Why bunk under one roof when you and your crew can divide among cozy, self-contained cabins? This foursome on Sebago Lake provides powerful inspiration.
Photographed by Trent Bell
Among the sweetest aspects of overnight camp are the sleeping arrangements: those cozy, wooded cabins filled with friends. The simplicity of the shelters puts the focus on people and the setting, spurring you to forge bonds, tune into the chorus of chirps, hoots, and howls echoing through tall pines, and bask in the pink and orange rays that bookend the day. One Key West-based homeowner who relished her childhood summers at a girls’ camp on Sebago Lake sought to create a similar setup for her family on a neighboring seven-acre plot. “We wanted structures that would melt into the background — what could be better than cabins?” she says of the resulting quartet, designed by New York architects Nancy Holwell and Kyle Page and constructed by Portland’s Wright-Ryan Homes. Crafted of cedar with fieldstone foundations and low, barrel-vaulted roofs, the modernist dwellings appear to rise out of existing granite outcroppings. Massive glass doors further the connection to the site, opening up a corner of each living room to the lake — and companions on the cove.
How did the homeowner manage to find a lakefront plot adjacent to her beloved girlhood camp? Years ago, at a camp reunion, she met the property’s prior owner, who reached out when she was ready to sell. The design team replaced the lot’s four existing cabins, which were in poor condition, with new buildings in essentially the same spots. The owner’s place measures 1,000 square feet and the others, used by family members and longtime summer tenants, are between 700 and 800 square feet. To achieve structures “that don’t scream out, ‘here I am!’” the choice of materials was key, says Patrick Gagne, Wright-Ryan’s superintendent on the project. Stepping the dwellings into the sloped site and crowning them with barrel (versus pitched) copper roofs furthered the low-profile look. Patinaed to the shade of a worn penny, “the metal works with the cedar and stone to camouflage the cabins in the woods,” says Gagne.
Landscaping and masonry: Gnome Landscape, Design, Masonry, & Maintenance
The previous pitched-roof wooden cabins had eight-foot-square screened porches that fronted the lake. “The little leftover area that was the house largely went unused because everyone was sitting on the porch,” says architect Nancy Holwell, who came up with the idea to conflate the indoor and outdoor spaces in the new dwellings. (The owner’s cabin is shown here.) Towering sliding glass doors — and screens, of course — open up two sides of the living/dining room to the elements, allowing it to function as a porch. Interior white oak paneling blends with the exterior cedar and, at the corner of each cabin, a support post rests on a granite boulder, further feathering the structures into their surroundings.
Custom Lift/Roll Doors: Duratherm Window Corporation
In the owner’s cabin (shown), as elsewhere, the dominant palette is pulled from the rock-strewn forest and steel-gray of the lake on a stormy day. To avoid mildew, no drywall was used. Instead, the walls consist of American Clay, a natural clay-plaster with embedded color — in this case ivory — applied over moisture-resistant cement board. The flooring here is limestone tile, while in the other houses it’s porcelain — both materials that can stand up to drippy foot traffic padding in from the lake. Gagne’s team crafted the island to allow the owner’s oak table to partially slide underneath.
Chandelier: Lindsey Adelman Studio; chimney and fireplace: Gnome Landscape, Design, Masonry, & Maintenance; custom oak cabinetry: Wright-Ryan Millwork; limestone backsplash, countertop, and floor tile: Morningstar Stone and Tile
The open walls give the cabins a cabana-like feel and magnify the presence of the surrounding pines, maples, and oaks, inviting their long shadows to decorate the simply furnished living quarters, seen here in a guest cottage. Sunlight and radiant in-floor heating warm the porcelain tile.
Porcelain floor tile: Morningstar Stone and Tile
Each cabin has two bedrooms and a bathroom tucked behind the main living space. Built-in oak cabinetry, seen here in the owner’s cottage, enabled the design team to maximize storage, and seating, in the compact plan.
Custom oak cabinetry: Wright-Ryan Millwork
Here and there, the exterior fieldstone is visible inside the cabins, conjuring the old farmers’ walls that dissipate, then pick up again, along the New England countryside. In the owner’s bathroom, above, the masonry provides a focal point and parking spot for towels.
“I wanted to be able to hear wind and rain, owls, crows, and coyotes in the forest and waves and loons on the lake,” says the owner. Thanks to the cabins’ prime siting and clever cutaway design, those sounds drift in, along with laughter and fond memories from the girls’ camp next door.