We’re looking closer at Retreat on a Pond’s Edge by Elliott Architects, the winning house design in the New Modern Cottage category in our 2023 Your Modern Cottage Design Awards Competition. These houses (no more than 4,800 square feet) take us away from the modern rush, provide a retreat for the families that gather there, and provide a place where they can reconnect. And this house perfectly fits this description.

Retreat on a Pond’s Edge

After years of house searching, an interior designer and his partner finally found what they sought – a quiet retreat at the edge of a Maine pond. It’s far from the hustle and bustle of Miami, where they had lived since the mid-90s. Originally a summer home, they moved to Maine permanently in May 2018 for a more tranquil and easy-going way of life.

My partner, John, had little background with Maine, but I had gone to camp here as a kid, as did my father, uncles, and male cousins,” says Stephen Peck, who went back to school to study interior design, speckmd.com. “I wanted to leave the traffic behind, and this pond supplied seclusion, forested landscape with outrageous boulders, and clear, sensual water.”

Elliott Architects designed the modern cottage on the site, thinking about it holistically and how it would respectfully sit on it. Acorn Builders had the challenge of building the home without destroying surrounding trees. 

Site and Client Form the Process

“We always like to think that our buildings relate to their sites and have a particular attitude towards them,” notes Matt Elliott, the principal on the project along with Isaac Robbins, who spent a lot of time on the pre-design, getting to know the site and taking cues from the owners on their vision.

“We evaluate the site, looking at topography, vegetation, how the sun moves around it, and how the water moves,” continues Elliott. “The house feels right on the site, which I hope most of our houses do, and it also feels right to who they are. It’s finding that mix.”

Access to the 2,482-square-foot residence on 25 acres is via a winding half-mile gravel road, cut through mature Maine forest that is initially dense but gradually offers glimpses of the pond ahead. A narrow boardwalk beckons, meandering through immense fern-topped boulders.

“It’s an experience, arriving at the house and seeing it perched up,” says Elliott, who enjoyed the high level of discussion and collaboration on the project between all involved. “It feels like you’re leaving civilization behind.”

Modern Cottage Sits Lightly 

Set mainly on piers, the main living spaces and primary bedroom hover above the forest floor, capturing framed views into the woods and pond’s edge that surround. Tucked beneath, a small study takes in the mossy foreground.

A second study and a guest suite are housed in a separate building, reached by the covered boardwalk and sharing access to a cantilevered screen porch.

“I spent years thinking about this home,” says Peck. “I had it sorted out in my head and could visualize the spaces from the inside, how they connected and interacted. But I could not ‘see’ it on the outside.”

Clad in a palette of dark and muted materials, the flat-roofed building forms recede into the shadows of tall pines, barely visible from the water. From within, however, the house is marked by moments of warmth and whimsy. Art, crafts, and furnishings from around the world map the owner’s journey to this place.

“Five years in, we love our home immensely,” says Peck. “I still enjoy the site and time out on the water. Inside is just large enough for big group gatherings but not so large that we feel overwhelmed when one of us is there alone. The separate volume for guests and John’s office has worked out nicely, and I use a basement area for my workspace and overflow guests.”

“The house has a uniquely rich entry sequence that I envision transporting you to a different world,” notes Joe Herrin, AIA, principal of Heliotrope Architects, one of three judges on the YMC Design Awards panel. “I appreciate the sensitivity brought to siting of the home – minimizing tree loss and excavation impacts.”

Exterior Cladding: Native cedar shingles, locally sourced; MBIC metal siding
Roofing: EPDM
Windows: Marvin
Framing: Weyerhauser TJI joists and Microlams
Foundation: Cast-in-place concrete
HVAC: Radiant heating in slab by Wirsbo
Cabinetry: Custom built by General Contractor
Interior Doors: Simpson
Plumbing Fixtures: Kohler, American Standard
Lighting Fixtures: Juno, Abolite
Guardrails: Feeney CableRail

Photography: Trent Bell Photography