A Contemporary Home Grows in the Woods of Kennebunkport
With the help of an expert team, builder Geoff Bowley of Bowley Builders created a carefully considered home for his own family.
When builder Geoff Bowley purchased the land for his new residential development in Kennebunkport, he knew a house for his own family was destined for one of the 28 lots. He wasted no time assembling an A-team of design professionals including Whitten Architects, landscape designer Soren deNiord, and interior designer Krista Stokes—all of whom he has worked with over the years. Bowley’s brief was simple: a private, family-friendly contemporary home with an open floor plan and plenty of outdoor space to share with his wife, Aja, and their now three young children. However, the two-acre site—a densely wooded lot with large granite outcroppings—was anything but simple. “The most challenging part was finding a home for the home,” says architect Rob Whitten, who consulted on the job with project architect Jessie Carroll. “During our initial visits to the site there were no roads, so we were thrashing through bushes and undergrowth to establish lot lines. It was hard to visualize what was possible, but we had site visits with Soren early on to determine how to maintain the strongest features of the site. It was important to Geoff that we keep the landscape’s rugged texture and existing tree structure rather than just install a manicured lawn.”
Once the team established the perfect spot for the residence (an elevated area of the site), Whitten Architects set out to conceive a five-bedroom, 4,000-square foot contemporary manse rooted in history. “The firm’s aesthetic is a more modern take on traditional New England forms,” notes Bowley. Indeed, the U-shaped structure recalls a farmhouse that has evolved over time, with the shingled southern wing resembling an attached barn. “The home is organized into three major pieces: the shingled garage and upstairs playroom; a linear glass middle section that contains the main living spaces and culminates with a screened porch; and the bedroom wing, which is sheathed in vertical pine boards,” explains Whitten. And the living area’s southern glass facade is as functional as it is attractive, with a large overhang that takes advantage of passive solar energy. “Because the glass is protected by the roof overhang, the house won’t solar overload during the summer,” explains Whitten. “Meanwhile, the low sun angle during the winter ensures that it will be comfortable during colder months as well. When you’re inside the glass area, you can look north to a courtyard formed by the U-shaped plan, or south to a lawn.” This U-shaped plan is actually something that Bowley had seen and brought as inspiration to the initial design meetings. “From inside the house, you’re not only looking out to the wooded view, but onto the home itself,” explains Bowley. “I can see the kids running around even if I’m in another section, which is pretty special.” Indoor– outdoor living was a mandate for the family, so in addition to the aforementioned screened porch and northern courtyard, there are large double doors on the southern glass wall that open onto a covered ipê deck. Beyond the screened porch is another deck, which leads to a patio and firepit. “We’re constantly going in and out during the summer,” says Bowley. “The whole house breathes.”
With so much focus on outdoor living, it was even more critical that the landscape scheme speak to both the architecture and the elements of the site that drew Bowley to the land in the first place. “Being involved early on in the process was crucial to making sure that the topography and volumes matched,” says deNiord. “The house is part of a broader landscape and abuts conservation land, so we really wanted it to feel integrated and not stand out. Similar to the architectural inspiration, I drew references from the Maine vernacular. The north courtyard is a contemplative viewing garden, with a fern grove and birch trees. And the southern side features a lawn with native flowering plants that provide pops of color around the ledge. The goal was to connect the property to the native forest by keeping as many trees as we could, staying within the native palette using woodland species, and preserving some of the granite ledge.” In fact, the house was sited around a massive piece of ledge that Bowley fell in love with once it was uncovered. “It ended up being closer to the house than we initially thought, but we really wanted to preserve it. My kids have dubbed it ‘whale rock’ because it looks like a whale breaching in the waves.” Everyone is happy with the end result, including Whitten, who stresses how much the “pillows of granite complement the house.” “Sometimes,” he says, “a contemporary house can overpower its site, but there’s a nice balance here.”
To outfit the interiors, Bowley called on close friend and designer Krista Stokes, who had designed the family’s previous home as well. “I love the process of building a house, but it isn’t an easy task,” says Bowley. “It takes a lot of energy and emotion out of you, so going through the experience with a friend was important to me.” According to Stokes, her main job was to “keep it playful yet sophisticated. It’s a serious, grown-up house, but it needs to feel lighthearted and laid-back too, because this family is young, vibrant, and unfussy.” The biggest challenge was finding the perfect mix of sleek and cozy to satisfy both husband and wife. “Aja and I have different aesthetics,” says Bowley. “She gravitates toward a bohemian look, and I prefer clean lines. The architecture is minimalist and crisp, and the furnishings Krista selected make it feel cozier.” Stokes paired contemporary furnishings with some vintage finds—including the majority of the lighting—along with pops of color such as yellow, blue, and green. Stokes also experimented with different textures and finishes, selecting a plaster finish for the fireplace and staining the concrete floors forest green. “The idea was to take the edge off the sharp architecture. The green floor continues the outdoor palette of grass and ferns and lends an organic touch.” In the kitchen, a combination of white oak, oxidized metal, white painted cabinetry, and tile with a chartreuse undertone “makes the space feel fresh and not too serious,” says Stokes, who cautions that super-sleek modern spaces can easily be overshadowed by the daily activities of a young family. “I didn’t want the infusion of life to overwhelm the space, and using various finishes and color helps with that. It was important that this beautiful home be honored, but not put on a pedestal. The last thing I wanted was for the family to feel like they couldn’t spill anything.”
With the home complete, Bowley was finally able to reflect on what the team had accomplished. “I wanted to go through this process with thought, care, and consideration for the look, feel, and the family’s needs.” And according to Jessie Carroll, Bowley executed the details perfectly. “He brought our vision to life in a way that feels effortless, despite the fact that it took a huge amount of work behind the scenes,” says Carroll. “There isn’t a large threshold for mistakes with this type of house, and we ended up with a level of refinement that feels almost modernist in terms of how the details are resolved.” Beyond that, Bowley notes how critical the siting was to the overall success of the residence. “It wasn’t until I slept in the house for first time and started going through my daily routine that I realized just how well the house was sited, which is a testament to Soren and the architects,” says Bowley. “This is just a little piece of the woods in a subdivision, but it feels more like a destination.”