Artist Spencer Finch documents ordinary things that go by unobserved: the paths of bugs in a garden, the shifting hues of the Hudson River throughout the day, the color of the sky over the twin towers on September 11, 2001. He then translates this data into art. In Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning—a work commissioned for the 9/11 Memorial Museum—he hand-painted 2,983 squares, each square in a unique shade of blue for every person killed in the September 11th attacks and in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In her book, Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun?, author Susan Cross writes, “Finch carefully records the invisible world, while simultaneously striving to understand what might lie beyond it. Whether he is relying on his own powers of observation or using a colorimeter, a device that reads the average color and temperature of light, the artist employs a scientific method to achieve poetic ends.”
Science and poetry—like Finch, architects constantly balance these elements. They draw rooms and walls, confer with engineers, measure angles, consider loads and constrictions—all while imagining what happens, what will happen, within those walls. They must know how a room works, how to create spaces that contain (and even invite) togetherness, ease, enjoyment. Places for quiet when we need quiet. And spaces that are easily altered to squeeze in extra guests when the house is full. Like mediums sensing ghosts, searching for the past, architects must perceive the invisible future within those walls…the soon to be.
Architects stitch their homes into the landscape, taking not only beauty into account—things like views and light—but also how melting snow will drain away. They must consider height restrictions, energy efficiencies, and ventilation, as well as the vernacular of what surrounds our homes—taking the context of our larger neighborhoods into account, making our homes fitting additions.
Architects are balancers of our budgets, finding fast, inexpensive solutions. And they know when to splurge on soaring windows with custom casements to frame a striking view. They organize the circulation of our homes and teach us how the space connects us with the outdoors. They make plans for us to age in place, shaping the elements of our long-term vision, so that our homes can grow over time, as our lives and budgets allow.
We are touched daily, even years and years later, by the decisions architects make. Each of the 17 projects contained in this issue reveals a blend of science and art. Each takes data, blends it with poetry, and makes a home. Each transforms a master plan into a way of life.
1. Light-flooded rooms with countless views
This four-season beach house is a daylight- and view-driven design with a crisp cottage vernacular totaling 1,980 square feet. The clients, longtime residents of Higgins Beach, sought a quieter location within the community and found a site on Harmon’s Island that offers a setting with spectacular, sweeping southerly views of the tidal marsh across to Higgins Beach and beyond.
A pair of flanking second- story gables frames a transparent connecting form that bridges the two sides of the house. This bridge organizes a stairwell that ascends within a two-story space, with clerestory windows that introduce daylight deep into the heart of the house. Two second-floor decks cut into the roof, one on the front and one on the back.
The first floor is organized in a linear fashion with public spaces spread out along the view to catch the daylight. The cottage has a traditional porch shed roof on the water side that acts as an extension of the living room/dining room/kitchen, and a sweeping window wall addresses the view.
The exterior finishes were selected to fit into the traditional cottage community while also providing a low-maintenance package. The envelope is well insulated and tight, resulting in a high-performance building. The interior finishes reflect a clean and contemporary palette. The floors are engineered white oak over radiant-heated floors, and the stair and rails are of oak as well. The stainless-steel cable railing from the exterior roof decks flows inside, becoming the railing system for the inner stair as well, strengthening the tie from interior to exterior.
2. Traditional style for a retirement home in York Harbor
This 3,800-square-foot York Harbor waterfront residence was designed to replace an existing one- and-a-half-story New England Cape. Due to the home’s proximity to the water, the design was restricted primarily to the existing footprint in order to stay within the shoreland zone. A small addition was added on the west elevation to incorporate a formal dining room, powder room, and mechanical closet.
Designed as a retirement home, the home has all amenities for daily living located on the first floor, including the owners’ bedroom suite. Two guest suites and a fitness room are located on the second floor, above the garage and sunroom, and can be closed off from the rest of the home when not in use. The sunroom and living room access the kitchen and dining room through a soffited colonnade, which encourages comfortable circulation, especially when entertaining friends and family. The home’s length and stepped façade allow for the owners’ bedroom and bath, living room, kitchen, and sunroom to be placed along the east elevation for panoramic ocean views. These ocean views add to the spatial quality and provide abundant natural light from early in the morning through early afternoon, while sunsets fill the dining room with warm yellow and dark orange light in the evening.
