ABOVE The board-and-batten pine siding on Hannah and Aja DiGirolamo’s Camden home came from their property.
TEXT BY JESSE ELLISON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JEFF ROBERTS
On a hilltop above Camden’s Megunticook Lake, Aja and Hannah DiGirolamo’s 1,400-square-foot home stands as a monument to the magic of happy accidents. The couple, who met while working aboard the schooner Timberwind, in Rockport, bought their two-and-a-quarter-acre property on a whim in 2019. They’d been looking for a house in Newport, Rhode Island, where the yachts they work on — she as a chef, he as an engineer — are based. But during a visit to the midcoast, where Aja grew up, he saw the wooded Camden lot listed online and went to take a look. Next thing they knew, they owned it.
“Small, super simple, and low maintenance” were their design watchwords, Hannah says. They wanted a place they could walk away from for months at a time, when work required it, and an aesthetic as streamlined as a boat. Initially, they worked with an architect, but he kept suggesting they put in closets. “We’re like, ‘No, we want it to be as basic as possible,’” Hannah says. “We just feel more at home when everything has its place and you don’t get to collect too much stuff.”
ABOVE 1) An antique bench in the entry picks up the front door’s verdant shade: Fresh Sod by Dunn-Edwards. 2) A colorful flour sack conceals an electric panel in the entry; the bureau is from Crate & Barrel. 3) In a kitchen corner, a table from Amazon, sized for the couple’s daughter, Luna, sits beneath a mobile composed of driftwood and palm-frond birds, that Hannah made.
Using the gabled shape the architect proposed, they finished the design themselves, carving out an open kitchen/living room and a large bath on the first floor, and a pair of bedrooms above. They eschewed an attic and a basement for energy efficiency and to cut down on areas for clutter to accumulate, and designed a steeply pitched, south-facing roof with solar panels in mind. A curtained utility/pantry space beneath the stairs and a built-in wardrobe with slatted wooden doors in their bedroom are the closest they got to closets.
They poured the slab foundation early in the spring of 2020, six months after welcoming their daughter, Luna. Then the pandemic shut down the yachting industry. “Everyone told us it would be really hard to build our own house, but it was like that, and having a newborn and then COVID at the same time,” Hannah says. “We have very few pictures from when we were building and we’re like, ‘That’s ok. We don’t need to remember.’”
ABOVE 1) Dishes from makers such as Camden’s ANK Ceramics and Union’s Monohanako decorate a kitchen shelf; the rattan pendant is from IKEA and the brass sconces are from Wayfair. Friends gave the couple a Liebherr fridge with a built-in wine cooler, which they paired with a Viking stove. “I’m coming from yachts,” says Hannah, a chef. “I’m spoiled by good appliances.” 2) In the living room, the couple chose a sofa and chair with fade- and stain-resistant fabric from Crate & Barrel’s patio line; the cow-hide rug was a gift from a friend. A print of N.C. Wyeth’s Island Funeral and a watercolor Hannah picked up in the Caribbean hang above.
It took roughly 18 months to complete the build with help from family and friends. With their livelihoods in question, they cut corners wherever they could — using discounted pine, cracked in spots and missing knots, from a local mill for the downstairs flooring and pine cleared from their land for the upstairs floors and board-and-batten siding. They planned to install an IKEA kitchen, but when they were ready to order, supply-chain issues had hit, and the components were sold out. Fortunately, work had picked up again, and then, happy accident number two happened: Aja’s cousin sold a Subaru to carpenter Brian Spinks, who had recently moved to the midcoast from Brooklyn and was looking for projects. Aja called him up, and Spinks and Hannah worked together to design a cookspace with 363⁄4 -inch-tall white-oak countertops (as opposed to the standard 36 inches) that are comfortable for Hannah, who is six feet tall, to stand at, open shelves, and wide drawers with beveled edges instead of pulls. Illuminated with unkitcheny brass swing-arm sconces and a rattan pendant, the space is Hannah’s favorite part of the house.
ABOVE 1) Hannah and Aja furnished Luna’s room with a Spot On Square bed, found on Facebook Marketplace, a Crate & Kids bureau, and a painting by Aja’s grandmother. 2) A soaking tub lends luxury to the bath, whose mottled walls are finished in limewash. 3) A whimsical toy basket, a vintage loveseat from a friend, and a painting by Aja’s aunt enliven a corner of Luna’s room.
From the reclaimed-wood kitchen table Hannah found on Facebook Marketplace, the family can catch glimpses of the sun dipping behind the lake through the bare trees in winter. In summer, when their road gets busy with tourists and the lakeside camps host crowds, curtains of green fill the windows in the tidy living space, hiding them away. “It’s pretty perfect,” Hannah says. And perfectly shipshape.