"Modern" isn't necessarily the word you think of when you think of Islesboro. Exclusive, perhaps, or traditional — particularly when it comes to the architecture, which tends toward John Calvin Stevens' Shingle style.
And that's what makes the home designed by Robin Elmslie Osler for a Philadelphia couple so distinctive. Neatly constructed of four smaller structures centered around a courtyard garden, the home is distinguished by spare, clean lines that lead the eye always to the water and the setting sun.While the modern structure may initially appear an anomaly on Islesboro's western shore, architect Osler says its connection to the land- and seascape makes the home fit right in with its perhaps more stately neighbors.
Osler, a New York City architect with a fondness for the Maine coast, designed the home for the well-traveled couple, who were looking for a spot to build a summerhouse. With two grown daughters, they were looking less for a traditional Maine camp and more for a stylish summer home that they would eventually use in the winter as well. The Islesboro site fit the bill; Osler says the couple "absolutely fell in love" with its views and were willing to endure the extra time, effort, and cost that island construction requires.
Like many other waterfront sites in Maine, this lot came with some challenges that Osler says ultimately helped inspire her design. The original house — with small rooms and red cedar shingles that had turned an unattractive black over the years — sat far closer to the water than modern zoning laws allow. Worst of all, while the house was right next to the waterline, its deck was just five feet deep. Moving the new structure back created room for an ample deck with steel cable railings to enhance, rather than obstruct, the view.
Setback requirements also inspired what Osler calls the "stretched out" floor plan, which is organized in a shallow U-shape. "Every space has its own discrete experience of the water and the site," she says.
That experience begins as a visitor turns from the road and drives through pine trees and birch stands. As you come upon the white cedar-shingled house — which will turn an elegant silver as it ages — you can't quite see the entrance, which lies between the garage and the bedroom wing. But, says Osler, "you sense where the opening is because there's a shift in the planes of the building."
It's a dramatic moment; if you've arrived at sunset, you can not only see all the way through the house to the water, but you can gaze upon the sun sinking behind the Camden Hills a few miles away. The scenery stays in view as you proceed down an exterior walkway, with the pergola above casting sharp geometric shadows, and into the house.
But it's not just aesthetics. The design is practical, too, separating the guest bedrooms over the garage from both the main living spaces on the first floor and the master bedroom on the second. Another entrance at the rear of the house means that guests can come and go as they please without traipsing through the kitchen or family room. And a second-floor terrace outside the master bedroom gives the owners a chance to enjoy the view in private, an experience Osler describes as feeling like "you're on a boat on the water."
Inside the 3,800-square-foot home, fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom are fashioned of smooth green slate imported from China. The floors are bamboo, with a clear finish that emphasizes the light pouring in from the bay, and the décor is streamlined and sophisticated. "They didn't want heavy furniture with prints and plaids — that's not who they are," says Osler.
And besides, busy fabrics and a mish-mash of color would detract from this stylish home's main attraction: the land and sea that surround it. In the end, says Osler, "There's a lightness to the house that allows a person to have a direct connection to the landscape."