3. A time-honored Country Club reborn with refined craft
Three years in the making, the new clubhouse for the Boothbay Harbor Country Club is a facility designed with the features and amenities of a world-class golf club. An avid golfer, the owner was inspired by upscale resorts he has visited throughout the world. The goal was to provide a unique experience for members and public guests that rivals that of clubs across the country. The building is sited at the top of a hill overlooking an 18-hole course, which also underwent a comprehensive facelift by a team of highly regarded golf course designers.
The building itself is 32,000 square feet, comprising a 54-seat bar, a 60-seat restaurant, locker rooms, pro shop, offices, kitchen, parking garage for up to 75 golf carts, and additional support spaces. Outside, heated dining terraces and a fire pit provide an additional 70 seats overlooking the course. Clad in gray shingles with rustic stone and white trim, the clubhouse architecture blends classic New England shingle style with modern elegance. The interior design emphasizes large open spaces with lots of detailed, intricate trim work and mouldings. Even the elevator is finely detailed with mahogany trim work. Challenges included engineering a 35-foot-wide opening with minimal deflection to accommodate a NanaWall, the folding glass wall system that separates the bar area and the outdoor deck.
4. A suburban home converted into a classic Maine camp
Great East Lake is the largest lake of the Salmon Falls River headwaters, and the farthest upstream. Its pristine shores, once frequented by Teddy Roosevelt, are dotted with century-old seasonal camps. A particular, suburban-developed home was out of place within the lakefront context, so its owners tasked the Whitten Architects design team with transforming the home’s design into a classic Maine camp aesthetic.
Within the confines of current Maine shoreland zoning standards, the footprint was expanded to the north and east to allow for a welcoming wraparound porch, a mudroom, and an expanded kitchen with walk-in pantry. The primary living space fronts the lake through a rebuilt sunporch. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer dramatically better views and allow abundant natural light to flood the interior. The overall form and scale of the original home was left intact. However, some careful editing of faux roof edges and the use of native materials give it a regionally appropriate character.
Windows, insulation, and mechanicals were all modernized with durable and high-performance systems that ensure comfortable living during the winter ski season. They also provide the camp with near Passive House–level energy-efficiency standards.
Outdoors, the home’s newly considered landscape better relates to the indigenous lakeshore palette. A deciduous understory frames the architecture, while low-growing native sods of blueberry and huckleberry evoke a sense of timelessness. Lake-sensitive storm- water management strategies were used, including moss-laden boulder catchments and plantings of ferns and riparian shrubs.
5. A high note at the Maine College of Art
On October 3, 2015, the Maine College of Art dedicated new facilities for the Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music. According to the college, “The program, working in tandem with MECA’s rigorous visual arts offerings, will prepare students to be truly interdisciplinary musicians, performers, sound artists, and thinkers.” The new facility, a 12,000-square-foot renovation, transforms a dark basement storage area into a bright, dynamic space that includes classrooms, a recording studio, a live performance and tracking room, individual practice rooms, and student gathering and display space. The design team coordinated the complex program, equipment, and acoustic requirements for all the music functions. The centerpiece of the facility is a dazzling gallery exhibiting art and music mementos of famed singer, songwriter, producer, and artist Bob Crewe, who penned a string of hits for the Four Seasons, including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Rag Doll.”
The facility is a continuation of a multiphase adaptive reuse plan spanning over 20 years in which an abandoned 150,000-square-foot building has, over time, been transformed into a vibrant campus for the urban art college. A restored historic stair (above) and adjacent storefront display space provide a direct connection between the Bob Crewe Gallery and busy Congress Street on the level above. With this latest renovation, a monumental staircase in the main lobby now creates a physical and visual connection to the newly renovated spaces below, knitting MECA’s rich variety of functions and programs into an inviting, integrated whole.
6. A master plan realized: how years of vacations create a vision for a way of life
The design of this coastal compound started with a master plan, laying out a long-term vision that could be built over time. Emotionally attached to the area after 14 summers of renting, the owners bought five acres of riverfront meadow on which to build a place of their own for family vacations and eventual year-round living. The master plan set Grey Havens, the main house, just back from the brow of a gentle slope to the water, with a guesthouse sited downhill and perpendicular to the main structure to preserve views and privacy.
