This vacation home is not what the clients envisioned when they signed up Blue Hill, Maine-based Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture. According to project architect Eric Reinholdt, the clients, a retired couple, “wanted a pretty traditional-style home.” Instead, they got this 4,830-square-foot gem that references regional vernacular but has clearly defined modern lines. Fortunately, no one's complaining. The clients were clear in their requirements—a shingle-style home big enough to welcome visiting family members. But the architects “decided to present three versions of our ideas as a way of opening up a deeper dialogue about what the building could be,” Reinholdt explains. “It was important that we show them how it could sensitively interact with and complement the site in ways they might not have considered.” The extra effort paid off: The couple chose the design scheme most distant from their original vision.

Although the wedge-shaped lot has almost 300 feet of shoreline, the house isn't a slave to the water. Instead, Reinholdt sited the house along an east-west axis on the southern edge of the property, maximizing views through south- and east-facing windows. “We wanted to exploit all of the site as well as the water,” he explains. “The long axis allows more views of the topography.”

The house is broken into three separate volumes: a garage, a two-story wing for private spaces, and a one-story structure for public areas. A covered walkway links the two-story zone to the garage, and a glass enclosure between the main living wings offers protection from winter chills. Timber framing enables large open spaces, but Reinholdt de-emphasized the structure by concealing connections and eliminating traditional knee braces. “We didn't want the timber frame to be too prominent,” he says.

Natural textures and seasonal color changes influenced the palette of materials. For the exterior, Reinholdt chose a Western red cedar roof, Eastern white cedar shingles, Douglas fir storefront windows and louvers, copper cladding, and granite landscaping walls. “Over time,” he says, “as these materials age, the house will settle into the landscape and become a part of the site.”

The clients might not have gotten the house they originally sought, but Reinholdt says they're happier for it. “I can't tell you how much they love the house,” he says. “For them it was an unexpected result. They never pictured themselves living in such a modern house, but it was successful, and it came together nicely.”

Residence on Blue Hill Bay, Blue Hill, Maine

Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture, Blue Hill

general contractor:
Brian Burgess, BK Burgess Inc., Deer Isle, Maine

project size:
4,830 square feet

site size:
4.2 acres

construction cost:

Brian Vanden Brink