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Zen on the Beach

Photographed by Rob Karosis
After a challenging design and construction process, this modern home has become a serene
sanctuary showcasing the homeowners’ treasured art collection.
Copper trim protects the home from harsh winds and inclement weather.
Nestled on the beach like a great galleon ready to head out to sea is a home that exemplifies simplicity and tranquility. The homeowners are a couple who are passionate about coastal living and the art and aesthetics of the Far East. Exquisitely crafted, traditional objets d’art from across Asia—which the couple has collected on their many travels to the Continent—are complemented by the breathtaking views offered by the home’s location on a peninsula bordered by the ocean and marshland.
The homeowners purchased the property years ago, which came with an existing home, with the intention of having a new home built on the site. According to state regulations, the existing structure could be demolished, but any new construction had to adhere strictly to the irregularly shaped footprint of the original home. Sam Van Dam and Steve Pondelis, of Van Dam Architecture and Design, were recruited by the homeowners to tackle the design, and they did so with gusto. “We had to figure out how to work within the footprint and still make it look attractive while maximizing the views,” said Sam. “We had to pay a lot of attention to the floor plan and the height of the building.”
John Ryan, of Wright-Ryan Construction, executed the architects’ vision for the home, which amounted to a pared down, contemporary style that opened up to the stunning views. The design was made as simple as possible to make the unconventional angles more appealing. For instance, cedar-shingle siding, a traditional coastal architectural element, was used to integrate the home into its surroundings and to subdue its asymmetrical configuration. “We intentionally designed the home to look like a shingle-style building from the ocean side,” Sam explained. “We always do our best to make a building look like it belongs on the site.” Expanses of glass, which allow for maximum views, lend the home modernity.
The color scheme for the living room and dining area was taken from the antique Oriental rug in the living room. The interior designer worked with the homeowners to mix the perfect paint color to complement the artwork and the views. The fireplace features niches for more art display, and the dining room table is antique Chinese lacquer.
Because of its seaside location, the architects also wanted to make sure the home was fortified against the elements. The roof, which has a low pitch in order to create more space inside, was strengthened “almost like the hull of a ship,” said Sam. It was finished with lead-coated copper installed by Victor Wright of Heritage Co. Coppersmiths, who created all of the exterior detailing including copper trim, which acts as an exoskeleton to protect the home from harsh weather. Vinyl-coated Andersen windows and the deck, which is made from the same wood used to make docks, are also shielded from the elements. Simplicity was key for the interior as well. The homeowners have an impressive and extensive collection of art, so the goal was to showcase their treasures. “We didn’t want the architecture to be a distraction, much like a museum,” said Sam. Clean lines dominate the space—there is not an ornate piece of molding to be found anywhere. Even the fireplace, which is an elaborate showpiece in many other homes, is a simple, unadorned construction that allows the views and the artwork to shine.
The floors are white oak boards that interior designer Susan Thorn found in a barn in upstate New York. “We had them planed so that the flooring would be smooth but you could still see the cracks,” said Sam. “We also had it limed, and the great thing about that is it’s practical.”
The homeowners are often entertaining friends and family, so when people come into the house from the beach, the floors don’t show any sand or wear. “It also takes the edge off the modern quality of the space and relates nicely to the older wooden pieces they have,” said Sam.
Susan, who had worked with the homeowners on their other properties, followed the architects’ lead and kept the interiors very simple. She used a soothing color palette and clean-lined furniture “because we didn’t want to intrude with the views or the art,” she said. The artwork is the interior’s main attraction, serving as both inspiration and as functional pieces of furniture. Antique scatter rugs from Thailand and China are used throughout the home to lend warmth to the space. Most of the fabric used for upholstery was also purchased by the homeowners in Asia, while antique wooden chests and the Chinese red lacquer cabinet in the dining room serve as utilitarian pieces. Unassuming appliances and minimal hardware lend the kitchen a sleek appearance, acting as the perfect counterpoint to a nearby art wall.
The home's irregular angles demonstrate an ingenious use of space, both inside and out. Exterior living spaces take full advantage of the expansive marsh and ocean views, which were also inspiration for the interior design.
The art wall is an ingenious display for the homeowners’ smaller pieces and is comprised of clear acrylic shelving designed to give the impression that the objects are floating. Sam also pointed out that when the light hits the shelving at certain times during the day, a prism effect appears.
Nature was a great inspiration for the interiors as well, especially for the master and guest bedrooms. “The surroundings are the focal point as much as the art is,” said Susan. “The ocean and the marsh are always changing.” Susan used marsh greens and sea blues for the bedrooms, accented with natural materials such as raffia that allude to the marsh grasses. Comfortable banquettes along the windows in the bedrooms are ideal for relaxing and enjoying the ever-changing landscape.
Since the homeowners have such an affinity for the coast, relating to the outdoors was a major component of the design. “When you’re restricted in terms of square footage, you try to make connections to the outside. You get the sense that the home is more spacious because you’re connecting with the outside in unusual ways,” Sam said. For example, as one ascends the stairs, a rectangular opening in the adjacent wall allows for a unique view of the outdoors as it is aligned perfectly with a window on the opposite end of the kitchen.
The seamless transition between the home’s three elements—natural environment, architecture and art—allows for the full appreciation of the home as a whole. There is no distraction, no discordant element to throw anything off balance. It is the ultimate study in Zen serenity, all on the coast of southern Maine.
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Interior Design

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