Whitten Architects / Johnson Cove Retreat

Located in Roque Bluffs, Maine, United States and completed in 2010. This house was designed by Whitten Architects.

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Whitten Architects

“On a rocky bluff overlooking the Atlantic, this Norwegian-inspired four-season retreat was crafted to leave a light touch on the land, which has been in the homeowner’s family for generations. Careful positioning of the small cabin along 1,800 feet of picturesque coastline allowed for minimal disturbance to the existing landscape and its natural drainage patterns. Surrounding trees were carefully preserved—seen not as an obstruction, but as an asset that provided foreground to the lighthouse and islands in the distance.

Our highly detailed design included an exposed structural system with stainless-steel plates and wind-resisting shear walls, requiring intense collaboration with the structural engineer. The revealed nature of the structure and its openness to the harsh ocean elements heavily influenced the choice of Port Orford cedar, a northwestern wood that is naturally resistant to rot and pests. The timber frame construction is broken by slight angular shifts in floor plan that allow each room specific views.

The arrangement of interior spaces allows the homeowner to rise with first light in the morning in the master bedroom, live in the sun during the day, and end with sunset on the screened porch. Large roof overhangs protect sidewalls and control summer sun, while the high point of a raised clerestory is oriented to the north to bring in soft diffused light that balances direct sunlight from the south. A reading loft, complete with built-in daybed, occupies one end of the clerestory and serves as overflow guest space. The windows of the clerestory and loft limit the need for electrical lighting during the day and provide natural ventilation. High-performance insulation and an efficiently sized radiant floor heating system allow the owner to use the cabin in the winter. A wood stove and fireplace supply supplemental heat during the winter months. Time-tested vernacular forms and durable materials that age gracefully in this marine environment further ground the structure to the site and will provide the homeowner with a lifetime of shelter.”

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Photography by Trent Bell