Peep These Perfectly Quirky Maine Houses

Peep These Perfectly Quirky Maine Houses

A new book celebrates the knotty-pine, windows-thrown-open-to-the-breeze beauty of archetypal Maine houses.

Bob Zuke salvaged the lightning rods atop his reconstructed Cape Porpoise fishing shack from a nearby town. “I was going for that Hardy Boys mystique,” he says.

ABOVE Bob Zuke salvaged the lightning rods atop his reconstructed Cape Porpoise fishing shack from a nearby town. “I was going for that Hardy Boys mystique,” he says.

As a New York-based freelance photographer, Maura McEvoy has immortalized some of America’s most fashionable dwellings in magazines such as House Beautiful and Metropolitan Home. But a piece of her heart has always remained on Atlantic Avenue in Wells, where she spent childhood summers at her family’s modest 1911 cottage, and where she later purchased her own modest 1923 cottage, three doors down. Dismayed by rapid development in her summer community and elsewhere in Maine, she resolved to document more houses like her own, elevating their weathered shingles, warped floorboards, and wavy-glass windows to an art form. She enlisted art director and stylist Basha Burwell, who hails from Portland and South Freeport, as a partner, and the two traveled more than 3,000 miles over four years, capturing the 30 homes that appear in their new book, The Maine House, written by part-time Rockport resident Kathleen Hackett.

When McEvoy and her siblings gather at the family cottage, they like to play “the lottery game,” musing on what they would do if they hit the jackpot. McEvoy’s answer is always the same: “I would rescue every house on the street from being torn down and replaced by a McMansion.” The Maine House, out now and excerpted on the following pages, is a worthy fallback, showing us the dignity, and aching beauty, in preserving Maine’s quirky architectural past.

A Fish House

ABOVE 1) A cast-iron Atlantic stove — Zuke has salvaged dozens — warms the house on chilly days. 2) The kitchen is fitted out with repurposed cabinets brightened by beadboard coated in its original green paint. 

It was swept away with the tide in the 1920s and rebuilt soon thereafter. But for as long as Bob Zuke can remember, the simple shingled shack in Cape Porpoise used by commercial fishermen to maintain and repair their ropes, nets, and buoys was in a state of disrepair. As a young sternman in the 1970s and ’80s, he motored past it daily, occasionally asking the owner if he might sell. Nope. In the 1990s, the building collapsed. Zuke persisted long after he traded in fishing for building, salvaging, and roofing. Almost 20 years later, the pile of rubble was his.

Zuke’s family goes back three generations; his wife Linda’s, four. Both were determined to restore the fish house for their sons — two of whom are commercial lobstermen — and future generations of Zukes. But for all of his looking toward the future, Zuke’s heart is set firmly in the past. Indeed, this is a man who bought an ailing Victorian from the local historical society for one dollar, moved it four miles down the road, revived it, and filled it with treasures he had stored in a handful of barns in the area. “I want to be surrounded by as many antiques and old buildings as possible,” he says.

He endeavored to use materials typical of century-old coastal properties and filtered it through inspiration taken from the Hardy Boys books he read as a kid. “They always seemed to be on the coast in some mystical and mysterious place. The lightning rods on the roof take me right back,” Zuke says.

ABOVE Zuke raided his stash of oil lanterns and hung a dozen of them from the home’s beams.

Clad in the same Atlantic white-cedar shingles of the original, the house on stilts is built entirely with chemical-free materials, apart from the pressure-treated pilings required by the town. To outfit the inside, a plumbing- and electricity-free single room, Zuke dipped into the salvage stashed in his barns. Fir beadboard rescued from a cottage renovation on a nearby island lines the walls. A Portland-made Queen Atlantic cast-iron stove — once as ubiquitous in Maine kitchens as their stainless-steel replacements — is one of dozens Zuke has been gifted for the courtesy of hauling it away. A slate sink serves as a receptacle for water boiled on the stove; a bucket underneath is the catchall. More than half a dozen oil lamps, their heights controlled by counterweights, are hung between hardy beams to illuminate the space.

It all could seem a tad slick for the fish business, and Zuke admits he has had to explain himself on occasion. “Time will take its toll, in the best possible way,” he says. In the meantime, the Zukes might wade through the tidal marsh in their muck boots, climb the ladder, and enjoy a drink at sunset. But it will always be a place to carry on the lobstering tradition that defines this place. “The truth is, I wanted it to be so appealing that when people saw it, they would wish they were fishermen,” Zuke says.

A Carriage House

“It’s like living on a boat,” David Hopkins says of the North Haven carriage house he shares with artist David Wilson

ABOVE “It’s like living on a boat,” David Hopkins says of the North Haven carriage house he shares with artist David Wilson.

