New in the Neighborhood
John Ed and Isabel Anthony faced a common quandary when they bought a cottage in Northeast Harbor: great location, not so great house. Built in the 1930s as a rustic "reading room" for a seaside estate, the place had magnificent views of the Western Way channel but suffered from years of abuse by occupants including, John Ed says, "a healthy population of carpenter ants working it hard."
Rather than rushing to raze the reading room, however, the Anthonys lived in it for several summers, getting a feel for the light, the landscape, and local history.Northeast Harbor is an epicenter of elegant Shingle-style "cottages" built a century or more ago as summer homes for wealthy industrialists. Many were designed by Fred Savage, a celebrated architect who was among the leaders in developing this uniquely American form typified by decoratively shingled exteriors, asymmetry, and fine woodworking.
Taking their time helped the Anthonys realize that they weren't looking for an architect who insisted on channeling Fred Savage. "We didn't want a cliche of a Shingle-style home," Isabel says. "We wanted a more thoughtful and contemporary approach to living space." The couple envisioned a two-bedroom retreat that sat well with the landscape and neighboring homes, offered a secluded perch for watching summer boat traffic, and embraced the spectacular views.
Their vision intrigued Bar Harbor architect Roc Caivano from the moment he sat down with the Anthonys in the old reading room. "Isabel said, 'I kind of like it here,' " Caivano recalls. "They wanted something as simple as the old house they were in - a quiet, gentle place."
Caivano, who has designed buildings in the Mount Desert Island area for more than twenty-five years, asks his clients to use verbs, not nouns, to describe their dream house. "When you use verbs, you don't put labels on spaces, and that opens up all kinds of creative possibilities," he says. Forget static notions like dining room and family room. Think reading, relaxing, and contemplating the sea.
Tranquility emanates from the home Caivano designed for the Anthonys, which nestles into a steep, ledgy lot wedged between road and cliffs. To harmonize the house with its spruce-studded surroundings, he broke up the shingled exterior with dark green lattice, which adds intriguing texture and supports climbing hydrangea and other plants. "I like the landscape to crawl all over the building," Caivano says.
A teak bridge leads to a wide and welcoming entryway sheltered by an eyebrow eave and warmed with vibrant mahogany that glows against the dark green lattice. Inside, the mahogany carries through to a richly paneled foyer that opens into an airy dining room with expansive views of the island-dotted Western Way.
The dining room occupies the space traditionally considered the "great hall" in Shingle-style homes, a decision that reflects Caivano's unique approach and the homeowner's vision for the space. "I think of this room as the reading room, a metaphor for the building's original use," Isabel says.
To bring that light deep into the house, Caivano topped the long span of windows on the ocean-facing south side of the house with transom windows extending to the ceiling. He also designed the cottage's soffits to reflect polarized light from the ocean surface into the living spaces.
Caivano oriented the flow of the rooms by activities that follow the path of the sun. Morning light floods into the kitchen and breakfast room/family room/library in the eastern end of the cottage, the place for drinking coffee and reading the paper on leisurely mornings. A cozy living room with a granite fireplace flanked by window seats occupies the western end of the house, providing the perfect spot for enjoying the sunset and cocktails on cool evenings.
A stairwell at the far end of the living room leads downstairs to a master bedroom and guest room. In contrast to the main floor's openness, the ground floor conveys a sense of shelter, privacy, and intimacy with the landscape.
The home's outdoor living spaces include a graceful curve of deck off the dining room, which affords a bird's eye view of Bear Island, the Cranberry Isles, and Northeast Harbor's nautical comings and goings.
Inside and out flow together in a home that gracefully inhabits the landscape and honors its grand old neighbors with subtle details, an elegant restraint, and attention to craft. "We thought very carefully about every inch of this house, and people feel it when they come through the door," Isabel says. "Roc listened to everything we said and he listened to the land. He did a beautiful job integrating the house, the site, and the clients."