Grey Havens harks back to nineteenth-century coastal estates but accommodates year-round contemporary living. The south- facing end of the wide porch is framed with heavy timber, but the roof sheathing is omitted so winter sun can brighten the interior. Oversized windows and cozy bays provide all of the main living spaces with panoramic views.
7. A farmhouse springs to life for a young family & their menagerie
Conceived of as a collection of farm-inspired buildings, the structures are positioned on the site relative to previously existing piled stone walls that knit the buildings into the landscape with a nod to the history of the area. The grouping includes a house, a garage, and a timber- frame barn. Individual structures are linked by a trellis: a series of rough wood bents that organize the circulation. Beneath the trellis runs a walkway that links multiple site levels with stone steps allowing access to each.
Elemental gable forms with minimal trim and roof overhangs are eroded at the corners with large sliding doors, allowing seamless living between indoors and outdoors, while solid wood doors on the barn and garage provide wide working access to the outbuildings. The main house is further subdivided into two discrete volumes connected by a low, flat- roof element that houses the entry. One area contains public spaces: kitchen, dining room, and living room. The other holds bedrooms, a mudroom, laundry, office, and a project room where kids rule supreme. A grid-tied photovoltaic array and solar thermal panels for domestic hot water extend along the entire south-facing roof of the two-story bedroom space. Heat is supplied by a high-efficiency wood pellet boiler, and a stone fireplace in the kitchen burns all winter long.
8. The art of connected living
The clients, a portrait painter and a professor of Japanese culture, wanted a house with traditional and modern Japanese associations made up of three distinct buildings: a residence, a screened pavilion for dining, and a building for painting, table tennis, and storage of boats and vehicles. The buildings define the outdoor spaces: a nuanced front entry sequence from the north with a traditional gate, a terrace on the water side for entertaining, a walking garden on the east, and a lawn for games on the west.
The lower level of the residence allows for separate guest living. The main level is a layered open area for gathering, with a library and bath that can be closed off with a sliding panel in case extra guests come to visit. The upper floor has a compact primary bedroom and bath on the west side. White stucco panels, sustainably harvested ribbed wood walls, and minimally pitched copper and composite roofs sloping in different directions mimic those common in rural Japanese villages. Openings of different sizes and proportions frame views of water features and carefully composed swaths of the bay, fields, and gardens.
A multizoned heat pump system with heat-recovery ventilation provides highly efficient heating and controls humid ocean air. Minimalist gas fireplaces provide radiant warmth and act as a backup for the heat pumps. Roofs were shaped to send water along rain chains to basins on the ground, some of which pass by windows for observation.
9. Energy efficiency & aesthetics: a graceful combination
A wooded bluff above the Cousins River estuary is the location for a high-performance home in southern Maine. Sited in a clearing to take advantage of solar gain, the home features south-facing windows that illuminate its open floor plan. Natural light is filtered further inside through translucent glass sheathed in custom casework.
A pine forest dominates the view from the home, and spindled vertical trees surrounding the site provide contrast to the low horizontal lines of the single-level home. A covered walkway stretching between the house and garage helps connect the buildings to the landscape. The single-level design offers aging-in-place capabilities, with access to the screened porch, deck, and walkway on the same level as the house.
The owners modified a predesigned 1,600-square- foot three-bedroom plan to fit their needs. The open floor plan is oriented to solar south, with vaulted interior spaces under the shed roof. Built-in cabinetry and shelving provide spatial separations in the open plan, creating a diversity of spaces. Custom casework and a built-in daybed frame the living area in Baltic birch plywood, while custom ash millwork adds warmth to the bedrooms and kitchen. The concrete floor is not only modern; it is a critical component of the home’s energy performance; the high thermal mass of concrete acts as a heat sink helping to maintain and regulate interior temperatures throughout the year.
10. Intercultural transformation at Bates College
A former dining facility that was awkwardly configured and architecturally uninspiring was converted into a new home for a student organization that promotes campus inclusion, compassion, and respect. Students expressed their desire for a place that would both fulfill practical needs—for a kitchen, offices, meeting rooms, and gathering spaces—and invite engagement with the greater community of students, faculty, and visitors.
