Grit & Magic
Many hands turn a bold vision into a grand reality
words Nancy Gordon | photography Darren Setlow
When you want a special home realized, you assemble a great team beginning with the architect and builder. For all involved, including the homeowners, this Midcoast project went beyond teamwork, talent, expertise and respect for each other and the environment. It had a joie de vivre and camaraderie not often found in a project of this size and complexity.
“The greatest challenge of this project was also its most rewarding aspect: the immense coordination of dozens of individuals—owners, consultants, craftspeople and design team— to create a carefully wrought, integrated and unique dwelling,” says John Priestley of Priestley + Associates Architecture.
“Communication, especially listening, was essential to the success of the project over its four-year gestation. What could have succumbed to the mundane through disparate efforts became instead each contributor’s opportunity to display their best talents in a unified effort, with every detail considered as part of the whole. Being at the center of all the personal interactions is a big responsibility, one that carries a great reward when a project comes together as handsomely as this one did,” says Priestley.
For the builder, Nate Holyoke of Nate Holyoke Builders, “The biggest challenge was that every piece of this house was one of a kind. Every little detail had to be thought out to make it right.
“The greatest joy was seeing every member of the team work together and create such a beautiful house. Everyone’s ideas were listened to, vetted and then executed with great end results. Not all building projects are fun. This one was fun from start to finish,” says Holyoke.
Screened porch and porch fireplace.
John Priestley: Early in the process of design, walking the property together with the owner and builder, we recognized the opportunity to utilize and feature the handsome boulders and granite ledge present at the site. Close cooperation between the landscape architects, Todd Richardson and Emma Kelly, allowed us to interweave architecture with sizable boulders—with portions of the building sitting on top of some and with the plan arranged to have others flanking the building.
Holyoke carefully excavated around and built protective enclosures around vehicle-sized boulders. Granite unearthed during excavation was harvested for floor slabs, countertops, a sink carved from a solid block and a shower bench.
The massive living room fieldstone fireplace was built atop a single boulder base so large it had to be put in place before the walls of the house were erected. This boulder was selected from among many considered through the cooperative effort of the architect, builder, stonemason and landscape architects.
Nate Holyoke: The stonework of this house was a challenge and perfectly fitted by Jeff Gammelin’s stonemasons of Freshwater Stone. The challenge was that these stones were heavy and there was no access to the ocean side of this house. Many of the stones were set by lifting them over the house with a 100-ton crane to get them fitted into place.
Holyoke: (screen porch, above) We built the screen porch of stones we salvaged from an abandoned stone quarry that has not been in operation since the late 1800s. The timbers were fitted and finished like the ones for the living room of the house. This was a complicated piece because stone and deck framing had to tie in to each other.
Jeff Gammelin, Freshwater Stone: Our first orders from this job gave us an inkling of what was to come. We were asked to identify and transport a 20-ton, irregular site boulder to our facility in Orland, where we eventually manufactured countertops and flooring. The project’s features included stone walls, thick building veneer, fireplaces and chimneys, a bridge, paving, steps, showers, landscape boulders and columns.
Living room and library.
TIMBER & IRON
Priestley: Holyoke’s command of timber framing was put to use in creating the vaulted living room’s hammer beam trusses that contributed structurally as well as aesthetically. The builder created a series of half-scale model timber knees, which allowed us to explore details of connection and craftsmanship with the owner.
The yacht-like frame of the dining room ceiling, built of arched Douglas fir members, was inspired by the owners’ connection to the water.
The dining room table was crafted from oak lumber from the property. Holyoke not only felled the tree but crafted this one-of-a-kind piece of furniture.
We collaborated with the builder’s blacksmith, Tim Greene, to create connectors that band the structural timbers together. The blacksmith’s work is also featured in the main stair and living room fireplace components.
Holyoke: (library) This room was a work of art. All of the board grain matched as it flowed uninterrupted around the room. The craftsmanship and design that went into this space were truly artful.
Priestley: Although conceived and executed as a structure with a timeless feel and a natural fit into its environment, this home features a sophisticated energy production and management system. The barn roof’s solar panels generate the energy for all of the home’s electrical needs, including the power to run geothermal heat pumps for effectively free heating and cooling.
Kitchen and boat house.
Holyoke: The owners wanted a dream kitchen with an AGA stove and beautiful casework. The butcher block was made from a maple tree harvested from the site and the stone for the island was fabricated from a boulder excavated from the house’s foundation.
THE BOAT HOUSE
Holyoke: This is one of my favorite places. It was an old, run-down boathouse nestled next to the ocean that we made new again. What was most special about this building is that it is where Project Manager Kevin O’Connell and I would go to discuss the job, daily events, problems and solutions and most importantly, life.
This was the last project that Kevin ran for Holyoke Builders. He has since moved to Southern Maine; a true craftsman, leader, gentleman and most importantly, great friend that will be missed by the entire NHB team. His heart and soul went into this house and it truly showed.
John Priestley, Priestley & Associates Architecture
Nate Holyoke, Nate Holyoke Builders
Jeff Gammelin, Freshwater Stone
Tim Greene, StandFast Works Forge
Al Putnam, P.E. (structural engineer)
Anne Reiter, Wallace Interiors
Todd Richardson and Emma Kelly, Richardson & Associates, Landscape Architects
Peter Knuppel, Peter Knuppel Lighting Design