Pond House boasts what may be the granddaddy of all grandfathered locations. Its site, on the shore of Mount Desert Island, Maine, borders an inlet enclosed with an earthen dike that forms a saltwater “pond” for swimming.

“The tide can roll in there, and the owners can dam it up, or they can let it flow freely,” says principal-in-charge Matt Elliott, AIA, of the unique site work, which dates from the laissez-faire 1950s. In designing this family compound, which replaces a structurally unsound building from the same era, Elliott and project architect Eric Reinholdt drew on the imagery of wharves and fishing shacks that the site suggested, subtly refracting those Down East archetypes through a distinctly modernist lens.

Distributing a classic summer cottage program among three buildings, joined by decks, Elliott and Reinholdt reinforced the impression of a shorefront village deeply entwined with its site. “The decks act as a way to mediate between the structures and the landscape,” Elliott says. The buildings—a central living pavilion flanked by a master suite cottage to the north and a separate two-bedroom pavilion to the south—wear the original Yankee uniform: steep roofs, tight overhangs, and cedar shingles over everything.

Closer inspection yields clues that all is not flinty tradition here: slender stainless steel railings; yachty varnished mahogany doors; a center chimney clad in lead-coated copper rather than brick. And as the compound turns toward the water, the rural New England vernacular admits gestures of more overt modernism. Wide sliding doors open onto cantilevered decks. The main pavilion perches over the water on two neat rows of piers X-braced with steel rods.

The level of abstraction jumps several notches at the interior, where brushed stainless steel columns, restrained with steel tie rods, transmit roof loads to the piers below. The exposed structural elements, which recall sailboat spars and rigging, permit the large wall openings while intruding minimally in the space overhead. Fir wall and ceiling paneling emphasizes the vertical dimension of the simple Monopoly-house volume. Piercing its core is a sculptural fireplace assembly that pairs a rough granite-boulder hearth with a chimney that descends from the ceiling’s peak.

The contrast between outdoors and indoors is striking. “You see this sort of fishing village complex of buildings,” Elliott says, “and you walk inside and see something entirely different.” But threads, both direct and implied, connect the two. The fir paneling and pine flooring are traditional cabin materials; the granite hearth is a chunk of the very bedrock that underpins this island; even the highest-tech bits were fabricated by local tradespeople. And every glance toward the water will remind the owners of what this building is about. “That was our starting point,” Reinholdt says. “We took it to a different place, but we kept it rooted in Maine.”

Project Pond House
Architect Elliott + Elliott Architecture, Blue Hill, Maine
General contractor Mike Temple, Hampden, Maine
Structural engineer Becker Structural Engineers, Portland, Maine
Landscape architectRichardson & Associates, Saco, Maine
Interior designer Gary Ruff Interiors, Moorestown, N.J.
Project size 2,768 square feet
Site 17 acres
Construction cost Withheld