At Home in a Boathouse
Sailors have a thing about water. When they're not sailing on it, they're talking about it. And if they can't actually be out cruising on it, they want to be near it. So when a rustic two-story boathouse situated literally over the blue waters of Casco Bay came up for sale in the early 1990s, it didn't take much to convince one lifelong yachtsman to snap it up.
The boathouse and the station-master's house that came with it were both part of a Coast Guard facility built on Little Diamond Island as a coaling station in the late nineteenth century and later used to store and manage the submarine nets that were strung across Casco Bay during World War II. And both had begun to decline at the hands of Mother Nature and the buildings' former inhabitants when Charles G. Moore first visited back in 1992. Vinyl and other cost-effective but non-traditional building materials had become central ingredients over the years in the maintenance recipe for the three-bedroom station-keeper's house, while the boathouse, its vast interior space long-since divided into small, dark, utilitarian rooms, had been further constrained by a raised floor that created a "grotto-like" feel on the first level. Cedar shingles that had disappeared during winter nor'easters had been replaced with materials of a different vintage, giving the building a haphazard, shed-like look. But Moore says such blemishes hardly obscured the property's potential.
"The idea of having someplace close to the water, someplace as beautiful as this site, and turning it into a place where you could live was a great opportunity," says Moore, who splits his time evenly between Little Diamond Island and Portland. To take advantage of that opportunity Moore looked to Portland architects Rob Whitten and Will Winkelman, who had already done some work in Moore's downtown townhouse (and subsequently designed the office at the venture capital company Moore started in 1993).
Besides the structural issues at the Little Diamond Island boathouse - more than half of the second story would need to be removed and full-length dormers added before Whitten and Winkelman felt the building allowed enough light to flood into the cavernous twenty-five-foot-tall space - the architects and owner had legal issues to wrestle with before any hammers could be lifted or nails pounded. Because Maine's strict shoreland zoning laws prohibit structures such as the boathouse from being used as full-time homes, Moore had to legally tie it to the former station-master's house and limit its use.
"We wanted it to look true to its heritage, as though you could still build a boat in there," Whitten says. "While this owner treats it as a guest house, it's really an accessory building to the main house up the hill - a work space."
Ironically, the renovation of this eighty-foot-long, warm-weather building took place during the coldest months of the year, a time when Mainers tend to huddle a bit closer together and, in the case of the boathouse's remodel, enjoy some of the small-town bonds that might not be possible during the busy summer season. For Moore, that meant little details like having the Casco Bay ferry deliver shipments of granite and lumber directly to his wharf, or having Ted Rand, a former longtime owner of the property, dropping by to observe the building project. And when summer arrived, it meant watching Rand's grown children (they still live next door) bring their lobsterboat to the wharf at the end of a long day of fishing.
"This is a place that has some history that continues," explains Whitten. "Its character is going to remain."
That character is revealed in details both big and small. In fair weather, Moore and his grown children can slide open the huge east-facing door and, instead of hauling out a load of coal or other supplies as Coast Guardsmen might have done, they can welcome in the salty breeze off Casco Bay. The entire structure has been insulated, rewired, and replumbed, though it's designed for only three-season use. The wood floors are original, wide pine planks that have been oiled and left imperfect, the gaps between them seemingly waiting to let out the next full-moon tide that might happen to wash over the wharf. The vacant nail-holes on the thirty-two-foot-long, unfinished second-floor joists provide a hint of the walls and supports that once divided the building, accentuating a yawning space now encumbered only by a handful of hanging fans, track lights, and white-washed rafters that even pass through the new dormers. Whitten made a point to hide the twin bedrooms and the single bathroom upstairs, choosing to emphasize that this building is primarily a place of action, a spot where sleep is but a necessity before the next day's seaside activity.
For Moore, that activity may mean sailing on the yacht he keeps moored just a few hundred yards away from his boathouse, chipping away at the renovation of the station-keeper's residence - "It's a work in progress," he says - or watching for the foolhardy souls who occasionally make the swim between Little Diamond and Peaks Island. Whatever the activity may be, for Moore and those lucky enough to spend time in his remarkable structure, the only certainty is that it will involve the briny waters of Casco Bay that wash under and around this historic boathouse.