Homes

Inside Out

On Vinalhaven, design ingenuity immerses a New York couple in their wild, waterfront plot.

TEXT BY AMY SUTHERLAND
PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRETA RYBUS
Architects Maria Berman and Brad Horn’s Vinalhaven home

ABOVE Architects Maria Berman and Brad Horn’s Vinalhaven home draws on New England’s connected farmhouse tradition, with Cape and Saltbox forms linked by a soaring screened porch. 

Maria Berman loves the ocean, but her husband, Brad Horn, loves the woods. Which explains why, for years, the New York architects searched unsuccessfully for somewhere to build a summer home. Cape Cod, Long Island, coastal Rhode Island — all were lovely, but didn’t fit the bill. Then, desperate to leave the city during a 2008 heat wave, Berman stumbled on an internet listing for a rental on Vinalhaven, a Maine island she’d never heard of.

The couple fell hard for the slab of granite spiked with evergreens in Penobscot Bay and returned summer after summer. When they learned a virgin lot, a former pasture that had grown wild, was available along a bluff on Crockett Cove, they snapped it up. Though the pair had designed scads of new houses for clients through their firm, Berman Horn Studio, they’d never designed one of their own.

When they got to work, questions about how to give guests a measure of privacy and prioritize the lofty cove view began to shape the entire project. Their answer: a contemporary riff on a New England connected farmhouse with an open-plan main house at one end and a small guest cottage at the other. Joining the shingled wings is a grand screened porch — its lightweight aluminum frame fabricated by Rockport Steel — that allows for clear views, straight through the structure, to the water. “At the end of the night, we say goodbye to our guests and we each walk across the 15-foot stretch back to our sides of the house,” Horn says. “It’s a nice ritual.”

ABOVE 1) In the kitchen, loosely draped string lights, fitted with various types of bulbs to resemble flotsam caught in nets, add economical illumination and a sense of fun. A weathered-wood table from Vinalhaven’s Marsten House and vintage chairs fairly float atop birch floors coated in glossy deck paint. 2) A vintage Isamu Noguchi paper lantern illuminates the room, whose fresh-green notes on the door, vintage rocking chair, kilim-like World Market rug, and headboard the couple designed pick up the lush surroundings.

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A burled-fruitwood chest and gilded mirror, flanked with 1950s French metal chairs from Marston House

ABOVE 1) Berman and Horn lean against an inconspicuous guesthouse door. 2) A cinderblock chimney, ladder to a sleeping loft, and paper-seagull kite accentuate the living area’s lofty scale. The 19th-century daybed and coffee table/trunk and 1970s sofa are from flea markets and resale shops Berman, who created the large painting, frequents. 3) A burled-fruitwood chest and gilded mirror, flanked with 1950s French metal chairs from Marston House, face the guesthouse bed. 4) The screened-porch entrance to the guesthouse belies the expansiveness inside.

Outfitted with 1960s metal patio furniture, an Ikea dining table base paired with a cedar top Horn made, and garlands of string lights that echo the starry canopy, the porch allows Berman and Horn to essentially live under the sky “without spraying ourselves with DEET,” she says. As for the seagull droppings neighbors predicted would splatter the transparent ceiling? They haven’t materialized, a blessing Maria Berman credits to the ospreys and bald eagles that haunt the property.

Two massive aluminum-frame French doors open onto the porch from the kitchen. The couple didn’t want to obstruct that view, or the panorama framed in a bank of ocean-facing windows with central pop-outs that line the southwestern wall. So they reduced the kitchen to a shallow pantry and workhorse of an island fitted out with storage, a sink, small refrigerator, stovetop, and an oven — an everything-within-easy-reach solution that facilitates socializing and group cooking. “We wanted to create a space where everyone gathers to cook and faces each other, like they do at a great dinner party,” Berman says.

exterior of guesthouse and main house connected by a screened porch

ABOVE “We didn’t want the house to block the openness” of the site, says Berman. “By pulling the guesthouse away, we broke up the volume and maintained a view corridor to the water.”

Building the house took Vinalhaven’s PC Builders 18 months. In the meantime, Berman and Horn began stockpiling painted and natural-wood American and French antiques from Marston House on Vinalhaven, flea markets, and even the town dump. The “old stuff,” as Maria Berman calls it, balances the structure’s contemporary leanings, from pervasive white surfaces that defer to the exterior blues and greens to a towering cinderblock fireplace in the living room. Outside, they’ve replaced the perennials they initially planted, only to watch them succumb to meager acidic soil, with American Meadows’ Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix: asters, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, cosmos, and milkweed that grow, along with native grasses and a few weeds, in great tangles that converge with the surrounding birches, spruces, and huckleberry bushes.

The couple now visits Vinalhaven year-round and has discovered they love the island even in the throes of winter. They’ve also discovered that their biggest design gambles — the porch and the pared-down kitchen — really work, Berman says. “We love our indoor-outdoor life here.”

