A house in Ogunquit honors the art and craft of coastal living
Sheryl and Ed Peters live in a wooden house that has one foot firmly planted in history, but it is also very much of its place and time. Just about 15 years ago, the couple found an imperfect house on a perfect site above Ogunquit’s famed Marginal Way overlooking the Atlantic, just at the point where the Ogunquit River flows into the sea. As Sheryl notes, it was “just steps from my favorite little rocky beach.” But the house itself, built in the 1970s and somewhat ignored over the ensuing decades, was not as ideal as its location. The wooden beams were rotten. There was water intrusion on the lower floor, which meant, of course, inevitable mold.
The house, however, was a “Deck House,” so it had a certain panache. The Acorn Deck House Company, based in Acton, Massachusetts, is the result of a merger of the region’s two leading prefabricated home manufacturers. It has a venerable history dating back to 1947 (for Acorn) and 1959 (for Deck House), and the name is synonymous with a certain New England midcentury cool.
The Peterses’ first instinct was to see if the old house could be rescued, despite its water damage and failing construction. Bottom line: it really could not. The mold had penetrated too far. “There was no way to fix it,” Sheryl says. “It would have been very involved and very expensive.”
Enter Katie Anderson, then a newly minted architect who had joined Acorn Deck armed with an architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and—even more important to Sheryl—excellent listening skills. “I remember that when I first presented a very modern design they were not so thrilled!” says Anderson, now an architect in Denver. “Many people are into Deck House because of its legacy and a modern prefabricated system, so it was a natural assumption for a young designer to make—but a good learning experience.”
That modern house was most definitely not what Sheryl and Ed wanted. “I grew up in New Jersey in an Arts and Crafts house, built in 1911,” says Sheryl. Through her career she has been a museum educator specializing in first-person interpretations of historic figures, but she did not want a strict historic replica.
“I tend to find most Arts and Crafts homes too dark inside—my childhood home certainly was!” she says. “So I knew I wanted a home filled with light. But I was drawn to the American Craftsman ideals of simple lines, natural materials, and fine workmanship in even the most utilitarian objects.”
Sheryl gathered images of houses she liked—shingle style, Arts and Crafts, and Queen Anne—and Anderson drew on all these styles to design a house that pays homage to history but meets modern needs. “I went back to the drawing board after talking with them,” remembers Anderson, “and we were able to hone in on something that would be of the region and have a more traditional New England cottage character on the outside, but would still have great daylight and a nice modern and open interior.”
Anderson also wanted to maximize the site and take full advantage of the view. The house is built on three levels: in the middle is the living space. Above that is an owners’ bedroom that opens out onto a porch. Below are two bedrooms. “In this house, with its wonderful views, I wanted to bring the outdoors inside—hence the windows, decks, and multiple levels with garden views as well as ocean views,” Sheryl says.
One key was to retain the footprint of the original Deck House. The lot itself “goes straight down,” notes Sheryl, and it needed quite a lot of hydrological engineering as well as architectural know-how. To control rainwater, there is an elaborate system of terracing, leach fields, and holding tanks.
Typically, Acorn Deck House works with clients to analyze the site and select a design. To do this, the company pairs clients with in- house architects but also works with some well-known outsiders. Once that’s done, the fabrication begins: the house is “panelized” and then assembled onto a flatbed truck and delivered to the site in eight sets of parts. “There’s a great deal of ingenuity involved,” says Sheryl.
In this case, the builders—Cape Neddick Building Company—and interior designer Suzanne Little stepped into the breach. Jerry Rose, of the now-closed construction company, designed the fireplace surround and found the unique piece of cherry that tops the mantel.
Sheryl and Ed found the tiles in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Inspiration for the gas fire- place came from the 1909 Gamble House, a landmark in Pasadena, where the couple lives in the winter.
Little selected Malabar fabric to cover the Stickley furniture that the couple already owned. Sheryl took off from there. “The sofa fabric drove all the colors,” she says. “I love color and was able to indulge myself in building this house. One piece of fabric provided the inspiration for all of the colors in the house. It’s got gold, teal, red, green, orange, brown—all the colors you find in nature.”
The Stickley sofa and loveseat took the place of an original Deck House sectional (the company usually provides furniture to complement the house). Sheryl and Ed chose to keep select Deck House pieces, including the glass-topped coffee table in the living room. For the dining room they found a custom table with a top made of old wood, and they surrounded it with stenciled chairs found in several different antiques stores in Littleton and Concord, Massachusetts. A local artist faux-painted the black and gold highboy in the dining room, covering over a wood veneer. The owners’ bedroom has a bed and a barrel chair from the original Deck House.
In the kitchen, Little designed a back- splash with tiles from Urban Archaeology highlighted by some Batchelder tiles bought on eBay. “The motif for the kitchen backsplash incorporates fern and wood- land motifs, which goes along with the Arts and Crafts style,” says Little. She also selected the custom carpets—“the colors and style reflect Arts and Crafts, meaning various tones of greens, golds, and rust”—at Mougalian Rugs, which was then located in Scarborough but has now moved to Portland.
Ed collects mid-twentieth-century Japanese wood-block prints, and since settling seasonally in Ogunquit, the couple has begun collecting paintings from the painter Charles Woodbury’s Ogunquit Summer School of Art, an art colony that was active at the turn of the last century. Their collection includes works by Wood- bury and by the American Impressionist Gertrude Fiske. As Sheryl notes, “All the art looks fabulous against the rich colors on the walls.”
The garden is another labor of love. “I had a sense of the plan,” says Sheryl. “This house is about curves, so there’s a curved front walk and curved planting beds.” She worked with landscaper John Patten of Patten Grounds Care of Ogunquit to achieve a garden that would be in perfect harmony with the house. Within the garden there’s a medley of perennials such as hydrangeas, roses, impatiens, lilies, coneflower, bee balm, and astilbe, as well as bleeding hearts, irises, and sedum. Says Sheryl, “Peonies bloom in early spring. And there are lilac bushes along the side—I love the fragrance.” The perennials dominate, but each year there are new annuals, too. “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” wrote William Morris, the poet, designer, and founding father of the Arts and Crafts movement. The house that Sheryl and Ed Peters built in Ogunquit may be new, but it pays homage to that wise advice from well more than a century ago. They are words that Sheryl and Ed Peters have taken seriously for many years now, guiding them as they built (and filled) their house in Ogunquit, which was, say the owners, “a labor of love.”