Photo courtesy Brian Vanden Brink
John Cole was a partner at a large commercial architectural firm in Boston, MA, doing residential design work on the side. When he was approached by one of his commercial clients and asked to design a lakefront vacation home in Maine, he welcomed the opportunity. This project, the Classic Camp, became the turning point for Cole, redirecting his career towards doing residential work exclusively.
This charming waterfront residence was built on the site of a former boys' camp on Pleasant Lake in western Maine and Cole considers it an example of his signature style.
"The twin gables are the thing that sets the house off," explains Cole. "The big roof, I think, subliminally conveys a sense of shelter that people react to, and the natural materials blend in with the surrounding woods. Red cedar shingles and green trim is sort of the classic Maine Camp, and I was trying to stay within that vocabulary but freshen it up a bit so there's a little extra trim here and there. You see things in profile that give it a silhouette against the sky, which makes it instantly recognizable."
There is a sense of rustic elegance in this home that is accentuated by the use of natural wood inside. Cole explains, "We used a lot of recycled timber. Heart pine beams came from an old barn in upstate New York. All the interior woodwork and flooring is reclaimed fir that was locally milled which gives it a warm glow. There's a patina to old wood and you see old knots and nail holes. It's not meant to be perfect."
Attention to detail is one of the things that set Cole's Classic Camp apart from a typical Maine Camp house. "There are a lot of people who build in that vernacular," explains Cole. "I think what makes this different is the attention to detail and the scale. The choice of materials is beyond what you'd find in a more standard contractor version." Aside from the extensive use of recycled wood, there are other unique touches such as soapstone counters, a fireplace keystone that came from the lake, and kitchen tiles hand-painted with loons and blue herons.
The house has three bedrooms, a study and a Great Room, which is a living room, dining room and kitchen all together. There is a screened porch and an open porch and many interior spaces that link the inside and outside. Cole explains, "The public spaces tend to be open so there's a lot of social interaction. There are also a lot of indoor-outdoor connections to take advantage of views to the lake, the White Mountains, or a specimen tree and these make people feel connected to the outdoors. After all, that's why they're there."
The homeowners are apparently "ardent naturalists," which makes the home a perfect fit. "It was very important for them to have places to observe the natural world throughout the day. There's a sitting area in the staircase, a breakfast nook, and two bay windows on the front side of the house so you can sit in any one of those four places during the course of the day and follow the sun around the house and see different vistas. There is a lot of beautiful wildlife to observe, everything from bald eagles to voles."
The home was very thoughtfully placed on the land, which is likely the reason why Cole notices that, "A lot of people say this house looks like it was always there."
"There was a clearing on the site, and in fact there were no trees cut down to put this house on the land. There is one old tree that we particularly wanted to preserve and the house is actually centered on that tree. That tree is in the middle of a circular driveway, and you can draw a straight line from that tree through the middle of the house, through the front door and the back door and down to the lake. So there's a sight line all the way through the house. And then there are two trees in the front which anchor the house on the water side. So there are actually three trees that the house is set between - the two in the front frame it, and the one in the back creates an axis from the driveway all the way to the water."
The project took about two years to complete, from the start of design to the day the homeowners moved in and not only are they extremely happy with it, but others seem to fall in love with it as well. Cole adds, "The emotional responses that people get to that house I cannot fathom. It just seems to strike a chord."
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