OLD ENGLAND NEW ENGLAND

interview
NANCY GORDON

photography
SARAH SZWAJKOS PHOTOGRAPHY
for Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty

Bonnie Bird and Michael Collins combined their English, Norwegian and Indiana heritages with a classic Maine exterior to create a
warm and personal, yet sophisticated, home on Islesboro. Bonnie was kind enough to share their home’s adventures and histories.

. . .

Bonnie, what attracted you and Mike to the island of Islesboro?

We had never heard of the island. We had a home in England and one in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC, and we decided to buy a place in Maine to escape the brutal DC summers. We had started at the Kittery end of Maine, driving along the Maine coast to find a suitable waterside home. We stopped to visit a friend in Northport whose home looked out over Penobscot Bay, facing Islesboro. We could see some of the lovely homes facing west and asked what was on the island. When he said “nothing,” we decided to go over and have a look.

The architectural design of your home blends nicely into Maine, and yet the interesting roof lines tell the story of another design culture. Please tell us the story of your home and what has influenced its design and layout.

Uncharacteristically, we decided to buy a beautifully situated lot on the island since there were no appropriate homes on the market. We interviewed seven architects, but only one wanted to see the property before he agreed to undertake the project, Bob Knight.

And since the seven-acre property we bought was so unique—with a clearing up a rise leading down to a rocky beach, overlooking a picturesque harbor and surrounded by pristine woodland—we felt anyone undertaking the creation of a suitable house for the site would deem it necessary to see the potential site first. We were astonished that none of the other architects were interested in viewing the location first.

In fact, through an introduction by the same friend from whose porch we first viewed Islesboro, we had secured our builder before we started the search for an architect. Lynn Hayward, a superbly talented and far-sighted contractor, asked to see the site right away. His thoughtful insights and visionary concepts of what we might be able to do with the property and its characteristics were hugely instrumental in achieving the superb house and garden layout. Lynn and Bob worked together on the house and at one point, Bob noted to Lynn that he sometimes couldn’t remember which parts he had designed and which parts Lynn had improvised to suit the project. Together, they were brilliant!

We had no preconceptions of what kind of house we wanted; Bob patiently sent design after design but none really worked for us.

As an aside, one of the funnier points we remembered was that all Bob’s kitchen designs featured a kitchen island in the middle, and I kept sending them back saying “No, they impede traffic flow.” We had a huge English pine farm table, which we wanted prominently placed in the middle of the kitchen.

How did you decide on the direction for the design?

Part of our dilemma in determining house design was that, with a stunning view of the harbor and facing west for gorgeous evening sunsets, we wanted all the rooms to face the sea side. Then we realized that this was exactly the design premise of the house we were still living in in West Sussex, England; the house had been built in 1918–20 by a famed English architect and was situated on seven acres of astonishingly beautiful gardens. In fact, the house was designed so that all the rooms faced the grand gardens. Bingo! We could duplicate the house and all the rooms would face the sea.

So we persuaded Bob to come stay with us in England for several days while he figured out how to re-create our English home, “Duffryn,” on an island in Maine.

We then bought two carved fireplace mantels—one Victorian, one Edwardian—from an architectural salvage firm in Surrey, England, along with a few other English accoutrements including a massive AGA stove, a chandelier for the staircase and sundry other light fixtures, tiles, five sinks and assorted garden benches … and moved it all over to Maine. Whew!

What part did Norwegian design and “Risøbank” play?

Bob was engaged and flexible and willing to advise and work with us on a few idiosyncrasies: We didn’t want a shingled exterior—Mike is English and loved the idea of an American-style clapboard (wooden) exterior. Plus, we basically wanted him to duplicate the English house, which he was largely able to do with a couple of exceptions due to terrain and weather differences between the island and our place in the UK.

Bob duplicated an “inside porch,” which is basically a small porch tucked into the roofline so that it’s sheltered from the weather but still outside. This is a feature of older Norwegian homes and Mike’s family had a grand old house in Mandal, Norway, where all the cousins would come and spend their summers … very iconic. We had a picture of the place and Bob incorporated the inside porch and echoed the roof lines in a gesture to Mike’s family history.

The Norwegian house, called “Risøbank,” which had belonged to his great-grandfather, Lord Salvesen, has since been acquired by the Norwegian government, which turned it into a museum and arts venue and converted its 300 acres into a national park. So we have named the Islesboro house Risøbank to honor the original.

Bob also surprised us by building window seats into four of the bedrooms … a great idea!

Favorite times of day on the island?

Morning and early evening. It’s quiet on the island and that’s glorious in the morning. In the evenings, we wander down to our pier and sit on the float with drinks and cheese to enjoy the sunset, watch the boats come and go and hope to catch a glimpse of the harbor seals who sometimes surface nearby.

Your kitchen is a dream! Do you both cook?

No. The one major downside of the island is, no restaurants. I loathe cooking. Mike cooks but it’s mostly just the basic minimum. It has always amazed me that anyone enjoys doing it.

Do you love your AGA stove?

Well, you can’t love a stove if you don’t like to cook, but … It’s kind of cool because it’s supposed to be on all the time. No controls, etc. but we do get a few hot weeks in Maine so we turn it off until it gets cool again. It warms the whole kitchen and guests tend to congregate in front of it with their backsides leaning against the AGA!

Did you bring most of your furniture and accessories from England?

Yes. Except for several pieces of my great-grandmother’s “Empire” period/style furniture from Indiana, including the dining room and her custom inlaid bedroom furniture created to match the inlaid wooden flooring in my family home in southern Indiana.

Your home feels so welcoming and easy, yet sophisticated … Such a wonderful combination. How did you achieve this?

That’s very kind of you to say. We did it ourselves, so it's a reflection of our tastes and values.

. . .

Home Features:
5 bedrooms
2 full baths
3 partial baths
6,820 square feet
7.26 acres
MLS# 1368551

Michael Kevin Lynch, broker, SVP, 207-558-3131, mlynch@legacysir.com

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