Revival of the Fittest


By Candace Karu

Photography Rob Karosis

How a 1915 Boothbay Harbor Foursquare cottage was reimagined for family living

whitten-view-down-porch-to-water_w.jpgIn the late 1800s, the American Foursquare style arrived on the architectural landscape, introducing a modern approach to family living. The name describes the design concept to a T: four square rooms in each corner positioned around a central hall. This artful arrangement of space emphasizes an economy of scale, function, and construction that imbues these homes with a contemporary feel even a century after they first appeared. Pinewold, a classic, cedar-shingled cottage that sits above Boothbay Harbor, is an ideal example of the Foursquare’s charm and versatility.

For several years, a family from the Midwest with deep ties to Maine had been searching for the perfect Down East vacation home. Their search brought them to Boothbay and ultimately to Pinewold. The house, nestled into an incline that slopes toward the water, had all the qualities the family had hoped to find. The setting was quintessentially Maine, with established plantings, a deep-water dock, and a view of a working fishing wharf that spoke volumes about the unique character of coastal Maine living. The homeowners immediately began to research the history of the cottage, finding photographs and references to a rich and varied past in which the previous owners each left their mark on the house and grounds.

Along with their interior designer, Betsy Train, of Betsy McCue Train Design in Reston, Virginia, the homeowners interviewed a number of architectural firms for the project. Their search ended with Portland-based architect Rob Whitten, who has spent summers in Boothbay since his childhood. During his first visit to Pinewold, Whitten found that the unassuming beauty of the original cottage had been obscured by ill-conceived additions, dropped ceilings, vinyl siding and windows, and a host of strictly utilitarian bath and kitchen fixtures.

“The clients retained us to revive the character and quality of the early cottage,” explains Whitten. “My first move was to reorganize the site plan and the floor plan so the outside living spaces became the focus of the interior spaces.” Whitten is emphatic about the project being a revival, rather than a restoration or preservation. “We brought back the best parts and added lots of new features and components,” he says. “The kitchen is a good example. Our design is a modern, open-plan kitchen with an island, contemporary appliances, high-quality lighting, a pantry, and a water view; while it has a contemporary feel, it fits within the context of the old cottage.”kitchen-overall_w.jpg

Before work began, however, the site plan offered its own set of challenges. The driveway had been channeling runoff water directly under the house for many years, which had compromised the foundation. A separate building, which contained a small guest cottage and a later addition of a two-car garage, blocked water views as guests approached the house.

Whitten proposed eliminating the garage and moving the guest cottage to the west corner of the lot, revealing a previously obscured covered porch and orienting it to take advantage of the water views. A new garage, suggestive of an old carriage house, was planned to complete the third point of the outdoor lawn space.

When it came time to choose a builder, Whitten suggested Steve Malcom of Boothbay Home Builders, with whom he had a longstanding professional relationship. It did not take long for Malcom and project manager Steve Berger to enthusiastically embrace the plan to restore Pinewold to its original beauty. “We credit the homeowners,” says Berger of the end result. “They did a lot of research and really pulled it off.” Boothbay Home Builders’ exacting work on the house speaks to the company’s respect for quality, craftsmanship, and history.

Although he was inspired and guided by the homeowners’ passion for historic preservation, Whitten’s design does not slavishly adhere to the conventions of a bygone era. Original features sit comfortably alongside modern elements. Where they made sense, both architect and designer preserved period details. In the original plan, the porch railing, for instance, beautifully punctuated the outdoor living area, but it was far too low for current building codes. Whitten’s solution was to add a more modern cable railing with a red-cedar cap, lending a subtly contemporary element to the exterior and enhancing the structure’s original lines.

The project took slightly less than a year to complete. It not only involved restoring the original house and moving the guest cottage, but it also called for building a completely new garage. Whitten’s team, which included architect Kevin Moquin, enlisted the skills of Ned Kirkland of Back Meadow Farm in Damariscotta to carry out the extensive landscaping. Given the complexity of the project, the team executed the work with remarkably little miscommunication or stress. Because the homeowners were half a continent away during the construction, electronic communication was essential. “I’m a huge fan of email,” laughs Whitten. “Decisions were often made faster electronically by sending digital pictures and meeting notes. We could get answers to questions in less than twenty minutes.”

overall-exterior-at-dusk_w.jpg Interior designer Betsy Train refers to the project as an “adventure in restoration.” Having known the homeowners for more than thirty years, for her the collaboration was effortless and inspired. “They wanted the house to be unstudied, even a little quirky,” she says, “as though it evolved over generations—it was never supposed to look decorated.” Train, too, credits the serendipitous convergence of diverse professionals who all spoke the same language. “It was just a great team,” says Train.

The project was finished in 2007, just in time for the family to enjoy the last weeks of summer in their revived cottage. After they had moved in, Whitten presented them with a beautiful hardcover book documenting the process, which included a sketch of the house on a crumpled cocktail napkin, snapshots of the first extended family gatherings, and beautiful water vistas taken from the wide wrap-around porch. The book opens with the simple title Pinewold. For one Midwestern family, that word now means “home.”
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