DAVID GRAHAM had a tight set of restrictions when he sat down with owners Kelly and Jon Conaway to design their home, which sits on a very narrow piece of land. They could not expand the footprint of the small, existing house. The new building was in a flood zone, so it would have to be raised more than three feet on a concrete pier foundation—and that would run them up against local height and volume limitations and leave them with no basement. The eastern view was from the back—the mainland side—of the house.
However, the site has picturesque ocean views in three directions and breathtaking beaches on either side. It is an extraordinary spot on the coast of Maine.
The point of land shoots almost due south into the ocean. The lot is on the west side of the road, but the Conaways found their favorite view from the old house was from the north side garage, facing east. For the new house, Graham of Graham Architects put the garage in the middle to conserve window space. The previously ignored northern end of the house now contains the Conaways’ key rooms: kitchen and upstairs master bedroom. And these do not skimp on the views. The western panorama from the house is unfettered sunset made striking by rocky bits of island, the stuff of paintings.
The necessary raising of the house three-plus feet from the previous foundation offered an unexpected benefit. The eastern view on the southern side is somewhat blocked by a house across the street. But opposite the kitchen and the front door is parking for the beach; being three feet higher raises the view over any cars parked there.
“Each of the site limitations,” notes Graham, “became a design element.” Where the house might have lost space on the steep part of the gambrel roof, Graham put a fireplace in the corner of the master bedroom—with windows on either side.
Graham worked closely with his clients to produce the modified Shingle-style home. Kelly, a painter, was deeply involved with the interior design and architectural aspects of the house. Graham responded to Kelly’s plethora of ideas: “That’s how a projects starts,” he says.
Close to their large family, the Conaways wanted five bedrooms and an unusually large dining room table. In addition to the table, Kelly had collected a great deal of salvaged architectural elements from antique French and colonial-era American homes.
Graham, Clayton Spang and Kevin Henry of Spang Builders sat down with the Conaways to incorporate their ideas and Kelly’s collected architectural elements into a home that would rise above the site constraints to make the most of the location.
“It was a really fun project,” says Graham. “Great people.” And this is the sentiment that has been echoed by everyone involved in the project. “Everything was right on schedule,” says Kelly. “That is particularly impressive because of the short build time and the fact that Jon and I were in Texas during most of the building process, and we were deeply involved. There was a lot of FedEx-ing of samples.
“Kevin Henry and Clayton Spang were our everyday contacts and they really were patient with me. Tim Spang, the owner, was approachable and more responsive than I could have imagined. He had a personal hand in the project, choosing, for example, the huge—14-foot-long—granite blocks for the steps on the seawall side.”
It is Kelly’s repurposed architectural elements that establish the interior aesthetic. The fireplaces in the open first-floor spaces comprising the living room and kitchen were created from centuries-old parts—artistically distressed but ever-elegant jambs and mantels. “It was a tricky process to have them build the fireplaces from the parts I provided, but we all worked together and got great results,” Kelly says. And she pressed her cabinet maker David Fields (contracted through Jeanne Rapone of Centerline Design & Build of Yarmouth) to incorporate antique French doors as key cabinet components of the kitchen.
The kitchen is set up for Jon and Kelly, both passoinate cooks, with incredible views to the east and west at the narrowest part of the structure. The central counter space is L-shaped, containing a table nook facing one of Kelly’s antique-element fireplaces and a particularly clear view of the ocean in the morning.
One quiet but notable element of the kitchen is the glossy-painted beadboard wood ceiling. The reflectivity of the paint underscores the ever-shifting coastal light and the texture of the wood (think wainscotting) sets the stage for an understated ship logic for the entire long and narrow house. On the upper floors, this is charmingly obvious: The bedroom hallway is tall and narrow with stateroom labels on the doors: “The Maine Stay,” “The Sea Rose,” “The Sea Hag” and, of course, “The Head” (the bathroom) and the master bedroom or “The Captain’s Quarters.”
Lofted and airy, all of the bedrooms exude a fresh-breathed lightness. But one key touch is the saturated pink undertone of the otherwise white ceilings. In a house where the light changes minute by minute with the palette of the ocean’s edge, this could be easy to miss but, from a design point, it’s brilliant. It’s like sunset in the afternoon. And at sunset, it is exquisite.
The repurposed wood elements add quietly to the ship sense, particularly the highly unusual tobacco stick chandeliers and sconces from Reworks Home of Austin, Texas, as well as Kelly’s suggested stairway shelves.
Whereas the stateroom-like bedrooms are smallish, light-soaked and quietly private, the downstairs is visually dense with wizened wood textures as well as art and shelves of books. Kelly’s own primitivist paintings are joined by works of notable Downeast artists Judy Leighton and Bill Irvine. But one book, opened or not, stands out: Celia Thaxter’s An Island Garden of 1894, illustrated and illuminated by the great painter Childe Hassam.
Kelly’s raised garden beds are based on Thaxter’s book. “This was my inspiration,” she says. And the moment you step outside to look at them, it’s impossible not to wonder at the quiet brilliance of the house and the beauty of the place.
. . .
Spang Builders, Inc.
Timothy Spang, owner
Kevin Henry, project manager
Clayton Spang, project manager
Landscape Design and Install
Spang Builders, Inc.
Centerline Design & Build
Duquette & Company