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Harper’s Island

Seaside
2005 Design-Build Institute of America Excellence Award

Harper’s Island is a special tuft of woodland surrounded by salt marsh, pond, creek, and Nantucket Sound. The only access is over a 300-foot-long footbridge. It is a naturalist’s paradise. Restricted to the footprints and maximum heights of two dilapidated 1940’s Sears Roebuck “kit-house” cottages that existed on the site, plus a small expansion to connect them, the design process involved making the most of the constraints dictated by the site and by the environmental regulations.

The site, with its open southern and western exposures, views of small boats, and extraordinary trees, was the major inspiration for the design. The smaller wooden houses of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Shindler were also inspirational because of their natural materials, connection to the landscape, and horizontal expansiveness, despite their small size. The spaces expand up and out into the landscape through large horizontal overhangs, thrusting diagonal brackets and clerestory windows that make the ceiling appear to float. The site's craggy trees are twisted and sculpted by the elements. They reach out horizontally as much, or more, than they do vertically. Big overhangs held up by wood brackets mimic the horizontal reach and sheltering, sculptural quality of the trees. The picture windows include arches alternating with half arches that also mimic the trees. The gentle curve of the roof of the master bedroom wing, billowing up like a sail about to catch the wind, the round porthole-like windows in the bathrooms, and the stainless steel cable railing on the footbridge, are all reminders of the nautical location. The design creates a “woodland nautical” style, an appropriate oxymoron for a house bold enough to have a distinct character, yet understated enough to avoid challenging the serenity of the site; tailored to fit naturally to both the client and the surroundings; a balanced, intentional composition despite predetermined heights and footprint.