REMARKABLE – JUNE 2007
By Regina Cole
Photography Benedetta Spinelli
A diverse collection of art, furnishings, and architecture leads to an unpretentious, energy-filled home
The vivacious nature of this beachfront house near Portland is exemplified in its bathtub. Made from a strikingly bright yellow polymer, the tub resembles a giant rubber duck. It rests flat on the bathroom’s turquoise, glass-tile floor and sits centered before a vast floor-to-ceiling window. When the tub’s built-in light is turned on in the evening, it glows like a yellow orb.
“As the tub warms up, it softens,” Claude Sheer says with a smile. “It’s very comfy.”
Sheer, a former CEO of Ziff-Davis, and his partner Kathleen Goodwin, a senior vice president of marketing for cMarket, built the home for themselves, their extended families, and all of their favorite things. The project was an inspired collaboration that included a Portland architect and a Scarborough builder.
Nothing about the seaside home is predictable. In a part of the country where most new houses follow familiar architectural traditions, this one is resolutely contemporary. From the street, it resembles a Japanese-inspired Arts and Crafts reproduction, while the modern, glass beachfront façade would be right at home in Malibu. The dramatic views from the expansive, 20-by-56-foot living room that spans the entire oceanfront side of the house are jaw dropping. Yet Goodwin and Sheer’s collected artifacts—they have filled the home with a mix of third-world objects and industrial materials—and carefully chosen furnishings make the interior feel warm and personal.
“He could tell you—long before it was built—what every room looked like, right down to the furnishings,” says Goodwin, recalling how Sheer meticulously planned the process of replacing the “badly built, sort-of-seasonal” structure that once sat on the site.
“I wrote it up room by room,” Sheer agrees. “I’d been influenced by Bernard Maybeck, Frank Lloyd Wright, and modern Japanese architecture. This house was my chance to express some of that.”
“We build a lot of Colonial and Shingle Style houses, but this was new for us,” says Russ Doucette, whose eponymous Scarborough-based construction company began the 6,200-square-foot house in the autumn of 2005, and finished it one year later. “If you don’t like contemporary architecture, it won’t give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but I think the exterior is beautiful.”
Sheer interviewed several local architects before choosing Portland’s Mark Sengelmann. “I felt that Mark would be able to transform my ideas into a workable plan,” Sheer says, knowing that he and Goodwin had several very specific thoughts in mind. Sheer, in particular, wanted three sides of the home to reflect the traditions of the Arts and Crafts movement, while together the couple sought a design for the home’s fourth side that would pull the outdoors right into the house. “We wanted the ocean in the living room,” Sheer says.
Their preconstruction wish list was also informed by the couple’s thoughts on what makes a house a home. “The interior needed to provide some measure of privacy for everyone, particularly for when children are staying with us,” Sheer says, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. “We wanted intimate spaces.”
“As for the style,” he continues, “We wanted elegance, but not formality.”
Working from the couple’s roadmap, Sengelmann came up with a design that incorporated an innovative hybrid structural system. The lateral stability required for the enormous open living room was achieved with the use of laminated columns, while the floors were tied into the frame to help reinforce the structure.
Sengelmann says that Sheer wanted to preserve sight lines from the water-facing rooms. “We turned the columns so that their narrow sides faced the rooms, and then we lined them up with the muntins,” he says. “You don’t even know they’re there.” However, the vast panes of glass forced Sengelmann to get creative. “We had to consider the impact of 90-mile-per-hour winds and horizontal rains on the ocean-facing side of the building,” he says. To protect the home, Sengelmann used commercial building materials. “The doors out to the decks are the type used on city high-rises,” he says, “and all the hardware is designed not to rust.”
From the street side, the house appears to be just two stories high, but its beach side reveals that it is actually three full stories. The home’s basement includes a 5,000-bottle wine cellar and an apartment with its own private entrance. Near the shaded entryway are an outdoor shower, a kayak-storage rack, and a spiral staircase to the decks above.
The basement level is connected to the home’s upper floors by a large, contemporary central staircase. The stairs’ modern steel supports and wire rails, which were custom-built by Accidental Anomalies, are balanced with treads made from the same warm hardwood that is used throughout the house. In the hot summer months, the staircase acts as a central cooling system, with a ceiling fan mounted at the top that pulls warm air up and out of the house. “Our very comfortable and environmentally friendly air-conditioning is provided by the Atlantic Ocean,” quips Sengelmann.
As soon as the design was finalized, Sengelmann put Sheer and Goodwin in touch with Doucette. The group quickly formed a strong bond. “Building a house is like getting married for a period of time,” Doucette says. “The homeowner, the architect, and the contractor really have to get along.”
“I think it was the bathtub that broke the ice,” Sheer chuckles. “When that arrived, we all stood around and laughed.”
The level of trust that developed between builder and homeowner even allowed the project to evolve as it moved along. At Doucette’s suggestion, Sheer and Goodwin enlarged the kitchen to twice its originally planned size. “They love to cook,” he points out.
Doucette was also responsible for bringing in local Amish stonemasons to build the home’s monumental fieldstone fireplace. “They rolled up prayers written on paper and put them into the stonework,” Sheer marvels. “I loved working with, and getting to know, local craftspeople.”
Much of the furniture is Maine-made. One guest bedroom is filled with colorful Maine Cottage furniture, while Green Design Furniture is well represented in the master bedroom and kitchen—the lumbar-friendly stools pulled up to the terra-cotta-colored, cast-concrete kitchen island were made by Green Design. Like the home’s eclectic exterior, many of the interior furnishings, hardware, and other aesthetic appointments reflect the couple’s personalities, travels, and divergent tastes, as well as their sense of playfulness. Several rugs were purchased in the Southwest. Walls are painted in colors reminiscent of a trip that Sheer and Goodwin took to Africa. Door handles are fashioned from Masai warrior clubs. And reclaimed municipal streetlights, found at Portland Architectural Salvage, flank the garage and give it an air of industrial chic.
“Claude is more colorful than I am,” admits Goodwin, “and more laid back. He’s like a monk; his attitude is very flowing.”
“I like very modern, funky, eclectic, weird stuff,” Sheer confesses.
In those rare corners of the home without an ocean view, there is an abundance of color and quirkiness to catch the eye—native weavings, curvaceous upholstered furniture, art, plants, and books. It is a house that feels full of life. And, like life itself, it is still evolving.
“We haven’t found the right thing for this place yet,” Sheer says, looking at a blank living-room wall. “But when we find it, we’ll know.”