Until recently, there was a trapdoor under the dining table in the North Haven carriage house that David Hopkins shares with artist David Wilson and their two Chinese crested powderpuffs. Its original purpose was, of course, to dispose of horse dung. But Hopkins found another use for it when he took up residence here 40 years ago. “My nieces and nephews would throw table scraps through it and jig for squid. I can still hear their squeals of delight.”

Hopkins, who spent three decades as a merchandiser at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, loved that hatch. “I’d rather live with layers of evidence of what has come before than in something cleaned and restored,” he says. In the late 1990s, a storm surge burst open the trapdoor; as the water receded, it took some of the couple’s favorite pieces of china — a reproduction asparagus vase among them — out to sea. To Hopkins’s regret, that was the end of the hatch.

Still, much history remains in the 200-year-old building on Hopkins Wharf, named for a great-grandfather who arrived on the island in the late 1800s and founded an icehouse, grain shed, and general store: phone numbers penciled on the wall, initials carved into beams. And Great-Aunt Eleanor’s notes, scribbled on the lumber used to repair the roof, are as fixed as the granite pilings holding the place up. “We can read her handwriting as we go to sleep in the loft,” Hopkins says of the second-floor space that also serves as Wilson’s studio.

ABOVE 1) The two-room — one up, one down — cottage rests entirely on pilings; the island’s former icehouse sits behind it. 2) Some of the couple’s beloved objects hang between studs. 3) The dining table was handed down from Hopkins’s father and the harp-back chairs from his Auntie Hope, who was the island telephone operator. 4) Antique hand-line fishing reels were used for ice fishing on the ponds that dot North Haven.

A reverence for patina fills every corner of the home: paintings by Wilson’s Scottish grandfather and great-grandfather, piles of blue china Hopkins had reproduced while at the Met, his Auntie Hope’s dining chairs, the dining table from his father, and a pedestal-turned-chopping-block from impressionist Frank Benson’s island studio. There’s also that long-ago-lost asparagus vase, unearthed from the clam flats by a child playing under the house, aged to perfection by Mother Nature.

Hopkins jokes that every summer tourists come wandering into the house, thinking it is an antiques shop. One of the most memorable was a gentleman from California who couldn’t believe the Davids didn’t live in fear of an earthquake. “I find that living here, in the place where my entire family has lived for centuries, has put me on a solid foundation. I feel safer here than anywhere.”

A Family Campground

ABOVE 1) The Love Shack, the original building on this midcoast property, was named for the spell it cast on Jenifer Kindig and Brad Clark when they first saw it. 2) A sunburst, inspired by the work of design icon Tony Duquette, marks the pitch of the barn, the most recent addition to the property. 3) Although she is a dealer of 18th-century American antiques, Kindig prefers to surround herself with the fruits of her travels; Southeast Asia, India, and Morocco are favorite destinations, as is evident throughout the bathhouse. 

Jenifer Kindig and Brad Clark had known each other for only six weeks when they fell in love. Though both would submit that they were smitten with each other, the object of their shared affections was a tiny cottage on a finger of land in Penobscot Bay. “We stood on the property and decided right then and there that we should buy it,” Kindig says. “And I secretly thought how amazing it would be if the relationship worked out, and how awful it would be if it didn’t.”

Almost two decades and two children later, Kindig and Clark are still in love — with each other and with the property that their friends christened the Love Shack. Indeed, its previous owners spent 40 summers there without running water or electricity. “They came back every summer for the first 10 years to sit and look at the view, always relieved to find we hadn’t changed anything,” says Kindig, a third-generation antiques dealer and textiles obsessive.

ABOVE They left The Love Shack as they found it, and furnished the interior with pieces collected over dozens of trips abroad.

It would have been easy for Kindig and Clark to build a proper house on the property, but they have resisted the impulse that afflicts so many who lose sight of why they fall in love with Maine in the first place. A pair of tent platforms seemed appropriate. “They remind me of summer camp,” Kindig says. Albeit one done up in global nomadic style. Intrepid world travelers, this is a family that knows how to get comfortable in any setting. “The babies slept in cribs in the tents and we bathed them in lobster pots,” Kindig says. Ten years in, they built a bathhouse — a guest room, bathroom, and office — with a fixed roof and walls and a tented front. The barn followed several years later. “Each time we add something, we convince ourselves we don’t need a real house,” Kindig says. Because, in truth, it’s what’s beyond the walls that keeps them there. “We joke about how many photos I take of our little point. I text one to my neighbor almost every day. And she texts back, ‘I can see the same view from here.’”

The Maine House by Maura McEvoy, Basha Burwell, and Kathleen Hackett,

Excerpted from The Maine House by Maura McEvoy, Basha Burwell, and Kathleen Hackett, by Vendome Press. $50, hardcover.