By Debra Spark
Photographs by Sandy Agrafiotis
While clearing bittersweet off their 4.4-acre property on Portland’s Great Diamond Island, Kathryn Adamchick and Bruce LaPierre kept finding pieces of rusted and corrugated metal in a stone field. They weren’t entirely surprised. Their land had once been quarried for rock and gravel, and it was part of the site of Fort McKinley, a former army base constructed between 1890 and 1910. They owned the base’s surviving brick-and-concrete fire commander tower and intended to incorporate it into their plans for a contemporary home. The relics they were finding reaffirmed their decision to use industrial materials for construction and to position the house so it overlooked the old quarry.
Adamchick and LaPierre built their island vacation home in two stages. In 2004, Portland architect Phil Kaplan designed the two boxy sections at right. The taller is sheathed in translucent Polygal, so it glows softly at night. The other has Corten steel siding, which naturally rusts and then stabilizes, and a galvanized-steel roof. Constructed by South Portland’s Leddy-Houser Associates, the forms comprise a kitchen, bathroom, and two-story living room overlooked by a loft bedroom. In 2017, the couple, who live in St. Louis, extended the structure with an eye toward year-round living. Designed by Jamie Broadbent of Kaplan Thompson Architects and built by Jamie Goduti and Heath Strout of Portland’s Goduti Building Company, the galvanized-steel addition contains a master bedroom and bath and is attached to the original structure by a cedar-clad connector.
To lend the interior warmth, LaPierre and Adamchick chose Douglas fir for the master bedroom ceiling, window frames, doors, and hallway wainscoting. The radiant-heated floors are the same polished concrete that was used in the living room and kitchen. When they lie in bed, the couple can often see the moon through the Lowewen triple-glazed windows above their heads. The bump-out master closet doesn’t extend to the ceiling, lending to the airy feel.
The kitchen is tucked under the loft bedroom. Walls and cabinets are Baltic birch. Gray Bellini chairs surround a Room & Board table with a maple top and steel legs. Though sleek and contemporary, every design choice was made with the site’s history and ruggedness in mind. “I love the land,” Adamchick says. “I love the rawness.”
Having spent a few summers at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, LaPierre and Adamchick initially planned for a boatbuilding workshop with a small living space. Although their focus shifted, their original impulse is still alive in the living room, which has double doors, big enough to accommodate a boat, on both ends. Adamchick found the Mobil Oil Pegasus sign in upstate New York. The slatted coffee table, from the Herman Miller furniture company, is a design of the late George Nelson, an influential mid-century modern architect and industrial designer. The paper-yarn carpet is from Woodnotes, a Finnish company.
Fire Commander Station
Built atop a raised ledge, the fire commander station, which once housed equipment used to plot coordinates for firing mines into Casco Bay, has spectacular views. The original wood floor was in disrepair and had to be replaced, but the brick and concrete are original. Hundreds of 2½-inch glass discs, which have tinted purple over time, are embedded in the reinforced concrete roof, allowing light in without letting much out. Adamchick and LaPierre have variously used this space as a guest bedroom, office, and catering station for parties on the original house’s rooftop deck, which can be reached from the commander tower via a bridge constructed of steel beams, stainless-steel rods, and cedar rails. A walkway below connects to the sleeping loft