"The Damariscotta Region"
Quaint towns and coastal scenery follow an oyster-rich river to the sea
Twelve miles from where the Damariscotta River meets the sea, the town of Damariscotta is the gateway to a. region rich in history and significant to Maine’s marine ecosystem. The word damariscotta is a rough approximation of an Algonquian word meaning “place of many fish,” a reference to the thousands of tiny alewives that annually travel upstream from the river into Great Salt Bay, and then spawn in freshwater Damariscotta Lake. Two hundred years ago, a fish ladder (now the country’s oldest) was built to enable the alewives to bypass the mill structures that separated the bay from the lake. Brined and smoked, the fish have their fans at the Alewives Festival, held every Memorial Day weekend, but far more popular are the region’s oysters, prized across the country for the flavor imparted by the cold, clean water in which they grow. In fact, the historic Whaleback and Glidden shell middens (large mounds) show that oysters have been enjoyed here for 2,200 years. Modern oyster farming began in the 1980s, and according to the Damariscotta River Association 80 percent of Maine’s oysters are grown in the river and its estuaries.
“Sample a variety from different farms,” suggests Michelle Phelps, an area notice and a principle at Phelps Architects, which has offices in Damariscotta and Portland. One of her favorite raw bars is at Schooner Landing, right on the river in Damariscotta, which offers free oysters and live music on summer Fridays. Other local standouts include Damariscotta River Grill, King Eider’s Pub, and Newcastle Publick House—all in town—or, farther down the peninsula, Shaw’s Fish and Lobster Wharf in New Harbor, the Contented Sole in Pemaquid, and Coveside Restaurant in Christmas Cove. “Another unique adventure is taking a sunset cruise with Damariscotta River Cruises to see oyster farms, with cocktails and oysters in hand,” says Phelps.
"Bigger On The Inside"
It’s a truism among writers that some of the best art is rooted in constraint; the strict rules of a sonnet or a villanelle can scaffold (rather than quash) creative expression. One might look to Jan Jaynes and Joe Knoblock’s newly rebuilt cottage for another example. “We were trying to create a quintessential Maine home, an understated small cottage that would incorporate the space needs for three bedrooms and two and a half baths, in a tight footprint, with volume constraints and a lot of site restrictions,” says architect Michelle Phelps. “It took very careful analysis of how to achieve that.” On the small footprint of a generations-old summer cabin there now sits an elegant shingle-style cottage, its classic lines and open spaces uninhibited by the tangle of restrictions and limitations that shaped them.
The home sits on ten wooded acres next to the Damariscotta River, and the water sometimes offers easier access than the driveway. “We had a UPS guy that wouldn’t come down the road, even in the summertime,” says Jaynes; the road is impassable in winter, but it’s worth it, she explains. “If you have a good driveway into your place, you’ll have a higher-level water view. We have a bumpy, up-and-down, twisty road, but we’re right on the water.” Phelps designed the house to take advantage of that hard-won proximity, with a screen room that seems to float above the river and views of the water from every living space. “The great room with the fireplace—it’s gorgeous,” says builder Benjamin Laukka of Bruce Laukka Inc. in Rockport. “You sit there and you feel like you’re on a boat on the river, that’s how close you are.”
Relaxing by the fireplace must have been a cozy dream for Laukka and his crew as they worked through the winter on the project. “We stockpiled lumber in the fall, as much material as we could think of,” he recalls. Finding that no one would plow the road, the crew took matters into their own hands. “I don’t know if it’s a quarter mile or a little less, but quite a ways to run your snowblower. We stockpiled salt and sand and sanded it by hand, so we could at least get our four-wheel-drive trucks down there. There were times we couldn’t, so we kept a four-wheeler up top with chains and a trailer.” But, like the owners, the crew saw the bright side of the difficult access. “It’s just a beautiful spot,” says Laukka. “There’s a lot of solitude down there.”
Architect: Phelps Architects
Construction start: Fall 2017
Construction complete: Summer 2018
The Drawing Board - Coastal Retreat
This shingle-style residence is hidden among tall spruce trees and placed on a dramatic landscape with sweeping water views of Wheeler Bay. The view from the house is maximized through round turret corners, expansive glazed French doors, tall cottage-style double-hung windows, and a wraparound porch. Red-cedar roofing and cedar siding complement the building style and blend with the natural surroundings.
The site dictated the house be set on concrete piers with breakaway panels for floodplain considerations. The second story is formed into the roofline to bring interest into the interior spaces and keep the overall building height lower than the surrounding trees.
A double-height great room is anchored by a granite fireplace and chimney that complement the classic character of the home. A guest suite and exercise room sit over a multibay garage, leveraging the available space. This area of the home is styled with a cupola for increased natural light in the second-floor cathedral spaces.
