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    Your Home | Summer Living

    Sisters build a relaxed summer retreat in coastal Maine

    In the woods and near the water, the cheery and energy-efficient house sits on land passed down by their grandparents.

    Architect Phil Kaplan used a combination of natural cedar shingles and pine clapboard stained dark blue for the home’s exterior. A low retaining wall made from rocks found on the site defines the back terrace.
    Irvin serrano
    Architect Phil Kaplan used a combination of natural cedar shingles and pine clapboard stained dark blue for the home’s exterior. A low retaining wall made from rocks found on the site defines the back terrace.

    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.

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    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.

    The screened porch was built from low-cost materials, including exterior-grade particleboard for the ceiling. Beyond the door, a large rock outcropping provides a focal point.
    irvin serrano
    The screened porch was built from low-cost materials, including exterior-grade particleboard for the ceiling. Beyond the door, a large rock outcropping provides a focal point.

    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.”

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    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.

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    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:

    Julia Gatewood, daughter of Annie and Bob, relaxes near the dining area (below). The double flight of stairs leads to the second-floor bedrooms and third-floor loft.
    irvin serrano
    Julia Gatewood, daughter of Annie and Bob, relaxes near the dining area (below). The double flight of stairs leads to the second-floor bedrooms and third-floor loft.

    A hydraulic lift swings the triple-glazed window in the pass-through between the kitchen and porch up and out of the way.
    Erin Little
    A hydraulic lift swings the triple-glazed window in the pass-through between the kitchen and porch up and out of the way.

    Jay McDermott reads on the living room sofa while Meg  McDermott works at the dining table.
    Erin little
    Jay McDermott reads on the living room sofa while Meg McDermott works at the dining table.

    Marni Elyse Katz is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.