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The Ultimate Indoor-Outdoor House on 36 Acres in Coastal Maine

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The Ultimate Indoor-Outdoor House on 36 Acres in Coastal Maine

September 26, 2018

“There isn’t another site like this available anywhere near Portland, Maine,” said Russell Tyson of Whitten Architects, “and it’s the site that makes this house so unique.”

He’s describing a jaw-dropping 36 acres perched along the oceanfront in Scarborough, Maine, the site of many native habitats—rocky coastline, woods, wetlands, and meadows included. Most of the land is in a conservation trust to preserve its natural character, but that didn’t deter the owners, a young couple with two children who wanted a weekend retreat that was “the antithesis of their high-rise life in New York City.” Two acres could be developed, so they removed an existing 1980s house that had “no sort of relationship to the landscape,” said Tyson, the project architect. In its stead, they designed a four-bedroom, mostly single-story house and detached car barn with guest quarters above.

Whitten partnered with landscape architect Todd Richardson to create a strong connection between the house and landscape. They knew each other well and had collaborated before, so they designed the project’s indoor and outdoor elements in tandem. “Here, the exterior spaces were just as important as the interior ones,” said Tyson. Let’s take a look.

Photography by Trent Bell except where noted, courtesy of Whitten Architects.

At the entryway, a Rockport granite boulder directs visitors from the parking court toward the front door just off to the right. A small apple orchard flanks the walkway.
Above: At the entryway, a Rockport granite boulder directs visitors from the parking court toward the front door just off to the right. A small apple orchard flanks the walkway.

The site was once part of a farm, full of rolling meadows that drop down to the shore.

In the front garden are salvia and ornamental grasses mixed with lawn. &#8
Above: In the front garden are salvia and ornamental grasses mixed with lawn. “The walls extend outward from the house to throw the architecture out into the landscape,” said Richardson.

The previous house had an asphalt parking lot prominently featured in front; in contrast, said the architect, “we wanted you to park your car and forget about it for the rest of the time you are here.”

Flanking a porch off the bedroom wing: A birch tree at far left hovers over highbush blueberries, northern bayberry, low huckleberry, lowbush blueberry sod, and hay-scented fern. The patch on the right side of the walkway also includes black chokeberry, rhodora, and cinnamon fern.
Above: Flanking a porch off the bedroom wing: A birch tree at far left hovers over highbush blueberries, northern bayberry, low huckleberry, lowbush blueberry sod, and hay-scented fern. The patch on the right side of the walkway also includes black chokeberry, rhodora, and cinnamon fern.

The landscape architect chose native plants that thrive in this part of Maine.

Each bedroom has a porch to encourage residents and guests to head directly outdoors in the mornings.
Above: Each bedroom has a porch to encourage residents and guests to head directly outdoors in the mornings.

The house is framed in Douglas fir and stained in Cabot Nantucket White. The decking is water-resistant ipe wood, and the roof is standing seam metal in slate gray.

Bordered by full-height sliding glass doors, the living room links a courtyard in front of the house to a patio on the opposing side. The landscape architect planted pitch pine here, centered on the axis of a single large pitch pine hovering over the water&#8
Above: Bordered by full-height sliding glass doors, the living room links a courtyard in front of the house to a patio on the opposing side. The landscape architect planted pitch pine here, centered on the axis of a single large pitch pine hovering over the water’s edge—the only tree along the waterfront for about 1,500 feet, visible beyond the living room.
A glass walkway connects the main living volume to the bedroom wing. Sliding glass doors link the courtyard to the fire pit beyond.
Above: A glass walkway connects the main living volume to the bedroom wing. Sliding glass doors link the courtyard to the fire pit beyond.

Honed dark granite used as flooring in the main living space “spills” outside into the landscape, said Richardson. The design is “hard to differentiate in a way you typically might between indoors and out,” he said.

Carefully placed boulders &#8
Above: Carefully placed boulders “bring the dramatic shore geology inland from the coastline,” said Richardson.

Pitch pine, the predominant tree on the property, is prevalent along the coast of Maine.

Richardson selected native shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers to blend the landscape with the existing meadows that stretch toward the shore. Here, lowbush blueberry wraps around wood posts.
Above: Richardson selected native shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers to blend the landscape with the existing meadows that stretch toward the shore. Here, lowbush blueberry wraps around wood posts.
Farther from the house, Richardson planted a New England wildflower mix, dominated by black-eyed Susans.
Above: Farther from the house, Richardson planted a New England wildflower mix, dominated by black-eyed Susans.
Throughout the coastal property, the landscape architect planned long stretches of trails and boardwalks through meadow, woodlands, wetland, and shoreline.
Above: Throughout the coastal property, the landscape architect planned long stretches of trails and boardwalks through meadow, woodlands, wetland, and shoreline.

“The house is the pivot point between the woodland and agrarian landscapes,” said Richardson. “It touches a different environment on each side.”

A private seating area on stone slabs is set among an existing grove of pitch pines.
Above: A private seating area on stone slabs is set among an existing grove of pitch pines.
The angled boulder in front of the fire pit is the single largest rock placed on the site. The Adirondack chairs are from Crate & Barrel (though they&#8
Above: The angled boulder in front of the fire pit is the single largest rock placed on the site. The Adirondack chairs are from Crate & Barrel (though they’re no longer available in natural wood). The fire pit patio has 180-degree views of the ocean. On buggy nights, the family sits just next to the patio on a screened porch.
The house at twilight. The stone walls, open meadows, and apple trees recall the property&#8
Above: The house at twilight. The stone walls, open meadows, and apple trees recall the property’s agrarian past.

“The most important thing to the clients was that the house not be an impediment to getting outside,” said the architect. “So you can get outdoors from as many locations in the house as possible.”

Note the diagonal dashed lines on the site plan; the boulders sit on axes carefully aligned with the axis of the shoreline.
Above: Note the diagonal dashed lines on the site plan; the boulders sit on axes carefully aligned with the axis of the shoreline.

In Process

The site of the house, just before the foundation was laid. Photograph by Todd Richardson.
Above: The site of the house, just before the foundation was laid. Photograph by Todd Richardson.
A boulder being laid on the site via crane. Photograph by Todd Richardson.
Above: A boulder being laid on the site via crane. Photograph by Todd Richardson.

For more of our favorite landscapes in Maine, see:

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