House in Seal Harbor

House in Seal Harbor

Photo: Fuji'iMage/Wayne NT Fuji'i

Faced with the task of building a new residence on the scenic coast of Seal Harbor, Maine-a pristine area which includes Acadia National Park and hosts the summer retreats of prominent families such as the Rockefellers-some architects would feel compelled to mimic the surrounding Victorian shingle-style homes. Not so for architect Peter Forbes. "The most recently built residences are simply copies of the older houses," Forbes says. "For this project we wanted to create something that is conversant with the area without being yet another imitation." The architect's pursuit to reference the vernacular while adding a modern twist has resulted in a house that, while maximizing the views, minimizes the impact on its surroundings.

An overriding aim of the design and construction of the house was to tread as lightly as possible on the rocky coastal land. The house is elevated above the ground to avoid disturbing the vegetation as well as the flow of water that nourishes it. "The environment is extremely fragile," explains Forbes, "Any disturbance on the forest floor will be seen for decades, due to the lack of soil." Even during construction, the architect was wary of the impact on the land and was careful to restrict work zones for builders and machinery.

With a core of structural steel and a facade that graduates from opaque to transparent, the house exploits its natural environment while, at the same time, respecting it. At 6,630-square-feet, this is no cottage, but the architect minimized its bulk and reduced its visual impact through clever camouflaging. In one example, a portion of the dual-winged, multi-level residence has an undulating wall clad in cedar shingles stained to match the lichen on surrounding rocks. The architect also points out that there is no large-scale, grand entrance. "You need to discover the front door," he says.

The program includes two basic zones: the master bedroom, study, and living areas are clustered in one wing, while the other wing contains four guest bedrooms and additional living spaces. In yet another departure from the design of the surrounding homes that commonly suffer from a lack of natural lighting, Forbes connected the two wings with a clerestory walkway. "The house is tall and the clerestory helps to pull down light that is filtered throughout the house," he says. In the living room, glass walls that slide open add to the abundance of natural light and transform the room into an outdoor space. But Forbes did not completely dismiss traditional regional elements. As a nod to the area's pervading architecture, he created private balconies for each bedroom.

The architect describes the house as being a kinetic experience-that is, to truly feel its impact, one must move through it, if only with a glance. For instance, from the back deck one is able to look through the living room, under a staircase, and back outside. It is details like these, Forbes points out, that create a mutually-beneficial relationship between the residence and its site. "Due to the house's layers of transparency," he says, "there is a lot of ambiguity of what is inside and what is outside."

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