Stay Together, Play Together
A home for a family, and loads of friends, on a central Maine lake
When a Boston-area family with roots in the Belgrade Lakes region drives to their summer home there, friends tend to pile in. Recently the homeowners rented a second Suburban to shuttle their middle- school-age daughter and six of her classmates; last year their eldest teenage daughter and her pals traveled in a rented 15-passenger van. The high-schoolers spent the weekend swimming, waterskiing, tubing, toasting marshmallows, and talking into the night. On Sunday they woke at 5 a.m. to watch the sun rise over the darkened shoreline, a scene the owners might have chalked up to a dream had they not caught it on camera: nine girls in Adirondack chairs on the dock and a few more in a dinghy offshore, silhouetted against a masterpiece of pastel shading.
“These are girls who sleep until ten or eleven in the morning,” says the wife, whose family includes two other children. But the lake has a Fountain of Youth effect: “Our kids act more like kids when they’re here—it’s like they lose years.” The husband, a Maine native, grew up swimming in the same waters with friends who had camps in the area. In 2001 he brought his family here. They started out renting a house with another couple and their four kids, a tradition that lasted for seven years. During that time they zeroed in on the ideal property to build on: seven acres of level shorefront with views so wide open the owners don’t have to get up at dawn to see the sun color the sky. In the evening, pink and purple rays beam over the water from the west.
The site had a series of small cottages on it, a setup that worked well for the previous camp owners. “But we learned, vacationing with our friends, that we prefer to be under one roof,” says the husband. “We like eating at a big table and playing group games in the evening; we find that you get to know people better and it’s more fun.” Charged with creating a home that could accommodate multiple families (or a vanload of kids), South Natick, Massachusetts, architect Michael Collins designed a mudroom and pantry that are each roughly the size of the kitchen. Each space is equipped with an island for unloading, and the first two have walls of open shelving for gear and food. The mudroom houses one of the two laundry areas, and the pantry holds a pair of “backup” refrigerators and freezers. “I go to Hannaford at the start of the season and fill two carts,” says the wife. From the kitchen, people can spill out into an expansive living-dining area flanked by screened porches. Upstairs, four bedrooms and a bunkroom can sleep 18; 6 more visitors can stay in a guest cottage a few yards away. “And that doesn’t factor in floor space,” says the husband.
On his first visit to the property, Collins noticed a nearby barn—low-lying with a front-facing gable sloping down to an addition—and had a light-bulb moment. “I felt strongly that the home should spread wide across the site, not be this towering mass that sticks out on the shore,” he says. The barn encapsulated the kind of rambling form he was going for. In his iteration, completed in 2008, a large gable and pair of shed dormers punctuate a shingled roof that extends down far enough that the home could pass for a one-story. Below the dormers, a copper roof with an eight-foot-deep overhang draws your gaze out to the sides, further deemphasizing the height. A mix of siding materials—shingles on the gables and clapboards elsewhere—also keeps the eye moving and effects “an imaginary history,” says Collins, like the house might have been pieced together over time.
Arts and Crafts elements (exposed rafter tails, tapered porch columns atop stone piers) work with the siding to “age” the home and weave it into a waterfront dotted with cottages from that architectural era. A sprinkling of outbuildings also helps nestle the house in. Collins sited a bungalow-style guest cottage with a shed dormer on the south side of the lot. On the north end is an existing boathouse and a rec house, now furnished with pool and Ping-Pong tables, which was moved from another part of the property. The building crew, led by Bob Kempner of Portland’s Wright-Ryan Homes, rehabbed both structures and had them painted an inconspicuous off- white to match the new construction. Inside the rec house, the clients found circa-1930s murals from the Steel Pier amusement park in Atlantic City, left there by previous owners who were connected to the famed promenade. Kempner had the paintings of clowns, circus animals, and “Tiny the Fat Girl” backed with medium-density fiberboard and installed on the building’s long windowed walls. “What was fun about this project was the package—retrofitting, constructing, and making everything work together,” he says.
When Collins and his clients began discussing design concepts, the husband said he wanted to “hear the screen door slam.” “That painted a picture for me of a warm, camp- like interior,” says Collins, who structured the living-dining area around a pair of custom pine-framed screen doors that lead out to the lake. Similar doors appear on each screened porch, giving the owners “perhaps, a little more wham than they bargained for,” he says. Blackened barn board framing crowns the kitchen and sweeping living space, and reclaimed white oak floors extend throughout the house. In the main seating area, a weathered fieldstone fireplace, born out of an image the husband had of “piled-up boulders,” rounds out the rustic aesthetic.
With so much emphasis on natural wood, “we had to do some painted cabinetry,” says Boston interior designer Lucie Beauchemin, who worked closely with the wife. The palette in an Ann Sacks Moroccan-inspired tile backsplash was the impetus for custom bittersweet-colored china cabinets in the kitchen, blue-green shelving and cupboards in the mudroom and pantry, and gold and steel-blue Grange bureaus in the guestrooms. The home’s upholstered pieces, including gray-blue bouclé George Smith seating in the living area and steel Uhuru dining chairs covered in mustard-striped outdoor fabric, tie back to the same source. “Choosing one color scheme and blowing up aspects of it in different areas is a nice way to create connection in a house,” says Beauchemin. The litmus test for all the furnishings centered on comfort and durability. “We want people to be able to sit down anywhere in wet bathing suits,” says the wife, summing up the couple’s entertaining MO.
“We live by a relaxed set of rules when we’re here,” she says. “We keep the food on open shelving so people can help themselves, and there’s no schedule. Once, we realized my son had gone three weeks without showering—he went from swimsuit to pajamas every day.” Sleeping arrangements are similarly laissez-faire. “Nobody has a designated bed,” says the husband. “Often, boys, girls, young kids, and older ones will all flop down in the bunkroom,” which features a lineup of four twin beds in the main area, two more in an alcove, and another four in a loft overhead. “Summer is a great equalizer.” And cozying up like sardines with siblings and friends is one of the sweetest parts.