Due to time and financial constraints, the design team was limited to a few select design interventions. The prohibitive cost of removing asbestos mandated that the existing floor tile remain. The acoustical tile ceiling was removed, and the building infrastructure above it was painted a deep cobalt blue. Contemporary lighting was added to create an atmosphere that is at once comfortably scaled and expansive. Polycarbonate panels installed as wall sheathing for the new offices and meeting rooms provided a fast, inexpensive, and light-diffusing solution.
The new Office of Intercultural Education has been embraced by students and recognized by the college administration. Crystal Ann Williams, associate vice president for strategic initiatives at Bates, says, “The result is a space that speaks to the heart of who we are at Bates—complex, centered around community, pushing the edges while simultaneously honoring, even lauding, those historic elements that define so much of what Bates has been and what it is becoming.”
11. Coveside feat: a home settled by the sea
The design team was asked to determine the feasibility of fitting a sizeable three- bedroom house and two-car garage on a small lot with a 26-foot height limitation in South Portland. The design solution was to create a story-and-a-half home over a sunken garage. The existing storm-sewer infrastructure was just low enough to allow for a gravity drain from the new driveway, which also features a radiant snow-melting system. The house is highly energy efficient, featuring a thick double-stud wall assembly, triple-pane tilt-turn windows, and an energy-recovery ventilator that works in tandem with the tightly sealed exterior envelope.
The site and the neighborhood have a strong vernacular aesthetic, and the owner wanted to accentuate the positive features. Expressed in a language of cedar shingles, natural stone, and exposed rafter tails, the home design is organized around views to the east, while capturing southern light. The home occupies a corner lot and is welcoming from both sides, especially to the east where the porch is visible to visitors from across a terraced lawn, giving the owners a serene space to greet them while taking in views of Danforth Cove and Casco Bay beyond.
12. Creating space within tough site restrictions
A year-round, downeast shingled cottage on the shores of Phillips Lake was crafted in response to a demanding building program and phased construction. A small, existing circa-1980 camp was mostly razed to make way for a spacious shingled cottage. Site constraints due to shore proximity, setbacks, and lot coverage requirements created a challenge, but the design team was able to shoehorn the larger house onto the modest-sized lot. The living room is the sole remaining portion of the original house, albeit mostly rebuilt. The kitchen and adjacent screened porch provide a view of the shore, and required a skillful landscape design solution to ease a nearly six-foot-high transition from finish floor to grade.
The 3,000-square-foot house includes four bedrooms and three baths, living room, dining room, kitchen, office, and garage. A full basement houses a fully equipped wood shop, fitness gym, and mechanicals. The house is fully conditioned with robust heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems. A large three-car garage across the road from the main house contains a variety of vehicles, equipment, and nautical vessels.
13. Unexpected details create breathtaking spaces
Beach sand and dune grass define the site of this cottage in Ocean Park. The five-bedroom beach villa with open decks, screened three- season porch, and living spaces for large or small groups is designed as both a summer gathering spot for family and a probable retirement residence for the owners.
The round-arched ceiling of the living room is a striking showpiece on the main level, with custom- made laminated beams and Douglas fir tongue-and- groove planking. Softly lit with dimmable LEDs, the glowing ceiling warms the space. The salt marsh and the ocean beyond can be seen from the living room and the deck. Down its own hallway, the owners’ wing complete with a separate study makes for an ideal refuge.
On the upper floor, a common room with a vaulted ceiling, galley kitchenette, comfortable seating, and a wonderful screened porch for taking in beach views from an airy vantage point provide a variety of spaces for family and guests to relax in.
Bedroom layouts in each of the wings allow privacy for the owners’ adult children and their own families. Several full and half-bathrooms assure convenience even for a full house.
Outside, an elegant outdoor shower helps keep sand where it belongs. When midsummer air is oppressively humid, an effective central dehumidification system wrings out moisture with economy, eliminating the need for energy- consumptive air-conditioning. Solar shading is provided by significant gable and eave overhangs in key areas.
14. A gallery expansion makes a downtown a work of art
Abacus Gallery was a favorite among the Caleb Johnson team, even before they were called on to help with a new addition to the gallery and store’s Ogunquit location. The inventive style of owners Sal Scaglione and Dana Heacock and Dana’s crisp, pure New England paintings gave the design team a strong canvas to work on.
