At work or at home, Dale Bragg has an ocean view
Dale Bragg is sitting on a stone pillar of the house he’s building for Gulfshore Design in South Portland 20 feet above Danforth Cove. Seagulls wheel overhead and Portland Head Light winks, visible even in this bright early-morning sunlight. Inside, saws hum and hammers tap as his crew beavers away in virtually every corner of this 4,500-square-foot home, which is snugged into the rocks on a point of land that seems to own the approach to Portland Harbor. “Location, right?” Bragg asks, sweeping an arm to the ocean all around.
He’s been doing this all his life, but he still appreciates how special such a project can be. Bragg calls himself a “general contractor,” which means he does everything: the estimating, the supervision of many subcontractors, and most important, the overseeing of work on a daily basis. “I’m on the job,” he says, acknowledging how much easier that is with modern technology. “Smartphones today, with their ability to access email, documents, blueprints, and contracts, allow me to be on the road all day but still be connected to my office.”
Rather than run a cabinet shop, Bragg depends on the rich availability of millworks at his disposal in the greater Portland area. “There is no reason here to reinvent the wheel,” Bragg notes. Travis Kinney of Gulfshore Design, whose detailed sketches cover a makeshift drafting table inside the Loveitt’s Field home, says Bragg understands the technical aspects of construction as well as the importance of keeping clients in the picture. “It’s a balancing act,” Kinney states. Unlike a lot of architects, Kinney is very involved in the interior millwork—the details of moulding, wainscoting, the marriage of wood with stone and glass. “Dale understands the power and value of aesthetics,” Kinney says.
Being inside the South Portland house feels like being on a ship. From every window, the islands of Casco Bay spool away and ships pass, while below waves wash and swirl against the striated shale of the cove. Maintaining a long tradition in this close-knit coastal community—created in 1836 when Enoch Loveitt purchased 29 acres from the Town of Cape Elizabeth—the owners of this house keep the path open for their neighbors to access the cove below, both for individual use and for the annual clambake held there for over a hundred years.
Kinney emphasizes how well Bragg works with clients. Location again: raised in the town of Yarmouth with three brothers, Bragg has spent his life in greater Portland. He knows the place and he knows the people. “We’re small and we’re local,” Bragg says of his company. “Our clients are our neighbors.”
He grew up never questioning the family work ethic. “At 10, I was mowing lawns,” he smiles. “By 15, I was washing dishes at a local restaurant for a dollar an hour. I had a friend who was making $2.50 an hour working for Blue Rock Industries in Westbrook. I said, That’s for me! And I’ve been doing construction work ever since.” Like many successful builders, he began small: painting, roofing, making repairs. During high school, he worked vacations and summers for local contractors, which he continued after he enrolled at the University of Maine. By the age of 25, Bragg had started his own business. Today Dale Bragg Builders is dedicated to custom homes, major renovations, and historic preservation, all with environmental considerations. Reusable materials from renovation projects are donated to Habitat for Humanity. The company builds about three structures a year, a commitment that allows it to maintain both high standards and a close connection to every job.
Bragg is a tall, slim man whose easy stride and grace hint at the dedicated golfer he’s become. This morning he’s wearing pressed jeans, a soft shirt, and Top-Siders without socks (so, also a sailor). Although their home is in Cumberland, the Bragg family also resides in an authentic summer cottage perched on a bluff above the ferry terminal on Cousins Island, overlooking Casco Bay where it cuts between Cousins and Chebeague. “My wife Nan’s family bought this place in 1953,” Bragg says, standing on the grassy slope in front of the rustic shingled building. “That was before the bridge,” he grins. The cottage on Harmony Hill Road on Cousins Island is an entirely different place and view from the Gulfshore-designed house in South Portland: quiet except for the occasional sputter of a motor in the reach, fragrant with lilacs and the spicy smell of sweet fern just coming into bloom. Inside, the cottage features the dark paneled walls and painted furniture of a bygone era, cluttered and cozy. It’s not hard to imagine the family around a board game lit by lantern light. The porch is littered with the tools of summer: life jackets, oars, boat cushions. “The cottage isn’t winterized and probably never will be,” Bragg says proudly.
This morning Bragg is touching up the paint on their Cape Dory sailboat. While they’ve had many boats over the years, the E. Rose (so christened already when the family got her; true sailors know never to change the name of a vessel) fits their life well now. “We like to sail around Chebeague Island and then over to the Dolphin Restaurant in Harpswell,” Bragg says. “Growing up, someone always had a boat,” he remembers, pausing with paintbrush in hand. “We lived on the water.” But it was his wife who really taught him how to sail. “Nan has sailed her entire life, with her father at first and then with her two older brothers.” Looking at him here on his boat, it’s easy to see how Bragg is able to move effortlessly between Cousins Island and Loveitt’s Field. He has the grounding of locale: this is a man who knows who and where he is, who is at home in the world—a man with a view.
DALE BRAGG BUILDERS: 207-829-6015, DALEBRAGGBUILDERS.COM