Location: Saint George
Architect: Phelps Architects
Construction start: Summer 2018
Construction complete: Fall 2019
Readers' Choice Finalist
Originally the site of the Edgemere Hotel, this property went through several building fires. The necessity to rebuild allowed for the most recent renovation upgrades to better provide for entertaining and family gatherings. The building conditions were also upgraded and winterized to allow for year-round living conditions. The new design also needed to accommodate two families in separate wings of the same house.
The South Wing renovation features a new chef’s kitchen. Simple, elegant white cabinets were crafted by a local Maine cabinetmaker and a stunning gray-granite countertop grounds the space. Traditional wide pine flooring was installed throughout the house, stained to give the impression of aged wood. A small residential elevator was included in the construction, a feature that is becoming more common to allow for long-term easy access to the upper floor.
On the second level, the master-bedroom suite features a vaulted Douglas-fir ceiling that gives the impression of the hull of a boat. The suite’s private balcony allows for views of the property and the bustling community harbor. The custom master bathroom has a heated floor, his and hers vanities, and a walk-in shower. A finishing touch on the second floor is a large sliding barn door that closes off the public space and allows for more privacy while providing a quiet office space. The renovation plan also made use of the attic space as a fun hideaway and play area for the kids, complete with a handmade ship’s ladder that accentuates the nautical feel of the entire home.
Work on the North Wing was limited to winterization and exterior repair—however, there is a future renovation in mind that was included in the thought process during the upgrade. The exterior facade is finished with traditional bleached white-cedar shingles, with white trim and fir accents. An inviting stone courtyard with plantings installed by the owners was thoughtfully created to marry the two wings. A final personal touch is the custom fir screen door with the silhouette of the old Edgemere Hotel.
Architect: Phelps Architects
Builder: Bruce Laukka, Inc.
Construction start: 2017
Construction complete: 2018
The Drawing Board - View Finder
The homeowners desired a main cottage where they could walk out to enjoy the sweeping 180-degree views at their breathtaking oceanside site, without blocking views from an existing guesthouse. In order to meet these criteria, Phelps Architects designed a two-story cottage with dual low-profile gables that are supported by shingle-style posts on flared bases, and that step gracefully down the site to a lower stone terrace that grounds the building.
The lower-level guest bedrooms, screened porch, and family room look through arched, open cedar lattices to an inviting walkout lower level of extensive stone terracing with an outdoor stone fire pit. The walkout space and facade soften the transition from the harsh, ragged ledge of the site to the interior spaces through a layering effect of terrace, cedar lattice, and glass doors and screens, which provide views and allow light to enter. Additionally, arches and porches wrap the corners of the building to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces. The open corners let the clients look past the building while also framing their views of the natural surroundings. On both the first and second floor, a recessed area between the dueling gables helps to block severe winds and allows the owners to sit outdoors and enjoy the sun and water in all kinds of weather.
In addition to solving site-related concerns and height restrictions, the architect’s goal was to create shingle style charm, which resonates through the integration of portholes, cottage-hung windows, and shingle flares. While the exterior materials are contextually driven, the interior spaces and overall building form are designed with an open-concept floor plan and cathedral ceilings in order to optimize the sense of space and openness. The main-floor spaces orient around a two-story stone fireplace in the great room, where an open, U-shaped central stair creates an inviting transition to the lower, family and guest level.Because this is a second home, the owners will enjoy the use of low-maintenance materials such as stone terracing, metal roofing, and cedar siding to create a cottage that will serve as a relaxing getaway for many year.
Location: New Harbor, Bristol
Architect & Landscape Designer: Phelps Architects
Builder: Williamson Fine Homes
Construction start: July 2017
Construction complete: Spring 2018
The Drawing Board - Cottage Charm
Located on picturesque Pemaquid Peninsula, with expansive views of Johns Bay, is a quintessential shingle-style summer cottage with coastal charm.
Located on picturesque Pemaquid Peninsula, with expansive views of Johns Bay, is a quintessential shingle-style summer cottage with coastal charm. The shingle-style character resonates in architectural details such as X-pattern deck railing, porch columns atop shingled piers, and a pothole window and is strengthened by the balance of a wrapping porch, built in roof balconies and sweeping roof treatments. Brackets facilitate the dramatic curve of the roof and provide depth above the garage, shielding the carriage house doors from weather. The owners and guests can enjoy the outdoors from the porch, a screened room, a stone terrace and the series of balconies, including one of the owner's suite with a recessed niche for sitting in private. These elements create a layered effect and sense of dimension, while offering varying levels of protection from wind and sun. The interior spaces are arranged in an open plan and feature many tall double-hung windows known as "cottage hung," which were used in many turn-of-the-century shingle-style homes. With muntins that cover only the top third of the glass, the glazing helps root the home in its historical context while allowing for largely unobstructed water views.
Location: Pemaquid Peninsula
Architect: Phelps Architects
Landscape Architect: Sarah White
Construction start: 2016
Construction complete: 2017