Simple, Sun-Filled Studio

Maine Home + Design

December 2013

mhd-dec-2013-01mhd-dec-2013-02Although the commute to Kevin Browne Architecture’s office in Yarmouth was only 25 minutes, the architect sought a closer, more comfortable space on his own property. The result is a simple, sun-filled, energy-efficient space that showcases Browne’s style of mixing old and new in form and materials. Browne teamed up with Dan Meyer of Meyer Development Solutions to construct this 16- by 24-foot structure in a cost-effective way. The floor plan was kept wide open with a cathedral ceiling. A full daylight garage below the office provides overflow storage for the adjacent home. A portion of the open plan carved out for a small bath defines the spaces. Douglas fir beams help lower the height of the tall ceiling. The warmth of natural, rough-cut wood gives the space a cozy feeling, and the beams frame out a space above the work area that supports an 8- by 11-foot net that can be used for overflow sleeping (or as a fun place for the kids to hang out when Dad has to work late).

mhd-dec-2013-03The simple, understated trim on the interior keeps the focus on the natural features of the rural property through oversized low-e windows. Photovoltaic solar panels on the south-facing roof help to offset the electrical load of the house, as well as totally offsetting the heating and cooling loads of the office. A blowerdoor test was done and an infrared camera was used to make sure all the air leakage areas were sealed up.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Maine Home + Design

October 2013

New England has an undeniable draw that is amplified, in part, by its quaintness. The narrow streets, the way the roads lay out through the towns and villages, the classic architecture that dots the landscape. These things, says architect Kevin Browne, are what make New England New England. “Many of the homes that form these towns and villages have been standing and functioning for more than 100 years,” he says. “For me as an architect, they provide inspiration for designing to help preserve that feeling of ‘quaintness.’” The goal of Browne’s work is not necessarily to recreate these historical structures, but to build on the design of the past with modern architecture to create a new, timeless vernacular that will help to form a style for the next 100 years.

Q: How do you decide whether to renovate or raze a historic home?
A: We see many homes that are nearing the end of their lifespan, but then there are many homes that still have “good bones” and have several years of life left in them. We strive to keep the integrity of these structures when we renovate them while giving them a new life to withstand the demands of modern-day living. Often unique elements come about with the meshing of new and old. Of course there are those projects that call for extensive renovations, and then we have to ask whether it’s worth saving a couple walls that are out of square and plumb, or if it’s more cost-effective to build new, replicating some of the pieces that would have been left. It is a tough decision to completely tear down a structure that may be steeped in history and memories. What will be lost is the weathered character of those original pieces, not to mention the story behind the way it may have been built.

Q: What’s a recent project example?
A: One example of this type of renovation was a project on Cousins Island in Yarmouth. Built in 1905, the cottage was once occupied in the summers by Sir Henry Worth Thornton, the president of the Canadian National Railways, who was credited for modernizing the railways throughout Canada. The owners of the property had hopes of preserving the character of this cottage and expanding on it to create a cozy four-season cottage for their family and extended family for years to come. The existing cottage and garage were in rough shape and had been added onto half-heartily over the years. The gambrel lines and deepcovered porches were what drew the clients to this property. We built upon the existing lines of the house, creating a wrap-around porch to “ground” it more. We also created a cross-gambrel structure perpendicular to the existing gambrel roof, matching the roof pitches. Other changes included energy-efficient upgrades since it was originally built as a seasonal cottage, including closedcell spray foam in the walls, ceilings, and floors, low-E window replacements, and a high-efficient heating system upgrade. These are just a few examples of some of the design integrations that were built upon this aging structure to continue its lifespan.

Q: What about new construction— how do you respect the historic context when designing a new structure?
A: Our design approach is the same, whether it’s a new construction or renovation. We create timeless architecture inspired by the classic New England vernacular of the past by creating a new style that will integrate many modern-day amenities and efficiencies. Not recreating history but paying homage to it. We may do that with window design, building massing, choice of materials, or the fine detailing. Even the most modern projects that we work on have some aspect of the traditional New England “look” that so many people adore. One example of this is a recent project on the Presumpscot River in Falmouth. The clients came to KBA looking for a crisp, simple, contemporary farmhouse. The answer to their dreams was a house that was a series of two-story simple gable forms that were similar in size and scale (if not the same)—reminiscent of the massing of early barns and farmhouses. These forms were clad in white clapboards with a much wider exposure, giving a more contemporary feel. Added to these main forms were forms clad in white cedar shingles to break up the wide expanse of white clapboards. The windows were over scale 2 over 2, black, double-hung windows. The overhang, rakes, eave, and window trim were downplayed on the gable forms and almost non-existent to create a crisp feel to the home. Finally the forms were topped off with a contrasting, dark gray, standing-seam metal roof to shed the snow of the long New England winters. This modern-day farmhouse was quite a bit more energy-efficient than the drafty farmhouses of the past 100 or so years. An ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) foundation, Dense-Pac Cellulose insulation with a high R-value, low-E windows, and radiant heat were also integrated for energy efficiency. These are just a few of the things that make this a comfortable home that will last for many years to come.

