An Organic Design
LANDSCAPE – AUGUST 2008
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography Trent Bell
A lake house with landscaping that is woven to the woods
Much of Maine’s northwestern woods have retained their primal, unblemished character. Down a long dirt tract beside one of the region’s largest lakes, many miles from the nearest paved road, is a recently completed home that harmoniously honors the land around it.
Emma Kelly, of the landscape architecture firm Richardson & Associates, says the homeowners did not want to turn a pristine patch of northern woods into a precious suburban lawn. Instead, Kelly and Todd Richardson sought inspiration from forests, meadows, and rock outcroppings—the “archetypes of northern Maine,” as they call them.
Tromping around the expansive property over several different seasons, Kelly and Richardson compiled a list of vegetation that would underpin their design work: spruce, fir, maple, birch, and dots of beech and oak; ferns and mosses; and, of course, blueberry and huckleberry bushes. Kelly likens the plantings to fine men’s clothing: “It’s simple, but there’s a lot you can do within that simplicity.”
Over two winters, Tim Francis and his crew at Atlantic Landscape Construction harvested nearly one hundred trees of forty- to fifty-feet in height from every corner of the enormous property. “Even the biggest birch and maple were transported vertically,” says Francis, “so even after they were replanted around the home, they look like they had been there forever.”
“We knew that this highly designed, highly sculpted house couldn’t smack against its surroundings,” says Kelly. Rather than attempting to “replant the forest,” Kelly says she and Richardson “re-knit the home to the site” with a series of outdoor rooms, terraces, and winding walkways.
Freshwater Stone of Orland spent more than three years hauling and installing granite for the ambitious lakeside project. For the home’s interior, the crew created counters, bathrooms, floors, and fireplaces, while outside they built walls, walkways, patios, terraces, stairs, and foundation veneer. “This job engaged almost every aspect of what Freshwater does,” says owner Jeff Gamlin. “And I think we used every bit of machinery we own,” he adds with a laugh. The lakeside terrace was constructed from two-inch-thick slabs of flamed granite, which Freshwater Stone cut from templates at their shop and then reassembled on site.
The Moss Garden
Situated in a courtyard-like space outside a glass hallway connecting two sections of the home, the moss garden is one of the most meticulously designed exterior spaces on the site. Kelly says that creating the garden was “sort of like trying to steal a bit of the forest floor.” With ferns and other low-lying vegetation mixed in, the moss garden is ringed by bands of flamed granite surrounded by river stones, and a walkway of weathered roughback granite slabs.
The Fire Pits
While every aspect of the landscape was rigorously planned with drawings and mock-ups, Richardson is quick to acknowledge the influence of the natural terrain. “There is a limit to what a drawing can express,” he admits. “There is no better surprise for me than finding that perfect stone for the perfect location—this was especially true with the evolution of the fire pits.”
The property features two fire pits: one outside the kitchen and dining room wing and another on the lake-facing side of the home. When describing the latter, Kelly notes that after you have driven through the dense forest, passed the birch groove and ferns at the entryway, and moved through the home’s great room and out the back door, the fire pit and stunning view of the lake beyond offers “a great sense of release.” The lakeside pit’s weathered granite comes together and is “stitched,” says Richardson, to a natural ledge.
While the view of the lake and the hills of Piscataquis County dominate the lakeside fire pit, Richardson says the one located off the kitchen and dining room is more of a destination. Intended to create a social space outdoors, its design was informed by its proximity to the home. Richardson & Associates also planted birches and native Shadblow serviceberry so that fires would cast flickering shadows against the tree trunks.
The Granite Stairs
Around the home, the site quickly cascades toward the lake below. Several flights of granites steps were required to negotiate the myriad changes in grade. When the current home was built, a set of stone stairs, built for a house that once stood on a lower portion of the site, already led up to the rock ledge. These stairs were integrated into the design with new plantings.
“Using granite for the new stairs just seemed more honest to the site,” says Kelly, noting that the large stone steps—some of which are as long as twelve- or thirteen-feet wide—fit the scale of the landscape.
“We wanted to make the stairs appear as natural as we could, but be safe and functional,” says Gamlin. For extra traction, the top of each six-inch-thick granite slab was flamed and brushed. As the steps weather, they will darken slightly and take on the patina of their surroundings.
In the End
While many involved with the lake house project say that working at such a far-flung jobsite was arduous, all agreed that every mile logged on the dusty dirt roads was well worth it—for the result is nothing short of spectacular.