A Modern Farmhouse Opens to the Coast

Partner Post: Houzz

Just 15 minutes from Portland, a home offers a connection with nature from every room.

Ocean, sky, wetlands, tidal pools, forest — nature beckons from every room of this custom house on the site of a former saltwater farm. “From the beginning, the clients said, ‘We want this to feel like a summer camp for our kids,’” says Russell Tyson, who designed the home with architect and business partner Rob Whitten of Whitten Architects in Portland. “They wanted a direct relationship with the landscape.” That desire led to a sweeping home spread across the site, with access to the outdoors from every room.

Who lives here: A New York City-based couple and their two young children

Location: 15 minutes outside Portland

Size: Four bedrooms and 3½ bathrooms in the main house, plus guest quarters above the garage

Designers: Russell Tyson and Rob Whitten of Whitten Architects; Todd Richardson and David Maynes of Richardson & Associates (landscape architects); Nadine Cole of Cole Design (interior designer); Gnome Landscape, Design, Masonry, & Maintenance (landscapers and masons)

General contractor: Wright-Ryan Homes

A saltwater farm is a local term for a coastal farm that’s vulnerable to being coated in saltwater by a big wave or storm. Tyson guesses that previous farm owners once grew hay in the large cleared fields.

The house comprises two separate buildings. The main building is designed in a V-shape with an open kitchen-living-dining area stretching north and south at one end. At the other end is the bedroom wing. Each bedroom has a large lift-and-slide door leading to a covered porch and a small loft area under a dormer. A car barn is visible behind the main building. A guest room, bunk room, and full bath fill the top floor of the car barn.

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

The 20- by 50-foot living area is meant to feel “like a big tent at the edge of the field,” Tyson says. When the large lift-and-slide glass doors are open, rolling screen doors can be pulled across to keep out bugs and squirrels. The beams are Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest; almost all of the other materials are local. “We don’t have a high-grade wood in Maine that’s as rot-resistant as good Douglas fir,” he says. The half staircase on the left leads to a mudroom (the cubbies are visible through the window above the fridge) and a landing with doors to the car barn and the front of the house.

Doors: Duratherm Window Corporation; sideboard, coffee table, rug, and patterned pillows: Angela Adams

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

Custom-made white oak planks top the kitchen island. The cabinets are also white oak and the countertops are soapstone. The walls are “nickel gap”— tongue-and-groove boards that leave a gap about the size of a nickel when fitted together. The large window over the sink is stationary and has no sash, which allows for more glass (and a broader view of the water and pitch pine just beyond). The smaller window to the left opens to let in the breeze.

Soapstone countertops: Morningstar Stone and Tile; windows: Marvin Windows & Doors

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

“The big idea was to have the main living space fronted on two sides by very different outdoor living areas,” Tyson says. The eastern side faces the ocean, and has sun and wide-open views, while the western side has an intimate, shaded stone terrace. Large pitch pines planted in the courtyard further connect the building to the surrounding landscape.

A glass walkway next to the courtyard links the main living space to the bedroom wing. “In the afternoon, the winds can really pick up,” Tyson says. “The courtyard is protected from the heavy winds from the ocean, but you can still see the water through the glass hall and the windows in the living room.”

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

“When you have a house that looks out on the ocean, there can be a significant amount of glare, especially if you’re facing south,” Tyson says. “We wanted to provide light from multiple sides of the room to knock down the glare.” In the master bedroom, a lattice wall allows light to pour in from the dormers above. The stairs behind the wall lead to a small loft study. The flooring is roasted red birch.

Floors: A.E. Sampson and Son; Rug: Angela Adams

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

A large window overlooking the ocean fills one wall of the shower in the master bathroom. Plantings outside will grow to partially screen the shower. The floor is slate tile.

Bathroom Tile Ideas for Your Remodel

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

A door in one of the children’s rooms leads to a small, grassy play yard. The ladder connects to a little loft with a dormer window overlooking the ocean, a window seat, and storage. “It’s meant to be like a treehouse up there,” Tyson says. “I wanted to create a spot they could retreat to that would be their own intimate space. A place to read a book or watch a boat on the ocean with binoculars.” The two kids’ bedrooms share a bathroom.

Photo by Trent Bell, original photo on Houzz

The screened porch lies at the southern end of the living area. The fireplace wall connects the outdoor and indoor spaces, with hearths on both sides.

Sunroom Inspo that Connects You With Nature

By Whitten Architects, original photo on Houzz

This site plan shows how the designers set the buildings of the house as close as possible to the wooded area to the west.

Outdoor Fireplace Kits to Keep You Warm at Night


    • Sarah Stebbins

      Steve: Your kind comments always brighten my day. Thank you so much taking the time and I’m glad you enjoyed this story.

  1. Kathleen Green

    Such love and beautiful planning!
    A peaceful surrounding to make everlasting memories to treasure!
    Thanks for sharing!
    A special place to keep a journal, write a book or love story!

  2. This home is a stunning piece of architecture!!! If only I could have a home like that
    to share with my family! Simple yet eloquent!!!!
    Please enjoy everyday you have there…

  3. John

    Absolutely fascinating, superb use of windows/walls

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *