Photo courtesy Brian Vanden Brink
When architect Robert Knight designed a new home for clients in Maine, his inspiration for the design was the nineteenth century New England connected farmhouse, which he interpreted in a modern way. Several somewhat playful elements such as windows high up on interior walls between rooms, a long rectangular swimming pool and angled porches make this a truly unique and charming residence.
Knight explains how the process began. "When the owners hired me, they lived in a modernist house in New Jersey and they wanted a contemporary building. They didn't want a copy of a nineteenth century building, but they wanted something that seemed to speak more of New England than New Jersey. I suggested, since it sort of fit the program, to use as a model the kind of connected New England farmhouse from the nineteenth century, but to update it with much more contemporary detailing. We did this mostly by making things very severe on the outside, much more severe than a late nineteenth century farmhouse would have been. I don't think anybody looking at this building would think that it is an old building. It's very crisp."
"Many architects are tempted by the abstract qualities of New England farmhouses and I think probably anybody that practices in New England has tried to do a contemporary version of the classic white clapboard New England farmhouse because it does abstract nicely. My objection to a lot of those contemporary versions of these old buildings is that they get a little too simple. People get entranced with building a box that has only one window on the south side because it's such a wonderful abstraction, but it doesn't really work very well if you're living in the house and you want to see out. This is a beautiful site and people come to Maine because it's beautiful here, so we put a lot of windows in the house. We used a lot of double hung windows, which are a design element from that style of architecture."
The connected farmhouse is an architectural design that is seen throughout New England, and is characterized by different buildings that are somehow connected. Knight's version is a contemporary interpretation of that design. He explains, "The house is really in three parts. When looking at the front of the house, the building on the left is the main house which has a master bedroom, a primary guest bedroom and two bathrooms upstairs, and a kitchen, library, living room and dining space downstairs. There is also a mudroom or pantry space. That is the main house."
"The simpler building on the right is guest space for when family comes to visit. It has two bedrooms and a large space on top that can be a kind of rumpus room for grandchildren or more sleeping space if necessary. The idea was that when the homeowners are there by themselves, they can simply forget about the guest house and not have to walk through the empty rooms."
The two buildings are connected with what Knight calls a low connector, which is a long room which attaches, or connects the two buildings. It is the room you walk through to get from the main house to the guest house. This room serves as a sunroom and has a long, rectangular lap pool and lots of windows. Knight explains, "The roof windows above the pool are all fixed glass, but the windows on the walls all open up so that you get cross ventilation. In the summer it is very much like being outside. The façade of the pool connector faces south, and the north side faces the river. We put a lot of glass on the north side as well as the south side. It's not very energy efficient, but in the summertime when the pool gets used a lot for recreation, we wanted it to be a very light-filled space. That's why we put as much glass on the roof as we did, to get a lot of sunlight."
One of the interesting features of the house is its angled porches. Knight explains, "The angles are there because the two buildings are angled to maximize the views up and down the river. To fill in the angles on both buildings, we put in screened porches."
The interior of the house has been designed with a very pale palette, but it is anything but boring. Knight explains, "The clients have an interesting collection of American artifacts, so they wanted a house that has a very neutral feeling inside so that the objects they put on the shelves will stand out. So we used a very cool palette of colors such as blonde floors, light gray trim and white walls. That's pretty much it. So any real color stands out."
"We worked pretty closely with the clients to get this very cool, restrained interior, but I think it's also a lot of fun inside. I don't really like houses where you walk in the front door and in the first few seconds, you can see everything that there is to see. I think houses should reveal themselves a little bit at a time." This house does that. With every turn around a corner or glance in an odd direction, there is some charming element that pleasantly captures the eye. Those are the things that make this a very unique and special home.
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