Balancing Act

Old and new peacefully coexist in this 1850 Italianate-style residence in Castine

The collection of rotating works is scattered throughout the residence, including the kitchen, where Roe Ethridge’s Apple Bees hangs on the wall; meanwhile, granite countertops provide a contrast to the clean white cabinetry.
The barn was renovated and reimagined as a new kitchen with a second-floor art gallery to showcase the homeowners’ contemporary collection; a new skylight and windows were added to bring additional light into the structure.
Lewis Baltz’s Nevada 1976 series hangs in the parlor; a pair of Christian Liaigre armchairs flank a side table from Geiger, and the cocktail table is by Barber Osgerby for Established and Sons.
A dining room located in the ell section of the house also received a new bay window; a piece by Mark Francis hangs on the wall.
Pendants by Philippe Starck for Flos hang in the new stairway leading to the revamped attic; a piece by Alfredo Jaar hangs in the distance, while the rearview mirror installation is by Brian Jungen.
A chair by Rodolfo Dordoni for Minotti sits in the kitchen.
A sitting area in the renovated attic features a Murphy bed to accommodate extra guests.
The homeowners commissioned artist Ryan McGinness to create a “freestanding painting” to screen the Murphy bed from the conference area.
The attic’s primary function is as an office, complete with a conference table and plenty of storage for books.
In the primary bedroom, artwork by Vladimir Kupriyanov hangs above a chest of drawers from Established and Sons; a piece by Stan Douglas adorns the right wall, and on the floor sits another Northwest Coast First Nations sculpture.
A Poul Henningsen for Louis Poulsen light fixture hangs in the stair hall; a Geoffrey James work hangs on the wall, while the standing figure on a shelf in the stairway is a Northwest Coast First Nations sculpture by an unknown artist.

Renovations can often be complicated, with endless possibilities that require expert problem-solving and patience. But when the finished product hits that sweet spot of respecting the structure’s history while showcasing the homeowners’ personality, the reward far outweighs any temporary discomfort. In the case of this circa-1850 residence in Castine, the owners—a New York−based couple and their daughter who had rented the house for a couple of summers—took some time to get to know the house further before committing to a design direction. “When we purchased the home, there was Victorian-style millwork and plasterwork that had been added at some point,” says the husband, a Maine native and trained architect working in the commercial space. “We didn’t have a big plan at the outset, so we started emptying it out to rediscover its original bones. As we began stripping the mouldings and wallpaper away and revealing its mid-nineteenth-century Italianate style, the more we liked it.” A large portion of the residence didn’t require much work, but the homeowners needed to address a few key areas, including the barn (and its shifting foundation), a cramped ell between the main house and the barn, and a dysfunctional third-floor attic space.

The first order of business was tackling the barn and ell, where the kitchen, dining area, a bathroom, laundry, and mudroom currently stood. After the homeowners had the foundation secured and initial improvements were made to the lower portion of the barn, they decided to keep the momentum going and tapped Blue Hill−based Elliott Architects to help work out the major kinks. Eventually, the idea of reimagining the barn as a spacious kitchen with a gallery above (the wife works in the art world and the couple are avid collectors of contemporary pieces) took hold, and there was no looking back. The architects conceived a plan to open the barn’s second-floor loft to the new contemporary kitchen below, install a large skylight and additional windows, and then remove a couple of small additions on the rear facade to return the home to its original footprint and provide better access to the back patio from the barn. This plan also included relocating an existing bathroom, adding two new contemporary bay windows to the rear facade (the larger of the two is in the new dining room, which now occupies the majority of the ell), and reworking and enlarging the mudroom. “It was a rabbit warren before, but the barn as a single room changes the experience of the house,” says the husband. “Now it complements the scale of the other spaces and makes the historic rooms feel more welcoming.”

A critical aspect of the barn renovation is a new wood and steel staircase connecting the basement, kitchen, and gallery. “One of the best decisions was positioning the stair where it is,” says the husband of its placement along the front facade, adjacent to a new large window that can be concealed by closing the original barn door. (Historic preservation guidelines mandate that the street side of the building remain unchanged.) “The staircase provides enough privacy so you don’t feel like you’re on display when the barn door is open. It also announces that the inside of the house is different from the exterior.”

Perhaps the most challenging element to install was the storage components adjacent to the staircase: cabinetry runs from the basement to the kitchen and then transitions into a bookshelf in the gallery. “This was a very difficult detail,” recalls builder Peter Woodward. “Because of the age of the barn and the fact that it’s not level, it was a nightmare to get these elements to line up. It functions as one solid piece that separates the stairwell from the rooms, and it’s supposed to fit perfectly. It was quite the process to relevel everything and build a new floor system in some areas. We left the quaint crookedness on the outside, but the interior had to be straight and precise.” Now the barn serves as the great room, with a small sitting area on the main floor and the gallery, where the couple can enjoy their contemporary collection of paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, and ceramics. “Most of the works we own are the result of our personal relationships with the artists,” says the husband. “My wife and I are partners in all decisions relating to the collection and its curation. Works move fairly regularly between this house and our apartment in New York.”

Once the barn and ell were complete, the couple took a pause before tackling the third-floor attic and the bathroom that sits below it. But as soon as they were ready a few years later, they called Elliott Architects back to the property to begin brainstorming how to transform the cramped attic into an office. “The space was used as a bedroom at one point,” explains the husband. “We started with a modest objective and it became more ambitious as we went.” Unlike the front facade, the rear facade doesn’t need to conform to any sort of historic preservation guidelines, so the architects had more freedom while designing. “Back when we were working on the barn, I had proposed that they address the dormers that had been added to the attic at one point,” says Elliott Architect’s Corey Papadopoli. “They felt out of place with the rest of the house, so we decided to bring in the steel window language from the barn and bay windows to the attic. This was key in opening up the southern view of the town and the water, as well as increasing the structure’s solar gain. We didn’t want to replicate what was existing, but rather make it very clear what is new and what is old.”

In addition to the glass dormer that runs the length of the attic, the architects designed a linear skylight illuminating the new wood and steel staircase. In an effort to gain as much headroom as possible, builder Mark Purvis removed the ceiling’s crossbeams and restructured the roof using a concealed steel beam with plates that attach to each rafter. “There was so much work that went into the roof and wall system,” recalls Purvis. “After we opened up the roof, we brought in an engineer to look at the hidden point loads. Everything had to be planned to a T.” And while the room’s primary function is an office—complete with a desk area and a conference table—there’s also a Murphy bed for extra guests.

The homeowners’ art collection extends to all parts of the residence, including the attic, which features a freestanding painting by New York−based artist Ryan McGinness that the clients commissioned specifically for this space. “It serves the architectural purpose of screening the sleeping area from the conference table,” says the husband, whose architectural background proved beneficial throughout the renovation process. “The client never tried to dictate the design, but he was very engaged at a high level, which normally doesn’t happen,” says Papadopoli. “The attic phase was much more intensive because of the interaction with the existing architecture, so there were many discussions about scale, details, and proportion that led to a nice resolution of how to make new architecture fit within a 150-year-old structure.” The husband adds, “It’s okay to think about a contemporary vocabulary and its relationship to historic architecture as long as you’re thinking about it empathetically.”