Contemporary Marsh View

Maine Home + Design

September 2013

The owners of this property on a marsh set out to create a home that maximized the 180-degree views. The lot—part of a small subdivision—is mostly free of trees and has a gradual grassy slope. The clients used a handful of adjectives to describe what they wanted in their home: crisp, contemporary, simple, innovative, minimalist, and energy efficient. Kevin Browne Architecture created a design that would embody these terms and more.

The resulting design features a simple series of white, clapboard, gable forms. The gable forms start small at the garage end of the house and grow larger at the main part of the house. The two main-house gable forms are identical in size and bisected by a flatroofed “transept” form. The “transept” is cladded in stained cedar tongue-and-groove siding to contrast the other forms of the house. The windows are also very simple, with a high U-value for better efficiency and low maintenance. Special attention was paid to the building’s thermal envelope to include high R-value insulation and also to minimize thermal bridging.

The interior is clean and minimal, with drywall returns at the window and door openings and a simple wood windowsill. A floating steel and wood stairway is a design focal point that will be visible from most areas of the open first-floor plan. At the top of these stairs is a steel and wood catwalk that bridges the interior space of the two main gable forms.

When complete, the homeowners will be able to entertain comfortably or just relax in their private backyard oasis.

Cozy Seaside Getaway

Maine Home + Design

February 2013

Set atop a bluff sloping down to Casco Bay, this gambrel-style cottage was one of the oldest homes remaining on Cousins Island. Built in 1905, the cottage was once occupied in the summers by Sir Henry Worth Thornton, the president of the Canadian National Railways, who was credited with modernizing the railways throughout Canada. The homeowners turned to Kevin Browne Architecture in the hopes of preserving the character of the home while expanding on it to create a cozy four-season cottage for their family for years to come. The homeowners wanted to make the most of the lot and the water views, which include full views of the sunsets over coastal waters. The existing cottage and garage had been added onto half-heartedly over the years and were in rough shape. The first step in the redesign of the main cottage was to create a softened gambrel roofline that runs straight through to the waterside of the cottage. On the first floor of the main cottage on the waterside of the house, the deep covered porch was continued to create a wraparound porch around most of the cottage. Browne sought to preserve the high ceilings and beadboard walls of the interior spaces of the first floor, so only updates for modern conveniences were made. The existing garage, pieced together in the early 1980s, was replaced with a gambrel carriage house that is connected by an extension of the wraparound porch of the main cottage. Because the house was originally built as a seasonal cottage, Browne and his team made several energy-efficient upgrades, including closedcell spray foam in the walls, ceilings, and floors; low-e replacement windows; and a new heating system with high-efficiency heat pump units.

Home Court Advantage

Home & Garden

May 2012

Most people can’t walk into Ruby Simonds’ house without saying “wow.” Right away. Just inside the front door is a massive curved flying staircase like something out of a Colonial mansion or a movie about the Old South. The staircase, seemingly unsupported, rises from a black-and-white floor to a spacious second-floor landing. The dark woodwork and stainless steel spindles between the steps and railing give it an even more distinctive look. “Everybody says something about the staircase,”said Simonds. “The whole entry way, really, is breathtaking.” Simonds says that while the staircase is a showstopper, when she first saw the house, she saw something she really liked in every room. Built in 2005, it’s a large, rambling two-story with a Shingle look on the outside and lots of unique,eye-catching contemporary features inside. Simonds and her husband, Michael,bought it about two years ago. “We looked at a lot of houses, but this was the only one where every little thing was just right,” said Simonds. Yarmouth architect Kevin Browne designed the home with many of the more prominent features suggested by the home’s first owners.

Shingle Style Gets A Modern Edge

Maine Home + Design

November 2011

Kevin Browne is not looking to rethink traditional architecture—he just wants to add an edge to it. His goal is to take traditional detailing and blend it with more contemporary features. The premise for this house, which he worked on with long-time collaborators Jonathan and Catherine Culley of Redfern Properties, started with a common architectural theme: the shingle style. Browne has worked with the Culleys on numerous homes and other rehab projects, but this home was designed specifically for them and their growing family. They worked together on ways to incorporate modern features into the traditional design, such as black trim, a distinctive entryway with tumbled rather than polished black and white marble, and a floating curved staircase with stainless-steel balusters and a large Noguchi pendant lamp. The kitchen cabinetry is traditional in form but painted a very dark, bluish gray. Glass matchstick tiles and a light gray concrete countertop also denote a more modern approach. In the living room, covered ceilings feature a markedly simplifi ed trim detail and a larger scale. Three sets of French doors drench the house in south-facing natural light throughout the day.

Radiant heat is used as an efficient heating system. Low-e windows, water-sensible plumbing fixtures, low-VOC paint, and the positioning of the house on the site to maximize its solar gain round out the list of the sustainable features found in this home.