The first priority was to reinforce the existing fabric of the streetscape. While there were a few buildings that add to the area’s charm, making this busy intersection feel more cohesive was a major goal of the project. The ridge of the addition turns 90 degrees relative to the two existing buildings. This adds a bit of variety and allows for a dramatically scaled front window and a large central skylight, both of which bathe the interior space in light. Large- scale, whitewashed pine trusses and structure give structural support as well as visual interest, appearing to gradually diminish in size from one end of the additional to the other.
The storefront of any Main Street building is crucial for displaying goods that will draw in the public. A traditional design approach was chosen to meet historic ordinances, and it allowed for an attractive expanse of glass and beautiful recessed entries. The six-foot-tall front window gives the façade depth and shadow and visually reinforces the storefront beneath.
15. Form, function & whimsy create a contemporary campus haven
Through an ongoing engagement, SMRT has shaped a contemporary built campus environment that both reflects Unity College’s strong sustainability ethic and supports its growing enrollment. SMRT was challenged to define a new image for the campus with the design of Residence Hall One. An aesthetic that is at once contemporary and rural continues to guide the ongoing design of campus buildings.
Residence Halls One and Two provide upperclassmen with suite-style apartments laid out at slight angles to create both spaces for quiet study within and social interaction along the public spine of the buildings. Residence Hall Three is designed to provide traditional double-occupancy rooms in an untraditional arrangement, with building utilities and student amenities located in four separate building cores with varied ancillary spaces located between them. The Dining Hall addition and new Collaborative Learning Center were also built on this balanced aesthetic with exposed wood structure, traditional materials, bright colors, and contemporary building forms. All of the buildings are oriented with large south-facing roofs designed for optimal solar energy collection.
As a national leader in their divestment from fossil fuels, Unity College has made a commitment to sustainability that encompasses all aspects of the institution. The SMRT design team incorporated photovoltaic arrays, a wood pellet boiler, and air-to-air heat exchangers. Sourcing materials with low embodied energy and utilizing local materials added another level of sustainability to the projects.
16. A seasonal cottage hovers over land & sea
Located on the rocky eastern shore of Cliff Island, only a short walk from the last stop “down the bay” on the Casco Bay Lines ferry route, this seasonal cottage is nestled into the edge of the woods and yet lies so close to the shore that you can hear the pebbles rolling out with the tide.
The local clients had just closed on this property when they reached out to Kevin Browne Architecture to transform and expand the existing rustic camp into an island retreat that would comfortably accommodate their family.
Due to the extent of the renovation, two-thirds of the structure had to be rebuilt and elevated on concrete piers in order to comply with current flood-zone requirements. The new design took full advantage of the 30 percent expansion limit by expanding upward to create three additional small bedrooms. This upward expansion allowed for taller ceilings throughout the first floor. Exposed rafters and V-match pine on the ceilings maintain the rustic charm of the original camp, while modern fixtures and finishes add to the comfort of the retreat. An expanse of windows wraps the cottage and showcases an awe-inspiring view from every space, including views of the ocean through the cottage on the approach from the narrow camp road.
17. Well-sited & well-suited for energy efficiency & familial bonding
On a piece of property deeded to them by their parents, two sisters separated by over a thousand miles wanted to create a place to bring their families together. In order to create spaces for both together time and private time, a plan unfolded where all of the common spaces spread out along the waterside in a linear fashion. An open view stretches from the living room at one end, through the dining room and kitchen, and terminates at an oversized screened porch at the other end, over 50 feet away. While there is a visual connection, the distance allows independent conversations and activities to occur with little interference.
The 2,400-square-foot home spreads along a narrow gap on a sloping site, maximizing every room’s connection to the water. A large window with a hydraulic, high-performance awning at the pass-through bar provides an easy connection back to the kitchen. For simplicity and durability, only two roof planes cover the house, with the primary slope facing south to accommodate up to 16 kilowatts of future solar capacity, which will enable the high-performance home to achieve net-zero energy. A “stairway to heaven” flows up to the top floor, which floats just above the trees and provides a great getaway loft for the kids.