A Farmhouse’s Progression
A newly renovated 1850s island farmhouse merges classic Maine style with midcentury Danish flair and contemporary clean lines
The farmhouse in Arrowsic has almost everything. There were sweeping water views, big windows to let the natural light pour in, a charming cedar-shingle-covered barn, and smooth, worn floorboards. It had all the resonance of an old Maine home coupled with the energy-saving properties of a newer home, thanks to several renovations conducted over the years. But it wasn’t quite perfect. It didn’t welcome visitors inside as readily as it could have, with its front door located in the middle of the long sprawling structure and facing the water. The driveway marred the ocean views, and the setup was confusing, something architectural designer Wiebke Theodore is very much against. “I don’t like the concept of a formal front door,” she says. “Some houses have a front door and a kitchen door, which makes you wonder: Do I know them well enough to come in this door?” The homeowner agreed. “We liked the idea of having a clear, welcoming entrance,” she said.
It took months of careful planning and then months of work to make the nineteenth-century farmhouse feel fresh and modern, warm and welcoming. But with the help of Richard Burns of Cornerstone Carpentry and Consulting and the collaborative powers of Wiebke and Steven Theodore of Theodore and Theodore Architects, it has been given new life. Airy, bright, and contemporary, it nods toward the past while gesturing toward the family’s future.
But the transformation required major construction. Not only did they move the entryway around the home to the forest-facing side, but they also picked up the barn and towed it across the property, creating a separate office space within for the homeowners to use for meetings. Where the barn once stood, Theodore and Theodore created a new addition, seamlessly linked to the older portion of the house. This new wing contains the owners’ bedroom, a sitting area, the entryway, and a powder room, as well as a private, apartment-like space that can be used by extended family. “That’s a really important part of this house’s story, and for people in general,” says Wiebke. “We’ve been thinking about how multiple generations could live together under one roof, and we wanted to make space for that possibility.” The homeowners also recognize that this secondary space might come in handy as they age. “We could conceivably have someone live here that could help us, if we need it someday,” one homeowner says.
Now, when you pull up to the white clapboard-sided farmhouse, you are greeted by a covered porch and a two-car garage. The door opens into the newer section of the home, and the mudroom has been covered in gray tile, perfect for dripping winter boots or wet summer feet. A Danish modern pendant light glows warmly, acting as “kind of a beacon,” according to Wiebke, which you can see through the corner window as you drive up. “You get a clear view of the whole house from the entrance—that’s key,” says Steven. “It draws you in. You can see out to the water.” They used steel and glass to create floor-to-ceiling partitions in the addition, which allows clear sight lines all the way out to the islands. “We also thought a lot about the site plan and orientation,” adds Steven. “The corner window isn’t just about making an inviting gesture,” says Wiebke. “It’s also about bringing west light into a space that would otherwise face north.”
Throughout the house, windows are placed strategically. At the end of a hallway, you’ll see a window frame functioning “like a painting,” says Wiebke, allowing glimpses of the pine woods, the minimalist gardens, and the blue sky. “Almost anywhere you are in the house, when you are circulating around, you can always find a window and a way to face outward,” she says. Steven explains that they like to situate larger windows closer to the floor, which makes the space “feel more dynamic and brings the outside in. We try to bring the glass as close to the ground as possible.”
Steven and Wiebke enhanced the feeling of lightness and sense of visual clarity with the central staircase, which leads from the first floor living area up to the owners’ suite on the second floor of the modernist addition. “That staircase is one of my favorite features of the house, and unfortunately, I had no part in it,” says builder Richard Burns. Luke Winnie, a local metal-worker, came in to create the steel frame, which Burns complemented with oak treads. “It looks very sharp,” he says with pride.
Upstairs, the owners’ bedroom opens onto a flat deck. While the older portion of the house has pitched gable rooflines, the newer portion has a flat, boxier look. “As the house stretches toward the east, you see the progression of old to new,” says Steven. On the new, galvanized steel roof, they created space for a “whole new landscape” where plants can thrive. “They’re really crazy about that space,” says Wiebke, who notes that the homeowners like to go out on the deck every morning, even in the bitter cold of winter. While the house boasts a beautiful screened porch off the historic part of the structure, the deck allows them to commune with nature more efficiently. They can wake up, roll out of bed, and walk outside to catch the sunrise.
Unlike the exterior, which plays with styles and combines traditional farmhouse forms with modern industrial shapes, the interior decor feels unified by its references to a single era. “I’m Danish and I’ve always been interested in Danish design,” reveals the homeowner, who has decked the light-drenched space in low-slung couches, pin-legged chairs, and sleek, shapely table lamps. Some were purchased at nearby antique stores, including Vintage Modern Maine in Cumberland, while others are sourced from farther afield. “I like furniture that doesn’t look new,” says the homeowner. “For me, it’s about using what you already have. You don’t need to renovate your house and get rid of everything. Everything you own tells a little story. Maybe you buy a chair that has been repaired and reupholstered, because it still works, and it tells a little bit of someone else’s story.”
This fits in well with Wiebke and Steven’s design ethos. Wiebke calls this kind of slow decorating “editing.” For her, it’s important that each piece in the house contribute to an overall sense of well-being and connection. “These aren’t just things,” she says. “They’re part of a story that relates to the original home, to the site, and to how you live.” To that end, they used a lot of natural materials in similar tones as the outside world—deep gray stone, rosy cherrywood, and pine-needle pale oak boards. Since the homeowners wanted to keep their space healthy, Burns put in oil-rubbed hardwood floors. “It’s not your traditional urethane,” he says. “We used a Monocoat, which has a nice beeswax smell.” Although not as resistant to scratches as a synthetic coating, it makes these floors blend beautifully with the older portions of the house. “Once it was sanded, with that oil finish, you can hardly tell what’s old and what’s new,” says Burns.
As with the furniture, rather than purchasing all new art to decorate their newly enlarged home, the homeowners decided to use pieces that reflect their family history. In the apartment, they have fiber art created by one homeowner’s mother hanging on either side of the bed, and in the kitchen are drawings, photographs, and sculptures created by their three adult children. Rather than detracting from the sophisticated style of the contemporary-yet-classic farmhouse, these works enhance the sense that it is rooted in place, connected to the family history and the surrounding land. Like the architecture, which seeks to “create a dialogue between the old and new,” the furnishings, paintings, and textiles speak to each other, and the story they tell is a timeless one, about love, nature, and the slow building of a life in Maine.