Well Grounded

FEATURE-October 2010

By Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos | Photography Robert Benson

An elegant camp sets down roots in Boothbay Harbor

When the owner purchased the modest Cape here, it had been standing on its site, relatively unchanged, for twenty years. It jutted out of the wild landscape and stared blankly at the sea. Above all, it looked entirely out of place, like a box that had tumbled onto the Boothbay Harbor peninsula with little regard for the rugged beauty that surrounded it.

The house was aching for a renovation. So the owner, a Boston-based commercial developer who had renovated several houses in the past, called in the pro who knew her best. Architect Ed Hodges, a fellow Southerner, knew just what the owner wanted—eventually. “What we had was just a starting place,” Hodges says. “She was too practical to tear down the house. Her initial instinct was to add a great room onto the house. Of course, it wasn’t what we did in the end.”

She had fallen in love with the land: four acres a stone’s throw from town that feel as private as a pine-covered island. The welcoming dock (perfect for cocktails) overlooks a tidal cove on three sides. Trails through old woods, dappled with sunshine, reveal tables and chairs, hidden swing sets, a verdant vegetable garden, and then some.
Hodges’s challenge: to expand the original Cape and redesign it all as a framework for the homeowner’s huge variety of stuff. As part of her work, she has traversed the globe—from Russia to Afghanistan to Peru to France—accumulating an impressive collection of art along the way. The colorful array of textiles, paintings, and sculptures demanded customized accommodations: a 14-foot wall on which to hang an antique Afghani rug, for example. And even as the designing began, the collecting continued.

“She called me and said, ‘I’ve bought three barns. Can you work with them?’” Hodges recalls. “I said, ‘Sure!’” This timber-frame house would be his first. Reality set in when he arrived at the yard where builder Dan Harris, who’d found and dismantled the three connected structures, had piled the timbers. The pile itself stood 10 feet high, 20 feet wide, and 40 feet long. Hodges set to work rethinking his plans.
“It was a little bit of trial and error,” Hodges says. Harris brought in a portable sawmill and began using the timbers to truss the porch work and frame the hallways and living room, and barn siding was used to panel walls and ceilings—beautifully.

That rustic experiment flows freely into the upstairs “family bedroom.” The large room houses a queen bed and two twin beds separated by a bathroom that is disguised as a small tobacco barn—complete with a corrugated tin roof. Hodges came up with the idea when he designed a North Carolina lake house for his parents. He and his four brothers and sisters have a dozen children among them, and a divided single bedroom gave parents and children their own distinct yet connected space. The homeowner’s collection of charming needlework samplers (stitched by her and her relatives) and elegant French dolls and vintage children’s books (from her childhood) dress up the space. In the bathroom, a Philippe Starck wall-mounted toilet adds a splash of modernism.

The currents of old and new run throughout the house. The unexpected gift of a sauna during construction, for example, prompted the design of a modern spa-inspired guest bath built between two traditional bedrooms. And holding up the tread of each polished floating stair is a solid block of hand-hewn timber.

That playful mix was the whole point: to create a gathering place in which family and close friends could enjoy each other comfortably. The owner soon commissioned Windsor Chairmakers to build a dining room table that seats fourteen, a set of matching chairs, and a guest bed—all from burl maple. “We call it the ‘adult camp,’ the homeowner says warmly. “It’s not showy; it’s pragmatic.”

Hand-carved cherry cabinets line the roomy central kitchen. Its simple layout makes it easy for many cooks to feel at home while pitching in. An open plate rack divides two pantries. And old hay hooks and scales do double duty: They lend charm and hold pots, pans, and colanders in plain view.

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