History in the Making
With rustic roots and modern comforts, a restored adirondack-style camp in Northern Maine provides ample space for blissful relaxation and family bonding.
For over 20 years, architectural designer Paul Harris of Cole Harris Associates in Connecticut had been hearing stories about his friend David Snow’s camp in Washington County. The getaway, located on an expansive piece of lush green property on the shores of East Grand Lake, has been in the Snow family since 1935, but it wasn’t until David and Lynette Snow became the camp’s owners in 2011 that they began to plan out renovations in earnest. The couple wanted to update seven of the buildings on the property, including the boathouse, main cabin, and bunkhouses, so that they could be enjoyed by their twin daughters, extended family, and generations to come. “Every building there has a story,” says Harris. “It was up to us to preserve those stories.”
The result is a “romanticized, fantasized version of the same camp I grew up in,” explains Snow. “Preserving the history of my family camp was incredibly important. My grandparents bought this place from a retired sea captain, and my father went up there every single summer. I went up every year, too, starting the year that I was born.” For decades, the Snow family has spent their summer days waterskiing, swimming, and boating around the deep waters of East Grand Lake, and their evenings enjoying lobster bakes and bonfires on the front lawn.
Unfortunately for old buildings, the weather in downeast Maine is often brutal, and the Forest City camp had been buffeted by winds and lashed with rain. By the 2000s, the Adirondack-style camp stood on shaky foundations, but it was still treasured. “The soil is filled with clay,” Snow says. “With those deep freezes in winter, the foundations of the buildings tend to crack, and mice can get in. We wanted to do something to fix it permanently.” If the Snows could keep the camp at a consistent temperature all year round, that would alleviate the foundation problem. However, it would require a complete overhaul of the insulation and a rejiggering of the floor plan—they would need to strip the camp down to the floorboards and build it back up, all while keeping the architectural integrity of the space. The project would be expensive and require fastidious attention to detail. Fortunately, Snow already knew that Harris had the right mindset and skills for the job.
Harris had worked with the Snows on previous projects, and Harris understood the importance of keeping the character of the buildings intact while fortifying and enlarging the living and sleeping areas in the main cabin. “We decided to keep certain aspects of the camp that had value, either architecturally or because they contained family memories. But we also needed to expand the living space to accommodate everybody in the family,” Harris says. “We got rid of one building that had less historic value, while focusing on sites such as the boathouse, which was a beautiful structure right on the water.” Working with builder Mike Hewes of Hewes and Company in Blue Hill, Harris oversaw the expansion of the main camp structure (and the addition of a second story), the renovation of the boathouse and the bunkhouse, the construction of a new workshop attached to the camp, and the removal of two small bunkhouses that had outlived their usefulness.
“One of our biggest challenges was that we were building in a very remote location,” says Harris. The Snow family camp is located less than a mile from the Canadian border, 12 miles from the nearest town, and several hours from Hewes and Company’s headquarters on the Blue Hill peninsula. “Our guys rented a house nearby because the camp is over 130 miles from my shop,” says Hewes. “It was a lot of work and a pretty big project, so they would go up and spend ten-hour days working, followed by a barbecue, before getting up and doing it again.” But the location wasn’t the only challenge. Harris and Snow decided to pursue LEED Gold certification, which meant the contractors had to source many building materials from nearby quarries and lumber mills. “LEED certification relies on reducing the distance between source and project,” explains Harris. The team decided to use locally quarried Canadian limestone for the kitchen countertops and locally quarried Maine schist for the showers in the bunkhouse. “There are a lot of special touches in that house, such as the sinks in the bathroom that are carved from solid pieces of stone, which made them extremely heavy but also unique,” says Hewes. In addition, much of the wood used on the project was harvested and milled locally, including the large exposed pine beams that lend form and structure to the vaulted living room ceiling, and the cedar wood panels that add a pleasant, woodsy smell to the main cabin’s many porches. (A front sitting porch faces the lake, while smaller porches extend out from three of the first-floor bedrooms. Another porch functions as a hallway that joins the main cabin to the guest quarters.)
“We paid attention to every single stick of wood going into this house,” Hewes says. One particularly beautiful touch is the railing of the stairway in the main camp’s living area. The graceful piece of craftsmanship was created by woodworker Bob King of King and Company of Marlborough, New Hampshire, who found a piece of knotty, twisted pine that was the right fit and shape to fill the space. He created a staircase with waist-high railings that flow with the natural grain of the wood. As a result, the stairway almost seems to grow up from the first floor, ushering guests from one story to the next.
The new second story allowed Harris and Snow to pack in an owners’ suite plus a small office space that overlooks the open living and dining areas. From the chair at Snow’s desk, he can look out through the high windows across the lake to small pine-covered islands that decorate the surface of the cold, clear water. Hanging from the rafters is a dory. “It was my great-grandfather’s boat,” explains Snow. “He used it to shuttle construction materials from the mainland to the island in the lake where our very first family camp had been located.” The boat is over 80 years old, but you wouldn’t know it. Its freshly painted bow points toward the water, “right to the very island where it came from,” says Snow.
The suspended boat is a dramatic focal piece for the living room, but Snow’s interest in functional, historic decor is apparent throughout the space. Every bedroom in the camp, from the guest rooms in the bunkhouse to the owners’ suite upstairs, is decorated with a set of wooden oars made by Orono oar and paddle makers Shaw and Tenney.
“Since there were five generations of family who used the camp, we decided to create five sets of oars, each made with the technology available to the time that generation lived in, and each carved with the name of one of David’s family members,” says Harris, who also worked closely with the Snows on the interior design of the entire camp compound. Some oars have copper tips. Some have tack leather. The final oars—those made for the grandchildren—are made of local spruce and varnished to a high gloss.
“We wanted the space to feel simple, pure, and a little camp-y, but never cliché,” says Harris. “That means no fish statues or bear lamps.” Instead of hanging artwork, Snow and Harris decided to cover the walls with family photographs, which Harris and his team scanned, restored, printed, and framed. Every generation of the family is well represented, with images that date back to 1910. Not only does this reflect Snow’s interest in history and tradition, but it also pays tribute to the camp’s primary purpose. “This place is, for me, truly an escape,” Snow says. “It’s where I go to reward myself for working hard. It represents an opportunity to bond with my family. It’s where we have quality time, in the middle of nowhere, without any distractions.” Forest City isn’t Snow’s home away from home. It’s something even better: his paradise, plain and simple.