Scrapping plans to renovate a cherished Maine cottage meant working even
harder to re-create its character with salvage materials and new construction.

By Susan Stiles Dowell
July 19, 2004
Brian Vanden Brink

For Pat Burns and Elizabeth Spaulding, the road to owningcoastal Maine property began more than a decade ago, when they weredating. A scenic drive led them to a state park, with views of adistant headland cloaked in evergreens and jutting into the sea."That point was so remote and beautiful," says Pat, "we had to finda way there by car." The couple set out on a maze of back roads.When they crested a hill and saw the open ocean shining through thetrees, they were met with a second surprise. "Just when we realizedwe were on the point we'd been looking for, we saw a 'For Sale'sign on a tree," says Elizabeth. They hopped back in the car,returned home, called the owner, and hatched a plan to make the1-acre property theirs.

The one-story, 1,800-square-foot house hovered a breathtaking 75feet from the high-tide mark. Surf pounded the rocky shore, and amile out, shoals harbored seals at low tide. The 1960s house, builtas a winterized cottage, nestled in a gentle rise of old-growthtrees. "We painted the walls and sanded the floors when we boughtit―minimal changes," says Elizabeth. "We went on weekends toget away by ourselves or with family and friends. After two years,we loved it so much, we moved in full time."

For 10 years, Pat and Elizabeth used the house to its maximumpotential, accommodating as many as 30 people for holidays withbeds, couches, and sleeping bags. Quietly, though, they envisioneda renovation that would make everyone more comfortable.

The couple began saving magazine tear sheets for inspiration.They noted how they might modify the rooms to engage the seasons'changing light and the view of the sea through back windows.Inveterate antiques collectors, they tailored their selections torustic furnishings with original paint finishes to emphasize thehome's cottage aesthetic. They even stockpiled salvaged parts suchas doors, windows, and flooring from old Maine buildings to use inwhat was shaping up to be "our new old house," says Elizabeth.

The decision to launch the work came when Pat, a formermarketing executive, retired early. But almost immediately, hisrenovation plan hit a snag. Portland architect Rob Whitten,alongside a contractor, examined the infrastructure and realized itwas problematic to save, as so little was plumb. "Spending money onlabor in order to save on material costs didn't make sense to anyof us, including the zoning code officer―who is typically allfor retaining these old coastal cottages," Rob explains. Beforedisappointment hardened into a decision to tear down the ruggedlittle rancher, Pat expressed everyone's thought: "I wish we couldjust take it down and save the parts," he said. His son Todd, abuilder, seconded the notion. Within three weeks, they dismantledthe house by hand and divided the pieces. Some would become a partof the new construction, while others went to projects orbusinesses dealing in recycled materials. "Even the insulation gotrecycled in an attic in town," says Pat, who joined the buildingprocess every day.

The new construction is both stronger, with hurricane-resistantcollar ties, and bigger, by 30 percent. With a second floor and acrow's nest of bedrooms, the home grew out of the old foundationand honors its best attributes, with improvements.

Like its predecessor, the new home uses timber framing andorients to the ocean. A chimney that once obscured the view nowanchors the building's core and feeds two Rumford fireplaces.Salvaged antique mantels add character to the first-floor rooms.The morning room's tall ceilings and eastern exposure takeadvantage of summer light. Lower ceilings in the adjacent "wickerroom" make the area cozy in winter. (No wicker in the wicker room,though―the name remains from an earlier incarnation.) Twentywindows saved from the demolition of a 19th-century meeting houseframe a screened porch in the lee of an oceanside deck. "We'velearned which windows to open to get cross-ventilation and just theright level of ocean roar," says Elizabeth.

Through the original picture windows, Pat says he can look bothways along the coast and see two significant points that led themto this spot: the state park where they first saw their homesiteand the place where he proposed marriage to Elizabeth. "We nevertook our eyes off the prize to live here," he says. "It was anorganic effort from start to finish, and our way of honoring what'sbasic and honest around us."