Shipshape & Ready for Reinvention
A Massachusetts couple creates a new life—filled with waves, rest, and relaxation—on the Maine coast.
Meredith and Paul Allen fell in love with Maine from the deck of their 42-foot sailboat. It was the summer of 1999, and the Massachusetts couple had decided to sail downeast with their five-year-old daughter, Hadley, and two dogs, Ginger and Pickle. “We decided that, if we’re going to be crazy and get this boat, we better spend a lot of time on it,” Meredith remembers. Paul took a sabbatical that summer, and the family spent weeks moored off the coast of Northeast Harbor. Daylight hours were spent hiking, biking, and kayaking throughout Acadia National Park. Their nautical vacation was so successful that they decided to make vacationing in Maine a tradition, one that would last nearly two decades and eventually land the couple a home on the water.
But when the lifelong sailors went to look for a house in Maine, they found it difficult to find the right fit. Some houses were too large; others were too far from the water. They wanted to find a neighborhood that was friendly and where they could be part of the local community. Meredith also loved the idea of having two small houses on one property—a his-and-hers setup that would grant each partner individual space.
In addition to craving multiple spaces (including offices, so that they could both work from home), Paul and Meredith had a few other items on their wish list. They wanted to find a place near Portland—“We love the city and its restaurants,” Meredith says—but also near Handy Boat, where they keep their sailboat. The ideal home would have ocean views and easy access to the water, but not be located on a major road (for their dog’s safety as well as their own). They wanted something simple, modern, and modestly sized.
But instead of finding a house they loved, they found a neighborhood they adored. Falmouth, says Meredith, felt like a perfect fit for their empty-nest lifestyle.
“There was something about this area,” she says. “It felt like an old-fashioned community. It seemed like everybody knew each other, like this town dock was the center of a community where people lived and played.” She also loved the character of the homes, which were close together and (generally) modestly sized, making the peaceful streets feel homey and comfortable. In 2014 the couple settled on a site in Falmouth just a short bike ride from Handy Boat, and they began the process of removing the current structure and, with the help of Windham-based R.P. Morrison Builders, erecting their own thoughtfully designed contemporary home.
“We went through several schemes, including one that featured two separate buildings connected by a glass bridge,” recalls Corey Papadopoli of Elliott and Elliott Architecture. As the project’s lead architect, Papadopoli worked closely with the Allens in their quest to (in Meredith’s words) “reinvent our lives.” Although they ended up scrapping the glass bridge idea, they did take some cues from this earlier floor plan to create their compact and clever “upside-down house.”
Since the third-of-an-acre property has an over-30-degree grade change from front to back, the team at Elliott and Elliott had to be mindful of how the steep slope provides beautiful ocean vistas, but only from higher on the property. “In order to really take advantage of the ocean views, we created an inverted floor plan, with the living spaces on the second floor and all the secondary spaces on the first floor,” Papadopoli explains. “And because it’s just the two of them, we knew a lot of space wasn’t necessary.” Plus, as sailors, Meredith and Paul were accustomed to spending time in tight spaces. “They’re boat people. We took the idea of the boat and tried to create spaces that can do more than one thing. We wanted to make it flow together, and to make it feel bigger than it actually is,” Papadopoli says.
The Allens now split their time between Massachusetts, where Paul’s office is located, and Maine. “I feel like I breathe better up here,” Meredith admits. She also sleeps better when she’s at home in Maine. Their bedroom is located on the second floor and features large, square windows with motorized shades that reveal views of the Atlantic at the push of a button. Behind the bed, two doors lead into two nearly identical dressing spaces, which open to individual water closets. The bathrooms are joined by a large shower covered in frosted glass, which has doors on either side for the Allens to enter separately. “It’s my vanity,” Meredith says, giving the last word a slightly sarcastic emphasis as she switches on lights in her private space. While she enjoys the privacy afforded by this creatively designed space, Meredith is more interested in getting sweaty on her bicycle (or swimming in Casco Bay in her wetsuit) than she is in getting dressed up. She explains, “As I’ve gotten older, my desire to wear makeup and to dress up has gotten a lot smaller—that’s just one reason we like Maine. Culturally, it’s a better fit for us.”
The “bathroom village,” as the Allens have jokingly deemed it, is just one example of this separate-but-similar design. The second floor also features two offices separated by a spacious kitchen, which opens to the dining and living area. In Meredith’s office, they tucked a Murphy bed into the white walls. “Take a look at this,” she says with a grin as she pulls the bed out. “It’s perfect for the nights when one of us is sick, or when we just can’t sleep. Sleep,” she adds, “has become such a precious resource for us.”
Fitting for a Maine retreat, the house is painted in a calming color scheme of gray and white with nautical touches scattered throughout, including framed photographs of the owners’ summer sailing trips and, in the upstairs hallway, a bejeweled fish sculpture from Maine artist T.J. McDermott. “My passion is design,” Meredith reveals. Although she worked in advertising and marketing for most of her career (as does her husband), Meredith has studied architecture, landscape design, and color theory at various stages throughout her life. In Massachusetts, she volunteered at a nonprofit called Household Goods that helped people in need to furnish and decorate their living spaces. “I’m looking for some place similar to volunteer in Maine,” she says. “When your space is clean and functional, you feel better.” Good design, she believes, helps people live better.
For the Allens, good design is marked by functionality (which reflects their history as sailors), elegance, and simplicity. “Part of what drew us to Elliott and Elliott was their simplicity of design. They’re all about reducing everything to its simplest form,” Meredith says. She recalls scrolling through the Elliott and Elliott portfolio online and being drawn to their contemporary designs: houses made with big windows and square, even shapes.
However, Meredith knew something that modern wouldn’t fit as well in their Falmouth neighborhood, where many of the homes are older and relatively traditional. “[The Allens] didn’t want to hang a sign on their house that said, ‘We’re from away, here’s our big modern house,’” Papadopoli says. Instead, they decided to subtly integrate elements of local design with contemporary shapes and proportions. “We went through the neighborhood and looked for patterns. We saw the most common roof form was a gable, which is a shape we like. We took that and incorporated it in a modern way. We eliminated overhangs, and we made the angles sharper.”
Papadopoli also used wood shingles and wood siding to help ensure that the house would fit in with its neighboring buildings. “Between the materials and the roof form, we were able to make it feel harmonious,” he says.
As Meredith concludes the house tour, she stops for a moment, distracted by the sound of acorns hitting her second-story porch. She walks to the sliding glass doors and opens them, letting the warm air waft in. “Look at that,” she says, and points to a white-sailed ship that shines like a beacon on the blue water. “Look at the light,” she instructs. From the deck of her home, this part-time sailor soaks in the scene and a serene look comes across her face. Her life, it seems, has been reinvented at last.