The Eyrie on Frenchman Bay
This coastal cottage is a cross between a bungalow and a pagoda.
By Edgar Allen Beem
Photograph by Brian Vanden Brink
The front deck of the Eyrie, a post-modern cottage in Sorrento, feels more like the bow of a great ship than the porch of a great home. The view from the deck is a long, soulful vista out across Frenchman Bay and a vertiginous drop two hundred feet straight down to the rocks and sea below. Eagles soar at eye level. Treetops don’t quite reach the cabled deck.
Indeed, the landscape falls away so precipitously that the sea side of the house can only be seen from the water or via binoculars from the far shore in Sullivan. And that’s how the current owners first saw it.
Houston businessman Ross Dinyari and his wife, Rosamarie, were in the midst of restoring a nineteenth-century farmstead in Sullivan when Dinyari realized that old farms are a great deal of work to maintain. In search of a newer, maintenance-free house, he spotted the Eyrie nestled high in the trees across the bay and purchased it in 2010.
Though he did not commission it, Ross Dinyari is effusive in his praise of the house. “It’s a piece of art,” he says.
The Eyrie is a post-modern home in the sense that despite being clean and contemporary, it doesn’t feel impersonal in the way that unadorned glass and steel architecture so often can. Post-modern homes tend to be free and eclectic in their borrowings, and the Eyrie is no exemption.
Jeremiah Eck, of the Boston firm of Eck/MacNeely Architects, was originally commissioned to design the hilltop house for a couple who had just returned from several years living in Japan. They had a number of Japanese carvings, screens, cupboards, and tatami mats they wanted incorporated into their new home, so the fact that the Eyrie looks something like a cross between a traditional Maine summer cottage and an ancient pagoda is no accident. There is even a Zen rock garden to one side of the house.
“A combination of a bungalow and a Japanese tea house is exactly what they wanted,” says Eck.
The home is defined by heavy overhanging roof lines that settle the house down into its cliffside perch and respond to the way the landscape falls away all around it. Eck compares the roof to a hat with a brim pulled down low on the head. Cedar shingles and painted vertical boards add richness and texture to the exterior and differentiate the floors.
The drama of the setting combines with the efficiency of the design to make what is really a rather modest structure seem stately and grand inside.
“This house is only 3,200 square feet, but it feels like a much, much bigger house,” says owner Ross Dinyari. “Our house in Houston is around five thousand square feet. This house feels that big, but it is much more functional.”
The airy interior is distinguished most obviously by the Japanese aesthetic expressed in a traditional washitu room to one side of the livingroom. The room, typically used in Japan for tea and entertaining, features a raised floor with woven tatami mats, sliding paper shoji walls, a futon cupboard, and woodcarvings of cranes. But the more subtle distinction is the deft procession of the spaces from tiled entry through living space to deck. “It has privacy, but everything is open,” says Dinyari. “All the rooms are connected to the other rooms. And [Eck] did an amazing job with natural light. Everywhere in the house gets outside light.”
Sightlines and sunlight animate the Eyrie, which was built by Hancock Homes and Bond Builders of Hulls Cove. There is a see-through double-sided fireplace between the living and dining rooms that enhances the fluidity of the space and traditional Japanese wooden cupboards dividing the kitchen from the dining area. A screened porch provides outdoor space on days when the deck is not practical.
“The best houses have three outside options,” says Eck. “You can be entirely in the sun, in dappled sunlight, or under the overhangs in mist and rain.”
A latticed, skylit stairway leads to two upper levels where bedrooms, bathrooms, and offices are tucked beneath the home’s eccentric eaves. As with the rest of the house, however, rooms seem less defined by walls than by viewsheds.
When the Dinyaris purchased the Eyrie, the only changes they made were the addition of some closets and, in consultation with Jeremiah Eck, the redesign of two small dormers to open up a spectacular view from Ross Dinyari’s office, the new windows framing a panoramic view of the humpbacked mountains of Mount Desert Island.
“It’s the views and the lightness,” says Rosamarie Dinyari of what she values most about Eck’s design. “He put so much light into this house that it’s a happy house.”
Bamboo floors, skylights, a palette of creamy yellows and antique whites, and collections of crystal and glass add to the lightness of being in the house.
“Transparency is something we strive for in a house,” say Eck.
That spatial transparency translates into a Maine austerity accented by Japanese simplicity.
The Dinyaris come to Maine year-round, nesting in the Eyrie in all seasons, but when he sings the praises of Maine’s much-vaunted quality of life, Ross Dinyari is clearly thinking summer. “Our meat consumption goes down 80 percent when we are in Maine,” he says. “We get local fish. We go to the farmers for fresh vegetables, fresh eggs, and fresh milk. This is heaven.”
Sorrento has been both a fishing community and summer colony since the nineteenth century. Grand Victorian and great Shingle Style cottages surround the harbor. The Colonial Revival Sorrento Public Library, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the ornate Scandinavian-inspired Church of the Redeemer summer chapel, which should be, set the high style standard.
The fact that Jeremiah Eck did not simply design the Eyrie as an updated Shingle Style cottage speaks to a design philosophy, one articulated in a trio of books: The Distinctive Home (2003), The Face of Home (2006), and House in the Landscape (2010). Eck, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects who has taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, is a proponent of site-specific architecture, preferring the form a home takes to arise out of the landscape (he is also a landscape painter) and the way the clients want to live.
“In the end, for me there are four simple things every good house should have,” says Eck. “First, it should be sited well. Second, the plan should reflect how the people really live. Third, the exterior should be handsome. And, fourth, all details should be consistent with the first three principles. It all comes down to those four principles, and I hope this house reflects them.”
Ross Dinyari believes it does. “The house is definitely an amazing work of art and design,” he attests. “We have had many people, professionals, Europeans, builders, and so on visiting, every one admiring and saying this is the most beautiful and incredibly functional house they have ever seen. The design is definitely over the top and designed perfectly for the location.”
Dinyari only has two concerns about the location of his Maine retreat. As a world traveler, he says it’s not always easy to find a flight into Bangor, and the Internet connection is not all that reliable high atop Sorrento.
“When the tide is up, the Internet won’t work,” he says. “That’s actually a blessing — not being connected all the time. That’s why we come to Maine, the peace and quiet.”
Edgar Allen Beem is a freelance writer from Yarmouth who has been contributing to Down East since 1983.