A Dutch Colonial in Southport Designed for an Active Family
Nestled into Cozy Harbor, a residence designed by architecture firm Royal Barry Wills recalls the classic shingle-style homes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Cozy Harbor on Southport maybe the most aptly named port-of-call on the Maine coast. Two pine forested islands, one accessible only by boat, flank its narrow entrance—not far from where the Sheepscot River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Except for a couple of year-round homes, the houses—strung like a necklace around the harbor’s granite shoreline—are summer cottages, many having been owned by the same families for generations. In July and August, when pleasure crafts are moored alongside local lobster boats, activity centers around the Southport Yacht Club, a modest yet picturesque spot primarily devoted to a love of sailing in young people.
Among those people was Jennifer Auber, whose parents, Nick and Joan Hurd, built a modern home in the woods on Southport’s Dogfish Head in the 1980s. The Hurds brought Jennifer and her two brothers there to sail as soon as they were old enough to pass the yacht club’s swim test, but their time in Maine was limited by other commitments. “We were never full-time summer people because we were sports kids,” Jennifer says. “I thought, if I can ever have the opportunity to be here all summer, I will take my kids here the day they get out of school and bring them home the day before they go back to school.”
The Hurds moved to a larger, oceanfront home on Southport, and Jennifer and her husband, John, initially brought their two young children—Grant and Symmi, now 23 and 22 respectively—there for several summer weeks at a time. Eventually, the Aubers decided they needed their own place, and they bought a circa-1905 cottage on Christmas Cove, the next harbor down the river from Cozy. “We spent eight summers there making memories,” Jennifer says, “And then when our kids were getting a little bit older, Dad said, ‘What are you guys thinking about for retirement?’” The Aubers knew they wanted to spend more time in Maine, but didn’t like the idea of tearing down the Christmas Cove cottage to build a year-round home. “Dad had heard about a piece of land with a house on it, right near the yacht club. The idea was to buy it and do something together—we were thinking for future generations as well.”
The original house on the land sat at the crest of a hill overlooking Cozy Harbor, but the water was almost hidden from view by trees and overgrowth. The Aubers and the Hurds enlisted Jessica and Doug Wills of the Boston architecture firm Royal Barry Wills to design a Dutch colonial–style home. “We thought it would present a classic view as you come into the harbor,” says Jennifer, adding, “I wanted to do something modern and low-slung but was outvoted.”
Royal Barry Wills, founded in 1925 by an MIT-trained architect of the same name, designed the Hurds’ primary residence in Barrington, Rhode Island, and their second Southport home. The house on Cozy Harbor was the firm’s last project before it closed. Royal Barry Wills, who died in 1962, is “widely considered to be the master of the Cape Cod Revival style,” according to Architectural Digest. His classic Capes and colonials, which make up many a New England neighborhood, were, in the 1950s and 1960s, in direct contrast to the midcentury modern aesthetic.
For the Cozy Harbor house, the firm designed a long, one-room-wide structure that recalls the classic shingle-style homes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Three gambrel-roofed sections bisect its length; a turreted tower faces the entrance side, and porches on two levels face the water. The main living spaces are in the center. On the first floor, an expansive great room includes the kitchen, dining area, and living room, grounded by a coffered ceiling and a stone fireplace at one end. Behind the fireplace wall is a round sitting room; opposite this room, behind the kitchen, lie a laundry/mudroom and a bedroom with an en suite bath to allow single-floor living down the road. Three more bedrooms upstairs—and three bathrooms—flank a spacious room with a gas fireplace and a modular Ethnicraft sofa that invites lounging and TV watching. The room opens onto a deck. “The elevated view of the Sheepscot is such an important vantage point,” says John. “I’ve taken so many photos of the sunset from that second-level porch.” Nearly every room in the house has a view of the river.
While the Aubers and Hurds planned the house together, Jennifer’s parents ended up stepping away from the project. She and John brought in Bill Dighton, a builder from Alna, whose small team works on one project at a time. “Bill had me at hello—he’s the best in class,” says John. “We wanted to make sure we used local craftspeople for all aspects of the project, including the rounded staircase, the turret on the top, and the ironwork and cabinetry,” says Jennifer. “We always felt like they were listening to us, and we wanted to hear their opinions too.” The staircase was installed by local carpenter Jim Bryer, who took on the project after he retired and decided he “no longer wanted to work in straight lines,” says John. It is detailed with raised-panel wainscoting, a wrought-iron chandelier, and sconces with a quatrefoil fish design representing the four members of the family, made by Peter Brown of Iron and Silk in Boothbay. At the bottom center of the curving stairs, a compass rose is inlaid in the hardwood floor. The bell-shaped turret was built on the ground and lowered onto the top of the stair tower with a crane.
While the design of the house has a sense of grandeur, the Aubers’ playful, casual outlook is reflected in the sleek, comfortable furnishings and whimsical touches. A Ping-Pong table has a permanent spot in the living room and a faux “house mouse” and rubber pile of poo get moved around to surprise the unsuspecting. “When we were designing the house we said all we wanted was a second staircase and a secret door,” says Jennifer. The latter leads from a bookcase in the upstairs bedroom to John’s office, which was designed as a bunk room. At one end of the space, barn doors painted sunset orange open onto a bathroom with a Moroccan tile floor.
To create a naturalized landscape that would suit the house, the Aubers turned to Back Meadow Farm in Boothbay, who created broad, curving stone paths that lead from the driveway to the two entrances: the primary door and a second entrance accessed via a covered porch. On the water-facing side of the house, the land dropped steeply away, so the landscapers built it up with fill from another project on Southport and added a grass pathway with granite steps flanked by grasses and hydrangeas, plus a sloping wildflower meadow. The ground-floor porch, which has a screened section with a woodburning fireplace, leads to a swath of lawn, and on the crest of the hill a heart-shaped stone offers a flat surface for Adirondack chairs facing a gas fire set into a boulder. When the flat stone was installed, it cracked, forming an “A” bisecting the heart—a feature that delights Jennifer. “My mother-in-law would call it a ‘god-wink,’” she says.
A relatively short drive from the Aubers’ primary home in Rhode Island, the Cozy Harbor house is now a place where the family can find joy and refuge—and not just in the summertime. “My son Grant said, ‘Dad, you’re a different person when you’re here; you’re more relaxed,’” says John. “I’m kind of surprised that it’s obvious externally, but it’s how I feel internally. I love the people and the pace. Even off-season, there’s a pull to it that feels very comforting.” Or, you might even say, cozy.