Brian Vanden Brink
Ethan Allen and Homeowner
“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”
Inspired by Ariel’s song in The Tempest, the client for Sea Change sought a transformation on their beloved seaside village property with the replacement of a vacation cottage that was marginally functional for current needs. Client/architect discussions, and then collaboration, indicated the appropriate home would be quirky, playful, whimsical and full of personality; dynamic rather than static; unique but still tied to the architectural vernacular of seaside New England; evolved out of anthropomorphically derived classical architecture but not purely historicist; something to cause observers to first wonder and then smile; something nearly “rich and strange.” As with the best Mannerist architecture from around Shakespeare’s time (or any time), the goal was a transformation from within, rather than a revolutionary break with, the continuum of architectural tradition.
All of the expressive energy is directed at the front. The back is a simple one story linear form. Even the outdoor living spaces are at one end, beyond the edge of the façade, rather than at the rear. The front facade gestures down the street where it ends at the beach a minute or two walk away. Multiple readings of the façade are possible (and encouraged): tall ship, camel, hedgehog, caterpillar, English country cottage, Shingle Style manse…. The ‘saltbox’ shape visible at the south end of the house mimics the shape of the land beyond, directing attention up toward the all-important, meaning bearing, front.
This home is in a village of shingle style, Greek revival, colonial cape and other historic homes. Sea Change is related to those models but isn’t a recreation of any. It has a traditional relationship with the street, with front door facing the street and garage doors tucked away to the side. Its order is based on localized, but not overwhelming, symmetry. Unique in its neighborhood but not revolutionary, it fits in because it is based on historic/vernacular forms, relationships and materials, yet it also expresses a desire for a house that is distinctly based on the clients’ personality and site characteristics.
Flat, representational “carpenters” columns (made from standard boards), shingled arches and a bright blue door announce the entry. Like the side yard facing porch, the entry porch is small and cut into the façade rather than added on, keeping the overall taught and sculpted. Only the garage, in a low wing, and the chimney, extend from the principal mass. Beefy white trim boards and fat, flat window muntins emphasize edges and announce the windows as not just openings in the wall but also as an organizing grid.
In the interior, a built-in cabinet and bookshelves that incorporate structural posts, a free standing fireplace open on two sides, and an arcade of plaster openings all separate and define living, entry and circulation spaces without closing them off from one another. The living spaces have east, south and west exposures for all-day light. The master suite is tucked away in the back corner of the first floor. Guest bedrooms occupy the second floor, as does a game room with wrap around windows in a sunny corner with a view down the street.