A couple carves a homestead out of the woods in Ellsworth.
By Joel Crabtree
Photographed by Jared Kuzia
From our December 2016 issueMidwife and writer Carol Leonard revels in nature’s small moments. “Oh, see that red squirrel on the tablecloth?” she says, pointing toward a picnic table just off the porch of her home. “She grabs on the tablecloth and swings.” The dole of doves at the feeder, she adds, is a regular sight too.
Such interactions with wildlife — other neighbors include deer, moose, bears, and coyotes — offer daily affirmation of Carol and her builder husband Tom Lajoie’s initial instincts about Bad Beaver Farm, their 398-acre homestead in Ellsworth. They knew they’d found their own personal utopia when they first walked into the woods-ringed field where their house now stands. On that day in 2005, Tom looked at Carol and declared, “This is where I want to die.”
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The Leonard-Lajoie home’s interiors are bathed in natural light (and passive-solar gain) thanks to enormous windows opening on a field. The nearly 400-acre parcel is a former cattle farm.
Over the next few years, they cleared a road to the field, built a fishing cabin named Camp Kwitchabitchin (it has an outhouse named Kwitchapissin), and a five-bay barn for Tom’s construction equipment. Finally, in 2015, they made good on their desire to live at Bad Beaver Farm year-round.
Working with Carol and friends, Tom put up their house in six months, which meant 12-hour days and no breaks. “It’s like we were in an alternate universe,” Carol remembers, “but we did it. We pulled it off.” Angled to get the most out of the setting sun and a picturesque apple tree out front, the 1,800-square-foot, four-cross-gabled house is modeled after Acadian country architectural styles, a nod to Tom’s French-Canadian roots. It sits at the end of a long dirt road guarded by a red metal gate with cutouts of twigs, cattails, and beavers, the semiaquatic rodents with whom the couple had waged a turf war — the critters’ lodge threatened to flood the house site.
With 1,800 square feet of living space, Carol Leonard and Tom Lajoie’s house has an open floor plan, with two bedrooms, two baths, and a large wraparound porch. ‘We designed our house by dreaming and negotiating and sketching all the things we loved most about homes,’ Carol says. ‘It cost $180,000 to build, not including sweat equity, pizza, and beer.’
Carol and Tom were fiscally mindful through every step of the process, using granite countertops and doorknobs from bargain-hunter’s paradise Marden’s and snatching up design pieces from anywhere and everywhere — like the oven hood found in the backroom of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and the Mount Desert Island pink-granite fireplace mantle that came from a stone scrapyard. Tom’s got an eye for “stuff,” Carol explains. Their one splurge was passive-solar glass windows made by Mathews Brothers in Belfast, a no-brainer in Maine.
“Look at the foliage!” Carol sighs as she walks the property around her home. After 11 years, Bad Beaver Farm still elicits her exclamations of wonderment, as though she’s trying to pinch herself awake from a pleasant dream.
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