Homes

David Lee's Storybook Cottage in Boothbay
David Lee’s Storybook Cottage in Boothbay, clad in chunky oak shakes and rolled roofing shaped to resemble slate.

Fantasyland

Artist-builder David Lee hopes you’ll find your happily ever after in an efficient, escapist cottage like the one he recently finished in Boothbay. 

TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL D. WILSON
David Lee's Storybook Cottage in Boothbay
David Lee’s Storybook Cottage in Boothbay, clad in chunky oak shakes and rolled roofing shaped to resemble slate.

Fantasyland

Artist-builder David Lee hopes you’ll find your happily ever after in an efficient, escapist cottage like the one he recently finished in Boothbay. 

TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL D. WILSON

David Lee
The mastermind poses between colored-glass sconces in the kitchen. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.

Tucked away on a shady Boothbay plot, there is a home that might just as easily have sprung from the pages of a Grimm’s fairy tale as a mid-2000s subdivision. Precipitously gabled, with rooflines that balloon out as though drawing deep breaths, a wooden turret painted to mimic stone, rough-hewn, oak-shake cladding that resembles scales, and small, arched windows and doors, the house and its attached garage curve around a little paved courtyard where you half expect to see a band of merry dwarfs come parading through.

Dubbed (what else?) Storybook Cottage, the 2,200-square-foot property is the result of 18 months of painstaking work by East Boothbay’s David Lee, who’s designed and hand-built 21 similar houses in Maine and elsewhere over the last four decades, including his own. “I chose this style because I had some ideas about homebuilding that I wanted to use, and this style accommodates those best,” Lee says, standing beside a lime-green door plastered with carved wood “dragon-wing hinges.” He’s referring to the Storybook style, which was briefly popular in 1920s California after a crooked “Witch’s House,” created for a Hollywood set, was sold as a residence. “What I’m trying to do is to get people to build their own homes, their dream homes.”

Tucked away on a shady Boothbay plot, there is a home that might just as easily have sprung from the pages of a Grimm’s fairy tale as a mid-2000s subdivision. Precipitously gabled, with rooflines that balloon out as though drawing deep breaths, a wooden turret painted to mimic stone, rough-hewn, oak-shake cladding that resembles scales, and small, arched windows and doors, the house and its attached garage curve around a little paved courtyard where you half expect to see a band of merry dwarfs come parading through.

David Lee
The mastermind poses between colored-glass sconces in the kitchen. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.

Dubbed (what else?) Storybook Cottage, the 2,200-square-foot property is the result of 18 months of painstaking work by East Boothbay’s David Lee, who’s designed and hand-built 21 similar houses in Maine and elsewhere over the last four decades, including his own. “I chose this style because I had some ideas about homebuilding that I wanted to use, and this style accommodates those best,” Lee says, standing beside a lime-green door plastered with carved wood “dragon-wing hinges.” He’s referring to the Storybook style, which was briefly popular in 1920s California after a crooked “Witch’s House,” created for a Hollywood set, was sold as a residence. “What I’m trying to do is to get people to build their own homes, their dream homes.”

ABOVE Colored-glass “elf money” and plastic beads adorn a turret window in the cottage. Medieval doors, with their heavy hinges, inspire Lee’s maximalist versions. The spruce-beamed entry features decorative chimney stones peeking through plaster, a rolled-roofing floor painted to simulate tile, and handcrafted pine furnishings.

For Lee, “dream home” means one that is not only fantastical, but energy-efficient and durable, with innovative materials, like the thick oak shakes that hold heat in, and systems, like an emergency water tank that uses gravity to keep pipes flowing when the power goes out. A house, in other words, like he wishes he’d grown up in. His father couldn’t improve his family’s Vermont shack, Lee says, because he was repeatedly “ripped off” by contractors and didn’t possess the necessary DIY skills. To escape, Lee would peruse the illustrations in fairy tales. “To me, a nice house meant living like a king in a castle, only maybe one of the outlying castles where they’d send the princess when she’s pregnant.”

In the latest product of his imagination, pine-and-colored-glass sconces cast a kaleidoscopic aura over half-timbered walls and low-beamed ceilings, which still carry the aroma of freshly cut wood. A rainbow patchwork of hand-painted “tile” decorates the rolled-roofing “forever floor” — named, by Lee, for its durability — in several rooms. Gem-like, colored-glass “elf money” and an elaborate diorama depicting wizards and royalty cavorting in a miniature castle animate windows. And, in an upstairs bedroom, a twin bed fairly floats on ropes suspended from ceiling joists.

In 2014, Lee and his wife, Jenny, published a book, Creative Home Improvement, intended to help others build houses like his. And Lee hopes to one day start a Storybook-style school, but some of the innovations he would like to discuss, like his wood-fueled heating system involving a repurposed 250-gallon oil drum encased in a central chimney, are the reasons Storybook Cottage had not been occupancy-certified at press time — a snag that caused Lee to abandon efforts to sell the house for now. (The Boothbay code enforcement officer did not return requests for comment.)

The problems are frustrating, Lee says, because he believes his methods offer people a practical, eco-friendly way to achieve a beautiful home without going into debt hiring contractors like his father did. “I’m designing Storybook Houses,” he says, “because I think they are the homes of the future.”


4 Comments

  1. Shawn

    I’m 52 and will probably never own my own home but I’ve always loved this style and I really love the hobbit homes!

    • Brigitte

      I hear you, Shawn – I’m 54, and I’ll never own my own home either, but just seeing houses like this make me happy. 🙂

  2. Annette Para

    What is the price please?

    • Abby Hilt

      Hi Annette! At this time, the home is still not occupancy-certified, which has prevented the owner from putting it up for sale.

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