweeping panoramic view intact — and to make sure every room in the house would have a glimpse of the ocean. “We loved the idea of people coming in and immediately seeing through to the water, so the entryway was one of the features we focused on,” says Teresa.

The entry — and that first impression — became a central part of the design plan. “When you enter the house, you are immediately oriented towards the water,” says Priestley. Rather than create a side-entrance mudroom, the architect designed a dual entry that affords a water view for anyone approaching. “We call it big door, little door. You arrive at the main entrance to get into the house, but have the mudroom door immediately to the side if you come in with dirty boots or grocery bags.”

Tucked off to the right of the entrance is the “Grandparents’ Suite,” a private bedroom and bathroom for visiting family members. The private quarters make guests feel right at home. For the family of four, creating a comfortable and inviting atmosphere was a priority. “We wanted a place where you could just relax and enjoy,” explains Teresa.

The open floor plan allows for a casual, kick-off-your-shoes feel with a kitchen that is connected to the spacious main living area. The original footprint had a kitchen that was boxed in. Taking the walls down allowed for a more expansive first floor, but with rooms that are still defined. “The main living area is not just a big box,” says Priestley. “The kitchen and dining areas are defined as their own spaces, but it’s all visually connected. There’s not one place to stand where you don’t have light and view from multiple directions.”

Off the main living area is a screened-in porch, affectionately known as the “S’mores Room.” A two-sided stone fireplace, built by Smith & May Masonry, allows for warmth by the living room couches and a place to toast marshmallows on the other side. It’s become a favorite spot both in the day when the sea breeze travels through and in the evening as a cozy retreat when the temperature dips.

Upstairs are two bedrooms for the girls and the master suite that includes a large porch for morning coffees. A multi-purpose ground floor deck wraps around the back of the house overlooking the water, where classic Adirondack chairs beg to be filled with friends and family. The extended seating area is the perfect place to grill and entertain. “We had a family reunion here and the deck turned into a stage. The kids were performing and we all sat on the lawn. It was fantastic,” says Teresa.

Since the home was built seventy-five feet from the water, Priestley’s main challenge was contending with floodplain regulations. The house was built on a slight elevation that was left entirely open underneath, in case floodwaters ever have to pass through. “You don’t want it to be up on stilts, and I’m always striving to have a good fit with the ground,” says Priestley.

The elevation turned out to be a bonus the homeowners didn’t expect. “When you sit on the porch and look out, you’re at the perfect height to see the horizon and nothing else,” says Donald.

The home is a harmonious blend of both form and function. There isn’t a single nook or cranny left unused, which can be attributed to Priestley’s background as a boatbuilder. “What got me to Maine was pursuing an interest in boatbuilding,” says Priestley.  “I had sailed extensively, studied architecture, built houses, and thought, ‘I’ll put it all together.’ Boats are in my DNA and part of the history of this place.” Built-in benches double as storage for toys and beach towels, trundle beds in the girls’ room were added for sleepovers, and even the flat-screen is tucked away in custom Douglas-fir cabinetry.

The homeowners give much of the credit to Priestley and the construction team at Oliver Builders for understanding how they wanted to use the space. “When you’re designing houses, one of the remarkable things is that you realize every house takes on its own personality. I don’t sit down to design and know what it’s going to look like,” says Priestley. “It emerges from the discussions we have about how the homeowners are going to live and what they want it to feel like. The site has a profound influence. It emerges. You put a seed in the ground, and it just grows naturally.”

Even after living in the location for several years, the view remains as significant as ever to the homeowners. From every window, a slice of Maine life opens right in front of them, from the dotted outline of islands to the passage of a boat in the distance. “When the sun is setting, you get that amazing purple glow and all the lobster buoys pop,” says Teresa. “It’s absolutely stunning.”

Laura Serino is the Web copywriter for L.L.Bean and the founder of the blog Fore Front Fashion.