For sisters Annie Gatewood and Meg McDermott, spending the entire summer together in their newly built Maine getaway was not the plan. And yet they’re about to embark upon a repeat performance, husbands included. “Whenever we’re in the tiny village, people ask, very curiously, ‘How’s it going?’” McDermott says. “Everyone knows about the sisters who live together all summer long.”
The siblings, who between them have five children ages 14 to 27, had intended to split their time, with some overlap. However, spurred on by the McDermotts’ early retirement and the husbands’ camaraderie, they decided to give cohabitation a whirl. “It helps that we know the end game,” McDermott says. “Someday Jay and I will inherit my parents’ house, and this will be Annie and Bob’s.”
The 2,300-square-foot house sits on a slice of waterfront about a hundred yards through the woods from the parents’ house, where the sisters spent childhood summers. The land, once part of a 75-acre parcel, was passed down from their great-grandparents, who ran a small sailing camp there. When their parents agreed to deed them 6 acres, they approached the Gatewoods’ longtime friend Phil Kaplan, principal of Portland-based Kaplan Thompson Architects, must-have list in hand.
They made sure the home would have net-zero capability, or the potential to consume zero net energy, opting for high-performance windows, superinsulation, thick walls, and a roof that’s ready for solar panels. As for space allocation, “We knew we wanted two master suites, a screened porch, and a big kitchen,” McDermott says. “Other things, like a woodstove, pizza oven, and garage, were negotiable.” (Given the budget, none of those last options made the cut.) Kaplan sent several initial plans to the Gatewoods, who live in Newton, and the McDermotts, who now live in Arizona. All four parties e-mailed back independently, preferring the same contemporary design.
Kaplan and project manager Robin Tannenbaum recommended siting the structure as close to the water as zoning allowed, integrating it into the landscape on the side of a hill. If they had built at the top of the hill, a deck would have been necessary to link the house to the waterfront land. This concept allows for an immediate connection with the outdoors. Says Kaplan, “They walk out of the house right onto the earth.”
Measuring 75 feet long and 24 feet from front to back, the home follows the coastline, with corresponding indents. The public rooms stretch along the water side, with a layout that accommodates the two families. “While there’s a visual connection from one end to the other, there are spaces to retreat,” Kaplan says.
Anchoring one end, the living room is an intimate spot with a lower ceiling and Baltic birch plywood paneling. The 4-by-8-foot panels on the ceiling and walls, which Tannenbaum worked to align precisely, were an affordable way to introduce the warmth of wood. The treatment also distinguishes the living room from the dining area and contrasts with the troweled-concrete floor. An integrated Baltic birch banquette and custom dining table provide ample seating and circulation space.
The kitchen, where McDermott and her brother-in-law split the cooking, is partially tucked behind a bend across from the birch-faced hemlock stairs to the entry. Kaplan positioned the storage and fridge on the inside wall, reserving the outer one for a large expanse of glass with a view to the water. The counters and angular island are topped with concrete fabricated by a friend of the homeowners. McDermott and Gatewood chose the skinny glass tile backsplash and bold orange stools. “We came up with an orange-and-gray color scheme and stuck with it,” McDermott says.
The screened porch, an exposed structure with a cedar floor and a relaxed, utilitarian vibe, juts out on the other end. Behind the living and dining area are a master suite, guest room, and bath, with the same arrangement on the second floor above the entry and kitchen. The home’s steep roof allows for a third-floor loft, used for overflow.
And overflow it sometimes does. The first year after the house was built, both sisters’ families stayed for Christmas. “All nine of us were there for a week, and it was fine,” McDermott says. “There are enough spots to get away so that we don’t drive each other crazy.”
MORE PHOTOS:Marni Elyse Katz is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.