Ever since the kids were small, this family of four would set off every summer for two weeks of sailing. Eight hours after departing by boat from Cape Elizabeth, they would arrive at their first stop: Tenants Harbor. Two decades later, when the children were finishing up college and the father was retiring from his job as a commercial pilot, he and his wife found themselves back on the Saint George peninsula. There, they began searching for a spot to build a home where they could age in place, and from which they could sail.
Our experience of a place unfolds through a sequence of moments. We see the light on the water, hear the leaves rustle dryly on the trees, and smell the scent of salt on the air. We approach a place through our senses, and as I pull into the driveway of this classic contemporary Freeport home, designed by architect Gary Lowe of Lowe Associates—Architects in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and built by John Rousseau of Rousseau Builders in Pownal, I enter into a purposefully designed experience, one that was thoughtfully planned to take full advantage of the natural beauty of the Maine coastline.
The land had been in the family for a century, but it still stood empty, save for the tall cedars and sticky pines rising from the spongy carpet of moss that blanketed the ground. “I used to look across the bay from my parents’ house and see these trees,” the homeowner remembers. “I wondered, ‘What’s over there?’ And my dad would say, ‘Someday, that might be where you live.’” At the time, the homeowner says, she couldn’t imagine “living in those scary woods.” There weren’t any houses on that coastal stretch; there wasn’t even a road that ran down from the main byways of Harpswell to this particular piece of land. “But my dad had a dream,” she says. “And now we’re here.”
Technically, the couple at the center of this story first saw their house in Wayne online. After that, they had a more poetic encounter: they paddled by in a kayak and saw not the house— which was hidden by trees like all the homes around Wilson Pond—but loons, ospreys, and an old cabin. Later, after they had bought the property, they heard stories. According to one, a hermit once lived in the cabin without electricity, and people flew food in to him, landing on the ice in winter. According to another, the cabin’s summer residents dressed in a tuxedo and gown to celebrate their anniversary every year. Those who went by on boats saw them out on their dock. For the moment, though, the house-shopping couple were simply drawn to what they could observe from the water.
The house was built in the 1920s, but the oak tree had been standing in its place for far longer. The Kennebunk house saw plenty of changes over the years—it was home to Edmund Muskie, former U.S. senator and Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, as well as a half-dozen other families who moved in and out of the shingle-style beauty, enjoying their summers on the hill. The oak tree stood there through it all, acting, as landscape designer Ted Carter likes to say, as a “great witness.” So when it came time to change the yard, to ease the steep slope and put in a pool, there was one thing no one wanted to touch. The oak, they decided, would stay.
Chris and Brandi Hau take their time with choices. They were living in Boston when, expecting their first child, they decided to move to Maine. “We thought, ‘We want more.’ We wanted land we wanted a place for him to play outside,” says Brandi. Chris is from the West Coast, but Brandi convinced him that her native state was a better choice: “I won the battle of Maine versus California, somehow.” Decision made, they spent two years driving around southern Maine, looking at school systems in range of the Portland airport, which enables Chris’s professional travel. Eventually they found a lot in Falmouth, but a week before closing they found themselves gazing out over the neighboring fields and woods. “It would be nice to have that,” they thought, imagining their kids crossing the fields on snowmobiles. They reached out to the owner and made a deal.