Stephen Blatt is used to tall orders. Over the years the Portland architect has been commissioned to transform a lighthouse into a livable home, a circa-1830 Greek Revival building into an urban children's museum, and a sardine-packing plant into an upscale wharf-side business district. So Blatt didn't bat an eye when a couple asked him to turn their 1,200-square-foot ranch-style house on Long Lake in Bridgton into a "hip" lake camp. The owners, a couple of snowbirds who spend about five months a year in Maine, wanted a home with a bit more style than a primitive lodge, but where they and their grown children would still feel comfortable lounging by the lake.Their only other requirement: panoramic views from every spot on the one-acre property.
"It was a miserable little ranch house on this gorgeous piece of land, so it had to be a tear-down," explains Blatt. "But the view is dramatic — you can literally roll out onto the lake." He had to maintain the house's footprint in order to comply with setback requirements, so Blatt chose to excavate a foundation to allow a full bathroom, bedroom, and sitting area on the lower level. Despite the coziness of this cave-like space and the stunning water-level view, Blatt knew he'd still have to work to entice people to descend from the cavernous living room above. "I really wrestled with how to get people to go down there," he explains. "I said, 'Let's induce people to slide into the basement,' and so we rolled the ceiling with stained fir. To me it looks like the inside of a whale."
For those who prefer Paul Bunyan to Jonah, Blatt and the contractor, Damon Builders of Mechanic Falls, created a first-floor deck that takes full advantage of the southern views down Long Lake. "I wanted the feeling of being in the trees, so we put figurative branches — the pergola — overhead," he says. "When you're sitting on a beach chair or an Adirondack there, it feels like you're sitting in part of the house. The bones actually extend outward." He carried that same outside-inside atmosphere into the screened porch saddled between the house and the garage, where louvered upper windows can be closed while July thundershowers roll across the lake. The result is yet another room in this permeable house where the homeowners can be a part of the Maine environment without pulling out the ponchos or feeding the blackflies. It's become one of the most popular rooms for reading, playing cards, or just staring out at the lake.
These days, deciding which room to occupy may be the most difficult aspect of life in this lakeside retreat, which incorporates elements of Dutch Colonial, Adirondack, and North Woods architecture. "It's just a spiritual place," says Cathy Seligman, who commissioned the home more than five years ago with her husband, Fred. "You can have a lot of people in the house and they'll each have a different perch to enjoy the lake and the property. There are perches that even we weren't aware of, and that's something that Stephen brought to the table." Seligman, who first visited Maine while attending a summer youth camp, says the special details Blatt incorporated into the house include a cherry-red, thirty-two-inch-wide bathroom just off the living room. Even Blatt beams slightly while admitting the tiny powder room "makes you feel like you're tucked inside a velvet jewelry bag."
Other details are more subtle but no less important to the overall impact of the home. Pendant lights in the living room are hung at random heights — "like stars in the sky," Blatt remarks — while exposed spruce trusses and rafters add scale and contrast with the olive-green walls. Even the bookcase that extends up to a reading loft uses alternating bands of fir and pine to break up its height. The bookcase actually serves double-duty as an entertainment center, with the stereo wiring accessed through a wall in the owners' study concealed behind the shelf itself. The relatively small kitchen serves both the dining room and the living room. And for those seeking a bit of seclusion, the first-floor master suite and second-floor twin bedrooms all provide both privacy and proximity to the main living areas.
Blatt says he was careful to balance the home's subtle details with a low-key Maine camp style. "The whole thing was to put in enough, but not too much," he explains. And while the owners made a few adjustments to his design that he could have done without — he voted against the black granite countertops, he says — the overall effect is of a house that is as comfortable as it is elegant. Even while she is wintering in Florida, Cathy Seligman finds herself thinking about her camp on Long Lake. "A little piece of my heart is always in Maine," she says.