A Camp for All Ages
Three generations coexist under one roof in this central Maine lakehouse.
By Meadow Rue Merrill Photograph by Brian Vanden Brink
On a lake in central Maine lies a summer camp so subtle, so subdued, the loam-dark clapboards and leaf-green roof blend into shadow, making the back porch beams hard to distinguish against the diamond-bright water.
The tree-lined shore is virtually undisturbed — the nearest amenities being a boathouse and a roadside garden stand advertising, “Pies! Pies! Pies!” As if there could be any doubt, a large wooden sign by the cottage door confirms, “Maine, the way life should be.” No wonder the owners often stay well into the fall.
Although only six years old, the house looks as if it might have been here the day the head of this Maine family rambled through the woods and fell in love with the sandy beach, buying the property in 1948. His children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren have been frolicking on the lake ever since. Their pictures line the antique bureaus in the upstairs bedrooms and hang from the Douglas fir-paneled walls.
The Shingle-style cottage, designed by Portland architect Stephen Blatt, is one of several — all painted the same deep brown, all belonging to the same family — rising from the pine-rimmed pasture. Every aspect reflects the owners’ interests — reading, boating, swimming, gardening, and cooking for the camp’s many guests.
“It’s not unusual to have between twelve and twenty people for dinner on any given day,” says one of the owners, a dignified but youthful looking grandmother whose lake-blue toenails look as if they might have been painted by a granddaughter. “Nieces and nephews wander between their aunt’s and uncle’s tables, and they are free to stay as long as they clear their plates and say, ‘Please’ and, ‘Thank you.’ ”
With three generations intending to summer under one roof, the cottage had to serve multiple needs. The setting — just a fishing-pole cast away from the lake — required that it also be compact. So, before drawing a single line, the architect sat down with six members of the family, who asked to remain anonymous for this architectural profile. One season of talking and nine months of planning later, Blatt revealed his design.
“I tried to make it feel small,” Blatt says. “That’s why there are two gables on either side separated by a porch and large roofs coming down. I really feel houses on lakes should huddle close to the trees and not be seen from the water, if at all possible.”
To further reduce the profile, the second floor of the 4,500-square-foot house hunkers close to the first. Blatt described it like the branches of a tree looming over the trunk below. “It is meant to look ornithological,” he says, “like a [bird’s] body. The windows are the eyes.”
The naturally curving granite piazza and surrounding gardens, which were designed by Portland landscape architect Pat Carroll, further obscure the lines between the house and its surroundings.
“The outdoor spaces are as important as the indoor spaces,” Blatt says, noting that the outdoor kitchen — a large stainless steel grill built into a granite counter — was placed at an angle so the owners could grill while watching their grandchildren swim.
The four-season house is equally inviting. The first floor flows around a central family room with a large dining room table, comfortable couches filled with pillows, and an alcove of windows facing the lake. Across the room, a massive granite fireplace rises through the wood-paneled ceiling, which contains a hidden vault with a forty-two-inch screen TV — the largest that would fit — that lowers with the push of a button.
At one end of the room, a pass-through window opens to the kitchen. “We really do enjoy cooking.” The owner steps through a door into the glorified galley of a kitchen. “We wanted a lot of hands to be able to help without taking a lot of space and having people stepping on each other.” Two sinks, four drawer-style dishwashers, two refrigerators, and a whopping thirty-nine foot granite counter, provide plenty of room.
On the opposite side of the living space, a pair of sliding glass french doors reveals an almost hidden office. A few steps away, a white, bead-board paneled screen porch allows the owner to read to her grandchildren each afternoon and evening while enjoying a lakeside breeze.
“We have two driers because of the number of beach towels we wash every day,” the owner explains, before leading the way down the hall and up the stairs.
While the house is largely free of ornamentation, the antique oar fastened above the stairs was a gift from the builder, Peter Warren of the Warren Construction Group, in Freeport, who often works with Blatt. Large, oil-painted canvases showcase the work of three of Maine’s finest contemporary artists: Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter, and Will Barnet.
The second floor is divided into two identical wings divided by a playroom. Each side contains two bedrooms, a smaller room designed for a crib, a screened sleeping porch, and a generous bathroom. Besides the antique décor, the only difference between the wings is the color of the bathrooms — one blue with “water” monogrammed on its white towels, the other green with the monogram “grass.”
The wood-paneled bedrooms contain built-in bench seats overlooking the lake as well as coved ceilings to make the space “a little quirky and cozy,” says the owner. Closet space is minimum. Pulling back a white curtain under the eaves in the grandsons’ room revealed two hanging dress shirts and several pairs of shoes. “They are here for the summer,” the owner says. “What else do they need?”
A ripped sheet of newspaper taped to a granddaughter’s door reads, “Please knock before you come in.”
“This really speaks to the family,” the owner says. “Everyone has their space.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than the playroom — the largest room upstairs, with a small porch overlooking the lake. Games and craft supplies fill the shelves. A pile of beanbags softens a corner. And hand-painted plaques announce a decade of family awards honoring such merits as, “Best Pal to the Little Guys” and “Best Sleepover Guy.”
“With nine grandchildren plus nine great nieces and nephews, this place saves us on rainy days.” The owner laughs.
Throughout the home, pumpkin pine floors add warmth to the dark Douglas fir ceilings and walls. They also help create the illusion that this is a camp, rather than a fine, luxury home. But add up the details, and it becomes clear just what a carefully crafted fantasy this is. Blatt, who is well recognized for designing schools and other institutions, calls residential projects like this, “the dessert of our work.”
The owner and her family selected the architect after admiring his process while serving on a board together. “Steve was instrumental in helping us envision this from day one,” she says, stepping through the french doors to the terrace to watch a gaggle of grandchildren paddle about in kayaks. “At every turn, he and his office were the most intuitive listeners. He’s made the life we dreamed of a possibility.”
It isn’t hard to see why. A yellow Lab, dripping from a dip in the lake, ambles around the corner of the house near a pair of bicycles. In the shade nearby, an empty hammock swings between two maples. The only sound is the lapping of the lake and the distant roll of a lawnmower as a barefoot girl saunters across the grass.
Meadow Rue Merril is an award-winning Maine journalist and frequent contributor to Down East.