Camden Creative


By Joshua Bodwell

Photography Trent Bell

A marriage of styles on the midcoast

camden3_w.jpg This is the story of a meeting house—not an old, Shaker-style structure on some dusty country lane, but a home in which numerous ideas harmoniously meet.

Perched on the edge of land and sea, this Camden home is set between Penobscot Bay and a scraggily pine forest laden with lichen- and moss-covered outcroppings. The home’s landscaping is a subtle and congruously textured meeting of native and non-indigenous plantings. Inside, the solid yet elegant custom built-ins feature joinery and detailing that accentuate the meeting of wood and other materials.

The main home sits at the center of what could be described as a small seaside compound. There is a small guest cottage, garage, and—just a few yards down the gravel lane—a detached barn that has been tastefully converted into a guesthouse with three bedrooms, a lavish bath, and full kitchen.

Belfast architect Dominic Paul Mercadante was responsible for making the project’s myriad inspirations blend. “We were trying to create something that felt like—and I know this phrase can be overused—a Maine cottage.”

At first glance, no particular architectural style dominates, but Mercadante points out three strong influences: “While there are overtures to the American Arts and Crafts Movement, many parts of the home’s volume speak to the Queen Anne and Shingle styles.” Mercadante’s design of the 3,400-square-foot home pushes porches in and pulls bays out—a method that he says, “owes a lot to the broken-up, Queen Anne approach.”

While a pure Arts and Crafts bungalow on the West Coast would have included wide overhangs and exposed rafter tails, Mercadante did include several details inspired by the Movement: a low pitched roof; grouped, double-hung windows; simple, bold trim; and red-cedar shingles. “Adding these few Arts and Crafts–style elements to the exterior allowed for the transition into the home’s interior details,” says the architect.

Inside, the Arts and Crafts tenets are most visible in the large, connected living and dining rooms. The room’s central inspiration came from the short-lived yet wildly prolific Californian architectural firm Greene & Greene. At the turn of the last century, the brothers Charles and Henry Greene took the “bungalow” to new heights by incorporating aesthetic elements of the American Arts and Crafts Movement while creating their own unique design vernacular.

The home’s builder, Jay Fischer of Cold Mountain Builders, has long admired the fraternal architectural team. “Greene & Greene were about craftsmanship,” says Fischer. “To anyone who appreciates or executes interior work, the Greene & Greene approach is a strong talisman.”camden2_w.jpg

Fischer points to Greene & Greene’s influence in the minimal palette of fine woods, the excruciatingly close attention to detail, and the technique of crafting joinery in layers so that each built-in becomes an integrated part of a room. “It’s deceptively simple looking,” asserts Fischer, who credits Cold Mountain’s Phil Rule with leading the execution of what is undoubtedly the home’s prime Greene & Greene homage: the staircase. An interpretation of the stairs in Greene & Greene’s 1905 Robinson house in Pasadena, California, they were built on-site and feature traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery.

In the kitchen, the design takes a turn toward simplicity. While the cabinetry is crafted from fine bird’s-eye maple with quarter-sawn maple rails and stiles, the flat panels have an almost Shaker minimalism to them. Michael Roy, now the owner of Phi Home Design, refined the kitchen’s design and execution. “The curved ends on the counter and upper cabinets are a personal favorite,” he says. “They relieved this major pathway through the house and into the kitchen.”

Roy also points out the stepped-down cooktop in the middle of the Morningstar Marble & Granite countertop. “Just that slightly lower layer breaks up what would have otherwise appeared to be a huge mass of granite,” he says.

Several years after the main house and cottage were complete, Roy and Phi Home Design renovated the detached barn down the lane. “We transformed it into a three-bedroom guesthouse, but retained the barn feel,” says Roy. All of the casework was painted, including the horizontal pine boarding on the walls, which is carried up to the second floor, where it turns to wainscoting. The kitchen cabinetry was painted, then distressed and glazed. Throughout the “barn,” the southern yellow pine floors were stained a deep brown.

With so many elements, multiple buildings, and diverse aesthetics at play, the seaside compound is bound together by understated yet stunning landscaping. Mohr & Seredin Landscape Architects brought together native and non-indigenous plantings with their trademark restraint.

“The terrace is the single most significant landscape element,” says Stephen Mohr. “That allowed the transition from the Arts and Crafts–inspired house out to the natural landscape around it.” Not one to trade in big gestures and overlook the minutiae, Mohr designed the terrace’s stonework to reflect its natural environment. “It softens the move from the stylistic to the naturalistic,” he adds.

While the terrace is clearly man-made, Mohr & Seredin’s planting scheme is more subtle. Low- and high-bush blueberries, hayscented ferns, and blue-flag iris mix with pockets of non-indigenous species, such as Mariesii viburnums, William Baffin roses, and German bearded iris—these refined points of interest allow the landscaping to incorporate exotic novelties while retaining its lush local character

camden_w.jpg “Just as the different woods and the joinery details are so prominent inside the house,” explains Mohr, “we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make mosses and ferns meet with non-native plantings and still have each thing call attention to itself?’”

Mohr’s question is elegantly answered in every aspect of this remarkable Camden retreat—each seemingly disparate detail contributes to the whole. But on Mohr’s stone terrace, with the smell of salt-tinged air blowing off Penobscot Bay and the sound of waves licking at the seaweed-covered rocks below, Maine itself remains the most impressive detail of all.
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