The Winter House

A renovated milk shed serves as the soul of a suburban Scarborough dream home.

By Meadow Rue Merrill
Photographed by Rob Karosis

The majestic turn-of-the century post-and-beam barn was slated for destruction, another soon-to-be casualty of the subdivision of large homes that was sprouting up on what was once a forty-acre farm on Scarborough’s rocky coast. But a couple designing their retirement home had other plans.

“I knew this land as a kid,” says Malcolm, a psychiatrist from Cambridge who had grown up summering on nearby Prout’s Neck. After he and his wife, Sue, an academic administrator and book artist, purchased a four-acre lot nestled near the woods, they soon began plotting to save what they could of the barn that stood on the other side of a rolling field. At roughly 110-by-40 feet, the hay barn itself was too big a challenge, but the adjoining 40-by-60 foot milking shed held promise.

The couple hired Portland architect Rob Whitten to help them incorporate the smaller barn into their plans for a New England-style farmhouse. A post-and-beam restoration crew from Houses & Barns by John Libby, of Freeport, separated the buildings, and on a snow-frosted day in mid-winter, Scarborough mover Jim Merry loaded the milking shed onto steel beams and dragged it two hundred feet to Malcolm and Sue’s site.

The barn, which functions as a garage, woodworking studio, storage, and children’s play loft, now serves as the 
soul of Malcolm and Sue’s 2,500-square-foot house. Beside the covered porch, a side entrance welcomes visitors into a wood-paneled hall with slate floors and a built-in bench for winter boots and space for hanging jackets. Above are the original, whitewashed barn beams.

With two grown children and four grandchildren, Malcolm and Sue wanted both ample space for guests and a cozy feel. It also had to accommodate Sue’s sister, who uses a wheelchair. To that end, there is an entrance ramp inside the barn and extra wide doors between the rooms.

The living room is softly lit with creamy white, wainscoted walls and a fieldstone central fireplace. A four-season porch with bluestone flooring provides a warm space from which to enjoy winter’s fury. In summer, screens allow for a cool ocean breeze.

On the east corner of the house, the first-floor master suite features a floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcase and a full bath with a reproduction claw-foot tub. Sue’s studio and an entertainment room extend off the back. Re-sawn, heartwood pine floors unify the spaces.

Wrapping behind the fireplace, a partially hidden staircase rises to two second-floor bedrooms, connected by a shared bathroom. A passageway leads to the second floor of the barn, strung with a sea of white Christmas lights and divided into sitting and play areas with additional beds tucked under the eaves. A generous sailor’s hammock hangs from the beams, giving the illusion of being on a boat. A ladder rises to a cupola with ocean views. “The challenge in these kinds of buildings is to keep it open. That’s what makes them so magical,” Malcolm says.

In the far corner of the barn, a rough wooden staircase leads downstairs to Malcolm’s woodworking shop, the mudroom, pantry, and kitchen. Malcolm’s hand-built Shaker-style tables, beds, hutches, and stools beautify the house.

In the kitchen, a wall of cherry cabinets is designed to look like Shaker drawers. Contemporary cabinets and a built-in gas range in a long ell, meanwhile, provide plenty of space for cooking and entertaining. The adjoining dining room, with seating for ten, leads to the living room.

“It’s wonderful,” Malcolm says of the final design, which was built by Eider Investments of Scarborough (the construction side of the company has since changed hands). “It totally works for us.”