Sleek Simple

Reprinted with permission of Yankee Publishing, Inc. Appeared in Yankee Magazine, June 2003.
By Stacy Kunstel * photography Brian Vanden Brink


A clutter-free space, carved into the rocky coast of Maine, lets this couple make the most of the site-and the sights.

Some houses mimic the frenetic lives of their owners - time-pressed, unsure what to do with everything. Soon, piles erupt on countertops and around easy chairs.

Imagine the Zen-like calm of having a special place for all that you need. Every cabinet and drawer possessing a defined purpose. Detritus wiped away like dust from a table.

The Swiss and German backgrounds of this couple surely come into play in the orderliness of their coastal Maine home. They are not minimalists, but they knew they didn't need a giant house to give everything a place.


Maine granite countertops surround the cooking area of the kitchen. The wife, a gourmet cook, worked with a kitchen designer to place all shelves and drawers where they would feel most natural to her.

When they contacted Bruce Norelius of Elliott, Elliott Norelius Architecture in Blue Hill, Maine, they described their dream home as "simple, contemporary" and "environmentally responsible".

The couple, who have lived in both Europe and the United States, had never built a home for themselves. "We've lived in many spaces, from 300-year-old farmhouses to very contemporary homes to a ranch house in Chicago," the wife says. "If you've matured and experienced a lot of things, all that goes into building a house."

The land, a slightly quarried ridge with a cove of blue water in the distance, dictated the placement of the structure. "They wanted a house that hovered above the delicate site," Says Bruce. "It's hard to make a two-story house hover." Instead, Bruce devised two parallel structures connected by a series of wide decks.

Closest to the road are the garage, the wife's weaving studio, and guest rooms. The main house, which is longer, is shifted slightly to the right, so the front entrance is visible to visitors.

SinksA pair of freestanding Porcher sinks stand across from the shower. The wife designed and wove the geometrical rag rug.

A small mudroom, flanked by a bench and an antique armoire, sits just inside the entry of the main house. A few feet away, a sheer white certain hangs from the ceiling, obscuring the wall of windows along the back of the house that envelop a desert of rock and stunted pitch pines that the home owner calls her "bonsai garden."

"The scrim takes up no room but solves a problem," says Bruce. The homeowners did not want to be able to walk in the front door and see out the back of the house. To steady the fabric, the wife hung plumb weights at each corner. During the day, light filtered through the sheer fabric gives shape to the early - 1800s oak dining table. At night, candlelight casts fuzzy globes of light across the gauze.

The panel creates a sense of anticipation: "The home owner sets beautiful tables when she entertains; she wants them to be a surprise when people come in," says Bruce.

ShowerThe home owners requested that their shower not have a door. The architect devised a sandblasted glass panel that appears to float between the floor and the ceiling. Surprisingly, no water escapes onto the bathroom floor: The water splashes toward the panel, then back to the granite wall. There is slight tilt in the floor for drainage.

CurtainA curtain brought from a previous residence acts as a divider between the front entrance and the dining room. The homeowners, who devised this solution, chose to use plumb weights at the bottom corners for stability. The effect sets up visitors for a dramatic backyard view.

In the living room, ceiling-high shelves hold pottery and sculptures. To minimize clutter, hanging lights are used instead of floor lamps. Contemporary paintings are collages hang on the narrow buttresses between the 12-food-wide windows. The long expanses of glass have been positioned so direct sunlight stops at the windowsill in summer but moves at a different angle in winter to let the light warm the tile floor.

BookcaseA pair of Le Corbusier chairs balance a white-slip covered sofa and loveseat in the living room. The glass-topped tables mimic the construction of the custom-built surround for the RAIS stove.

In the kitchen, the wife's bread making counter sits four inches lower than standard counter height; it also has a water view. The Maine granite countertops harmonize with the rough stones outside. Gaggenated stainless-steel wire racks roll out from under the range and from behind pickled-bird cabinets. The tip of the compost bucket flush with the countertop; wicker baskets from Hold Everything, in open bays, hold potatoes and onions within reach of the sink.

"Everything is very specific to the way I work," the wife says. She pulls out drawers below the bread-making counter revealing tall buckets of flour and multiple bread tins.

As for where they hide the clutter of everyday life, the homeowners insist they simply planned for it. "I wanted to have enough closets and drawers to put stuff away," the wife says. "I like things to look nice and neat in the house, but I can look chaotic in my studio."

Environmental Idea:

The homeowners worked with the architect to incorporate a passive solar design into the house. In passive solar design, the building is oriented so that sunlight warms rooms in the winter and keeps them cool in the summer.

In its simplest format, in winter, the couple's ceramic-tile floor stores the direct sunlight collected during the day, keeping the tiles warm through the evening. In the summer, the tiles are cooled by open windows and at night and retain the effect throughout the day. For more information about this construction method, pick up a copy of The Passive Solar House by James Kachadorian (Chelsea Green, 1997; $24.95).