Inside Out

On Vinalhaven, design ingenuity immerses a New York couple in their wild, waterfront plot.

Architects Maria Berman and Brad Horn’s Vinalhaven home

ABOVE Architects Maria Berman and Brad Horn’s Vinalhaven home draws on New England’s connected farmhouse tradition, with Cape and Saltbox forms linked by a soaring screened porch. 

TEXT BY AMY SUTHERLAND
PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRETA RYBUS

Maria Berman loves the ocean, but her husband, Brad Horn, loves the woods. Which explains why, for years, the New York architects searched unsuccessfully for somewhere to build a summer home. Cape Cod, Long Island, coastal Rhode Island — all were lovely, but didn’t fit the bill. Then, desperate to leave the city during a 2008 heat wave, Berman stumbled on an internet listing for a rental on Vinalhaven, a Maine island she’d never heard of.

The couple fell hard for the slab of granite spiked with evergreens in Penobscot Bay and returned summer after summer. When they learned a virgin lot, a former pasture that had grown wild, was available along a bluff on Crockett Cove, they snapped it up. Though the pair had designed scads of new houses for clients through their firm, Berman Horn Studio, they’d never designed one of their own.

ABOVE 1) In the kitchen, loosely draped string lights, fitted with various types of bulbs to resemble flotsam caught in nets, add economical illumination and a sense of fun. A weathered-wood table from Vinalhaven’s Marsten House and vintage chairs fairly float atop birch floors coated in glossy deck paint. 2) A vintage Isamu Noguchi paper lantern illuminates the room, whose fresh-green notes on the door, vintage rocking chair, kilim-like World Market rug, and headboard the couple designed pick up the lush surroundings.

When they got to work, questions about how to give guests a measure of privacy and prioritize the lofty cove view began to shape the entire project. Their answer: a contemporary riff on a New England connected farmhouse with an open-plan main house at one end and a small guest cottage at the other. Joining the shingled wings is a grand screened porch — its lightweight aluminum frame fabricated by Rockport Steel — that allows for clear views, straight through the structure, to the water. “At the end of the night, we say goodbye to our guests and we each walk across the 15-foot stretch back to our sides of the house,” Horn says. “It’s a nice ritual.”

Outfitted with 1960s metal patio furniture, an Ikea dining table base paired with a cedar top Horn made, and garlands of string lights that echo the starry canopy, the porch allows Berman and Horn to essentially live under the sky “without spraying ourselves with DEET,” she says. As for the seagull droppings neighbors predicted would splatter the transparent ceiling? They haven’t materialized, a blessing Maria Berman credits to the ospreys and bald eagles that haunt the property.

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ABOVE 1) Berman and Horn lean against an inconspicuous guesthouse door. 2) A cinderblock chimney, ladder to a sleeping loft, and paper-seagull kite accentuate the living area’s lofty scale. The 19th-century daybed and coffee table/trunk and 1970s sofa are from flea markets and resale shops Berman, who created the large painting, frequents. 3) A burled-fruitwood chest and gilded mirror, flanked with 1950s French metal chairs from Marston House, face the guesthouse bed. 4) The screened-porch entrance to the guesthouse belies the expansiveness inside.

Two massive aluminum-frame French doors open onto the porch from the kitchen. The couple didn’t want to obstruct that view, or the panorama framed in a bank of ocean-facing windows with central pop-outs that line the southwestern wall. So they reduced the kitchen to a shallow pantry and workhorse of an island fitted out with storage, a sink, small refrigerator, stovetop, and an oven — an everything-within-easy-reach solution that facilitates socializing and group cooking. “We wanted to create a space where everyone gathers to cook and faces each other, like they do at a great dinner party,” Berman says.

exterior of guesthouse and main house connected by a screened porch

ABOVE “We didn’t want the house to block the openness” of the site, says Berman. “By pulling the guesthouse away, we broke up the volume and maintained a view corridor to the water.”

Building the house took Vinalhaven’s PC Builders 18 months. In the meantime, Berman and Horn began stockpiling painted and natural-wood American and French antiques from Marston House on Vinalhaven, flea markets, and even the town dump. The “old stuff,” as Maria Berman calls it, balances the structure’s contemporary leanings, from pervasive white surfaces that defer to the exterior blues and greens to a towering cinderblock fireplace in the living room. Outside, they’ve replaced the perennials they initially planted, only to watch them succumb to meager acidic soil, with American Meadows’ Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix: asters, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, cosmos, and milkweed that grow, along with native grasses and a few weeds, in great tangles that converge with the surrounding birches, spruces, and huckleberry bushes.

The couple now visits Vinalhaven year-round and has discovered they love the island even in the throes of winter. They’ve also discovered that their biggest design gambles — the porch and the pared-down kitchen — really work, Berman says. “We love our indoor-outdoor life here.”

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