House on Harper's Island
House on Harper's Island
1,600 square feet (interior)
1,650 square feet (perceived)
Peter Aaron, Esto
Brian Vanden Brink
Harper’s Island is a very special location. It is a private island of one-and-one-half acres, a tuft of woodland surrounded by salt marsh, pond, creek, and Nantucket Sound. There are other houses in view, but they are separated by the marsh and water. The only access to the site is over a 300-foot-long footbridge. It is a private naturalist’s paradise, yet one can walk to popular beaches.
When Polhemus Savery DaSilva’s architect-led design team first visited the site, its members were stunned by its spectacular qualities. The possibility of designing a piece of architecture comparable to the location, and for an interesting client, was very exciting and very challenging. Although we knew there would be great restraints, they would not necessarily be detrimental to good design; in fact they sometimes can make the design process easier because they narrow the possibilities.
We were restricted to the footprints and heights of two dilapidated 1940s Sears Roebuck "kit-house" cottages that existed on the site. The larger one became the footprint for the southernmost portion of the house including the living spaces and kids’ rooms, and the smaller one became the master bedroom. We were allowed to expand only enough to connect them and to add two cantilevered bay windows. Even the decks had to follow the pre-existing footprints. The design process was very much about making the most of the constraints dictated by the site and by the environmental regulations.
The island site, with its open southern and western exposures, its views of small fishing and sail boats, and its extraordinary trees, was the major inspiration for the design. The smaller wooden houses of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Shindler were inspirational because of their natural materials, their connection to the landscape, and their horizontal expansiveness, despite their small size.
A small house does not have to feel claustrophobic. In our design, we tried to expand the space up and out into the landscape, making it feel bigger than it is and making it feel naturally connected to its spectacular surroundings. The large overhangs shelter much more square footage than is actually enclosed by the walls. The overhangs make the house feel bigger from both the outside, where they draw one’s eye to the horizontal and appear to lengthen the sides of the house, and the inside, where they continue the ceiling plane through the glassy walls.