Most of the time, it's important to leave enough room to grow. And other times - like when you're designing a home on a small peninsula - you do the best you can with the space you're given. When Van Dam Architecture began drawing up plans for one Kennebunkport residence, Maine Department of Environmental Protection regulations dictated that the new house stay entirely within the outline of the existing foundation, which had previously supported a dilapidated house built in the early 1970s.
Containment, rather than expansion, became the focus. However, the clients wouldn't have to worry about bumping their heads on low ceilings or squeezing through too-small door frames. While the height and volume of the previous structure would remain the same, the architects were committed to the clients' program - an open, spacious plan with plenty of light and water views. Architect Sam Van Dam has years of experience designing within state-regulated site guidelines. "For many of the residences that we've designed or renovated on the coast, there are usually clearly defined restrictions on how much you can add," says Van Dam. The firm went to work, honoring both the state regulations and the clients' vision.
The 3,200 square feet area includes three bedrooms and four bathrooms. "We put a lot of emphasis on the size," says Van Dam. "The auxiliary spaces are more modest, while the high ceilings are able to capture long views of the ocean." With nearly every room boasting a view of the ocean or the surrounding salt marsh, it's hard to feel cramped in any part of the home. "For each space, we had to be very careful about how it was furnished," says Van Dam. "We had to make sure that each dimension fit with the intended purpose and had the desired effect. For example, a bedroom can be modest in size as long as it can accommodate the bed, a desk, some storage space." This careful compartmentalizing allowed the open floor plan to succeed, Van Dam says.
With the living space taken care of, the focus shifted to accommodating the clients' possessions. "We invoked a 'ship-like' mentality when it came to storage," says Van Dam. This method allows everything to exist in its rightful place. For example, the clients' extensive collection of Asian art is displayed on built-in shelves throughout the living space. The final effect suggests a deliberate and well-chosen exhibit rather than an awkward afterthought. The beautifully wrought staircase, a trademark of the firm's residential designs, also helps open up the space. "Stairs, to me, are all about motion," says Van Dam. "The whole purpose of this particular stair is to allow light into the lower level." The stair functions as a passageway for the light, which filters down to fill the kitchen.
The site itself left the firm with some unwritten requirements, especially the ledge and clay soil topography and the harsh climate of the coastal site. "Good houses are about trying to do the best to deal with weather," says Van Dam. "For Maine, the weather is more severe than Cape Cod. There is always the potential for storm damage, you have colder temperatures, you have to deal with ice." The house is roofed with highly durable lead-coated copper, allowing it to serve as a year-round retreat for the clients. The windows have vinyl covering and require little maintenance. The walls are composed of white cedar shingles, which Van Dam characterizes as "certainly more of a statement," yet the overall effect remains consistent with the neighboring houses. While acknowledging the difficulty of defining things by one style, Van Dam says,"I would classify this as a modern house with a nod to Shingle Style."
The design was completed in 2005. "We heard later that a friend of the owner's saw it from his boat and said it looked as if it had always been there," says Van Dam. For an architect of a coastal residence, it must be nice to hear that the outside world also approves of the view. Doing the best you can with what you've got never looked better.
Van Dam Architecture & Designvandam@vandamdesign.com www.vandamdesign.com