Putting the Horse Before the House
A couple build a riding academy by their historic Lyman farmhouse
The drive to Nick and Sarah Armentrout’s recently renovated nineteenth-century farmhouse in Lyman takes one down a lovely road, past forest, through pastures, and over a stream. Though the road dead-ends at their house, most people who make the trip aren’t going there for a social call. They are bringing their children or themselves or someone with disabilities to ride a horse. They are not headed for the house but for the barns, arenas, and outbuildings of the Armentrouts’ business, Carlisle Academy Integrative Equine Therapy and Sports.
Here, over the course of a day, a recreational rider might be practicing jumps while a rider with disabilities is being transferred by a mechanical lift onto a horse and two adults are accompanying a child with cerebral palsy around a ring. A parent might be in an upstairs viewing room, observing his or her child’s lesson in one of the two arenas below. Someone else might be in the therapy room, getting physical or occupational treatment. Employees will be in the office, working on schedules, or running a seminar. Still other employees will be cleaning tack rooms, or tending sheep, or maybe hauling hay from one of the 150 surrounding acres.
Carlisle Academy is a busy place, and its story starts not in Maine—though Sarah and Nick both grew up in Kennebunk—but in Hailey, Idaho. Nick went west after college, initially to ranch in Wyoming and later for a job in Idaho at the Sun Valley Resort. While there, he also worked and lived at the Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped. Meanwhile, Sarah went to San Francisco for an urban service project. On her drive out, she stopped in Hailey to visit Nick. She’d always wanted to combine her lifelong interest in horses—she’d grown up riding—with her interest in social services, and the training center appealed. Eventually, she joined Nick in Idaho and pursued instructor certification from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Initially just friends, the two started dating. After three years of immersing themselves in the world of adaptive riding, Sarah and Nick were ready to start their own business and family. In 1996 they decided to return to Maine, where they both still had relatives. (Sarah’s parents are Tom and Kate Chappell, cofounders of Tom’s of Maine and Ramblers Way.)
The next step was to locate a farm that would work for a horse operation. Sarah and Nick found a place in Lyman whose open land and skies mimic that of the West. They moved into the existing farmhouse and quickly added a timberframe barn for their horses. Later, they had the opportunity to buy the adjacent property, a former dairy farm with its own farmhouse and outbuildings. They centered Carlisle Academy on this land, adapting or extending structures to create a riding arena, an additional horse barn, offices, tack rooms, and a therapy room.
In the last decade, two additional projects have rounded out the complex. In 2008 Carlisle Academy added a second indoor arena, and in 2011 Nick and Sarah renovated their farmhouse. Both projects were designed by architect T. Scott Teas, whose firm was then known as TFH Architects and is now Scattergood Design Architecture and Planning in Portland, and built by Justin Perry of Perry Building and Restoration in North Berwick.
Perry and Teas were fortuitous partners, collaborators who played to each other’s expertise—and lack thereof. Originally Perry was reluctant to build the 11,000-square-foot arena, having no experience with such large structures. “I turned the commission down twice,” he says, but he was eventually persuaded by Nick and Sarah. He framed the building with hemlock and sheathed the exterior with white pine shiplap. Teas was on firmer ground. He had decades of experience with multifamily, commercial, and institutional structures, though less with singlefamily residences. His arena design includes abundant south-facing glazing that connects the interior to the pasture lands beyond with strategically placed glass garage doors that can be raised to let in light and air. An economical, wood-framed composite truss system spans the riding surface.
Meanwhile, by 2011, the Armentrouts had three children and wanted more space. They chose to gut the original farmhouse, which was a two-story gabled structure with a field-facing front porch, and replace a small existing back ell with a larger addition. On the exterior, Teas’s design mimics the basic forms and shingling of the farmhouse, but it reorients the entire home. Now one arrives at what was once the side of the house. The addition’s front door is surrounded by spruce flat board and protected by a small standing-seam metal roof. Inside, the house is both open-plan and traditional, insofar as the rooms are largely not walled off but defined by customary elements such as steps, a staircase, and a woodstove placed in an unusual way.
Upon entry, an open riser staircase presents itself. Fashioned of cherry treads, cherry handrails, painted poplar balusters, and steel plates, it turns once for the basement playroom and twice for the upstairs bedrooms. If you don’t mount or descend the staircase, you can go up two steps to the right to a corridor that leads to the old part of the house, which has a red-walled den and guest bedroom. Alternatively, you can turn to the left, which is the new part of the house. Here, there is a dining room, kitchen, and breakfast nook on one level, and then, if you descend a step, a living room on another. Large windows wrap the corner of the living room, and a window seat provides a comfortable spot to look out over the ponds and fields beyond. A tall, rectangular soapstone woodstove stands between the dining and living rooms. The first and basement floors have radiant heat, but once stoked, the woodstove serves as the thermal mass for the house’s core.
Upstairs, an L-shaped balcony leads in one direction to the children’s rooms and in the other to the owners’ bedroom, which then has a small bridge that connects to the owners’ bath. From the bridge, one can look across a four-foot open space to the L-shaped balcony, as well as down to the dining room or up to a tower skylight. As with the staircase, this open space “allows the space to flow horizontally and vertically,” says Teas.
In renovating the den, Perry removed a drop ceiling to expose original beams. He mimicked the effect in the addition, as the laminated fir floor joists for the second floor are the first-floor ceiling’s exposed beams. The breakfast nook’s roof framing is also exposed (though painted white), so the old and new parts of the house are visually linked by similar ceiling treatments.
The house is full of old treasures: many antiques passed down from Nick’s mother, salvaged doors (repurposed as pocket doors), leaded and stainedglass windows (used in interior walls), and historical materials such as the newel in the basement—a beam repurposed from the original house—and the farmhouse’s original cornerstone, which is used in a stone wall that defines a front entrance patio. Other items—the kitchen’s slate sink and breakfast nook chandelier—are wedding gifts that Sarah and Nick couldn’t find a place to fit until the renovation.
Nick says that, for years, while he and Sarah were working to build up their business, “The house was not about enjoying the house. It was about sleeping and getting warm and going back outside.” That’s no longer the case. Indeed, for what is clearly a very hardworking family, there are aspects of the house that speak purely of pleasure, such as a soaking tub in the owners’ bedroom, an upstairs landing fashioned as a children’s library and reading nook, a basement Ping-Pong table, and an antique rocking horse. Now, family members can and do enjoy themselves in the house. Then they go back outside to do what they also love: ride a horse. Or help others do the same.