Architect Rob Whitten likens building a beach house to playing chess. “You need to know where you want to end up, then plan strategic moves to get there,” he says. A good example is the house in the Goose Rocks Beach section of Kennebunkport, Maine, that his Portland, Maine-based firm designed in collaboration with interior designer Nicki Bongiorno of Spaces Kennebunkport. “The real challenge,” he says, “is to meet the conditions so they enhance the architecture.”
The homeowners, a young family from Lexington, hired Whitten to replace the modest beach house they bought in the fall of 2014. They imagined a light and airy retreat that took advantage of the property’s breathtaking views. A clean-lined aesthetic would satisfy their modern tastes while blending with the community’s more traditional style.
The architect and Shawn Douston, the couple’s builder, steered them to civil engineer Bill Walsh to navigate the permitting process. The plans had to meet stringent federal, state, and local requirements regarding the footprint, the setback distance from the frontal dune, and the height of the stilts on which the house would be built.
Once the permits were in place, the starting point for the design was to maximize views of the Atlantic. Whitten achieved that goal not only on the ocean side of the house, which is replete with doors and windows, but also on the street side. The entry, reached by broad stairs, looks through the house to the ocean — an immediate “ooh” moment. “This axis was a significant organizing principle,” Whitten says.
Another major consideration was the depth of the porch. It had to be balanced against the size of the main living space, because for zoning purposes a porch with a roof figures into a home’s overall square footage. Whitten argued hard for a sizable porch, which he considers the essence of coastal living. It offers flexibility, providing space for early risers to start the day without disturbing others as well as absorbing crowds when entertaining.
Like the exterior, which blends classic coastal elements such as cedar shingles with contemporary ones such as the standing-seam metal roof, the interior feels beachy and fresh. The natural palette — neutrals punctuated with blues and greens — further blurs the line between indoors and out, and the furniture and finishes have crisp, clean lines.
Durability and easy maintenance were essential. Textured porcelain floor tiles resembling slate run from the front entry to the back mudroom. Indoor-outdoor fabric covers the low-slung RH Modern sectional and the cushions on the built-in benches. The Janus et Cie chairs around the RH Modern oak dining table and at the bi-level island have wipe-clean woven seats.
The couple is close with their extended family, which meant finding space to comfortably sleep 15. A first-floor guest suite houses the grandparents. Other visiting adults sleep in the children’s bedrooms on Room & Board queen-size beds with twin trundles. For kids, Whitten and Bongiorno designed a nautical-style bedroom with two sets of built-in bunk beds as well as built-in trundle beds tucked under the sloping ceilings in the table-tennis room.
Access to the beach is easy, via a gangway and a dozen steps that descend over the rocky sea wall to the sand. A fire pit nestles among native plantings conceived by landscape architect Emma Kelly. Kelly also teamed up with Whitten on the elaborate storage space for kayaks and other gear underneath the house, accessed by a boardwalk, as well as the outdoor shower.
In a house built for family fun, it’s no surprise that the husband’s favorite feature is one that affords downtime — the beach-side porch swing, perfect for reading and napping, especially in the moonlight.