A Barn on the Hill
REMARKABLE – JULY 2008
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography Darren Setlow
A Sebago Lake house with humble farm roots but spectacular end result
Piece by piece, over many years, Dan Shaw bought bits of land along the shore of the Sebago Lake Basin until he had collected a half mile of water frontage. He tore down the festering, dark camps that had occupied the lots and opened the tree canopy. Shaw, one half of Shaw Brothers Construction, handled the sitework himself, running backhoes and bulldozers.
Eventually, it was time to build a new home on the rare, swiftly sloping lakeside lot.
“I’d seen a television program that said barns were disappearing around the country,” says Shaw. “I grew up on a dairy farm and have always loved barns. After trying to figure how I could put a barn and house on the site together, I thought, ‘Why don’t I just put my house inside the barn?’”
After Shaw mentioned the decision to a friend, the name John Libby came up immediately. Libby, of the eponymous House’s & Barns by John Libby, is renowned for his massive and meticulous timberframe homes and barns—the memorable yet closed Portland Public Market was a Libby creation. By the time Shaw described his dream home to the builder, he had pared down his vision to just five words: a barn on the hill. Libby still remembers the day he got an overview of the property: he and Shaw were puttering along in the Sebago Lake Basin in one of Shaw’s vintage Amphicars, an amphibious automobile manufactured for a brief period in the 1960s.
With Shaw’s house, Libby and company designed—with in-house architect Steve P. Ruszkai leading the charge—and built one of their largest residential timberframes to date: three stories, 9,500-square feet, two bedrooms, and four baths. With handcrafted mortise-and-tenon construction, the king-post-truss timberframe is made of Douglas fir. The impressive, cupola-topped frame was wrapped in a soft, brown brick and stone façade by stonemason Charles H. Roberts. The “barn” aesthetic was cinched with the addition of a two-story cobblestone “silo,” which ingeniously houses a spiral staircase and an elevator at its core.
At every turn, the Shaw home embodies the idea of uncluttered openness. On the lake-facing side, an ingenious cantilevered deck stretches the entire length of the home. In the basement, thanks to the 24-inch steel I-beams, the entire 46- by 84-foot space (with 16-foot ceilings) is wide open with no supports obstructing the view of Shaw’s collection of antique tractors and Amphicars.
On the first floor, even the two curving open-riser staircases seem to fly, unsupported up to the second floor. The breathtaking walnut and maple stairs were constructed by Pleasant Ridge Builders. The top floor, open to the great room below, contains two “barn lofts” connected by a bridge. One end of the loft houses an office space, guest bedroom, and bathroom, while the other end is given over to goofing off: sofa and television, poker table, pool table, and, in the top of the “silo,” a small kitchenette with a bar.
The main floor is dominated by the sprawling great room that includes space for dining and living. Interior designer Jane Jungslager Raymo, of JCJ Interiors, had worked with Libby in the past and knew to expect one feature in particular: great expanses of wood. “The wood is the bones of this house,” says Jungslager Raymo, “and it dictated my designs.” With Shaw’s request to “make it homey,” she used curved shapes to soften the soaring angles of the timberframe; the curved light fixtures just inside the entry, for instance, are juxtaposed against the frame’s right angles and echo the curving staircases. The designer looked to the tenets of Shaker simplicity to guide her choices throughout the home, from fixtures and colors to countertops and furniture.
Occupying a good portion of the main floor is perhaps the dominate feature in a home full of dominate features: the kitchen.
“I wanted a spectacular kitchen that was equal to the house,” says Shaw. Custom-kitchen gurus McIntosh & Tuttle Cabinetmakers were brought in and so, as is the case with so much of their work, Shaw’s kitchen has the timeless solidity and painstaking detail found in the finest custom furniture.
The kitchen is unique in that it incorporates two of nearly every kitchen essential, including double sinks and stoves. “It is both a kitchen for just two,” explains Shaw, “and a larger kitchen for entertaining loads of people, which we do a lot of.” Shaw’s partner, Jackie Joyce, adores the space. “It’s like having a kitchen within a kitchen,” she says.
The cabinetry was crafted from lush walnut. “There is so much light pouring into this house that a lighter wood would have looked washed out,” says Todd McIntosh. While the style tends toward sleek and contemporary, the construction is traditional frame-and-panel. The kitchen counters were topped with imported African granite, from Morningstar Marble & Granite and the beautiful earthiness of stone and wood contrasts faultlessly against the arsenal of professional-grade, stainless steel appliances.
Though his designs are aesthetically captivating, the forms and materials of McIntosh’s kitchens are always grounded in function. “The big butcher block in the island is purely utilitarian,” he explains, “whereas the wood on the raised portion of the counter peninsula was used because stone would have been just too cold for people to cozy up against.”
Like Jungslager Raymo’s interior designs, McIntosh’s kitchen eschews an abundance of right angles. Both the island and counter peninsula feature sweeping curves. “People just don’t move in right angles,” he says pragmatically. McIntosh & Tuttle had curved handles fabricated for their curved-front cabinetry. The colossal pot rack was another custom creation, designed by McIntosh to “mimic the big timbers of the home’s frame.”
McIntosh says his biggest thrill was the blank canvas of raw space he was given to design within, noting that the roughly 900-square-foot kitchen is “close to double the space we usually have to work with.”
Shaw says his desire to create a “clean, neat, and low-maintenance” home has been achieved with such stunning results that it has surpassed even the vision he had when working the controls of his backhoe as he cleared the lakeside lot. Today, his home’s façade is virtually maintenance free: the brick, granite, and cobblestone are trimmed with the cellular PVC product, Azek; the exterior decks are constructed of CorrectDeck, a wood-polypropylene composite decking. Between the easily maintained outside and the elevator inside, Shaw can see himself growing old in his barn on the hill. “I’ll never have to move again!” he says.
“This entire project was based around Danny’s desire to have a big barn on the hill that looked like it had been there forever…but had been really well maintained!” says Libby with a laugh.