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Imagine the Perfect Lake House

James Schildroth’s granite masterpiece on Round Pond may be exactly that.  

By Phil Kaplan, AIA, LEED


WISCASSET ARCHITECT James Schildroth has practiced in Maine for over 34 years, epitomizing in many ways the romantic notion of 'The Architect.'  He bears the passion of Howard Rourke (the idealist in Ayn Rand's classic novel The Fountainhead) and channels the ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright as no others can in Maine." Of the many dreamy structures he’s conjured up for his clients here, perhaps his House for Betta, on a sweeping peninsula overlooking Round Pond near Damariscotta, best illustrates the complexity, power, and whimsy of his work. In fact it may be the perfect lake house.

    Although the Wrightian theories that spawned Schildroth’s approach are from another era, the home itself-completed in 1998, with its magnificent 270-degree water views, rich exteriors of Deer Isle granite, copper, mahogany, and a stunning respect for the landscape-is relevant and fresh.

    The reason that the house’s form seems so informed by Wright’s belief “that a house should be of the site and not on the site”-is no accident.  Schildroth is the lone practicing Maine architect (and perhaps the only one in New England) who actually studied at Wright’s famed Taliesin West complex in Arizona, showing up to the school literally just months after the renowned architect died in 1959.

    He makes it very clear that “Organic Architecture is not a style. The design develops from the needs and conditions of the client and the site.  It is guided by the architect’s understanding of the nature of things and what it is to be human.”  These principles despite being put to paper many years ago, are timeless. 

    House for Betta is a shining example of this. The goal was to dream up a getaway specifically for the wife in a pair of clients- Elizabeth, “Betta” –a family heirloom and a refuge tailored exactingly to her needs and the call of the site itself.

    An old cottage existed, but was nearing the end of its useful life. The extents of the original footprint were preserved in order to take advantage of its proximity to the water’s edge-as little as 25 foot in some places. Despite all new construction and a larger program, Schildroth was determined not to create further damage to the surroundings. “All the trees were kept and the house built around them,” he explains. At a point on the eastern face, the structure literally ducks out of the way of an old pine.

    The mahogany siding and Maine-harvested granite warm the exterior and allow the entire structure to settle into the landscape. The roof is copper and will turn to a green patina in time and should be maintenance free for a hundred years.

    “The house never needs to be painted,” Schildroth says.  “Using natural materials allows the house to get better with age.” The edge between inside and out is blurred as mahogany and granite line all interior surfaces and special glass-corner windows ensure that corners become invisible when desired. At this, Schildroth is a master.  There is a flow of one space into another with surprises at every turn.

    Doorways extend to the ceiling plane and simply become floating slabs that enclose space only as absolutely necessary to satisfy comfort needs.

    Ceiling and floor planes remain aligned as they pass through the many glass penetrations, creating the illusion that the shelter spills into the landscape, and the beauty of the outdoors sneaks in to join you for a cup of tea by the fireplace.

    “There are no real rooms here,” he smiles.  “Each one leads to the next.”

The body of the house is constructed out of insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) with an exceptionally high insulating value-R28 compared to the R-19 required-and, when paired with the deep overhangs, allows the house to retain the warmth that the natural sunlight and radiant-heated floors generate, despite the large expanses of glass.

      "Schildroth, who updates his classic skills with cutting-edge computer programming, loves his work so much he'd probably do it for free.  He tells his clients that "a good residential architect should get paid roughly as much as a good waiter."  As they see the project evolve, clients can't help but appreciate his sincere and committed approach and inevitably end up "tipping' him well.  Like his designs, this seemingly old-school practitioner keeps surprising us at every turn."

End of article. 

Phil Kaplan is Principal of Phil Kaplan Architects, Portland, Maine. 

Design by James Walter Schildroth, Architect Wiscasset, Maine.

Built by Christopher Doherty, Doherty Built, Inc. Wiscasset, Maine.

To see more photos and plans for this house click here.


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