Scott Simon’s Hillside House

words TODD BROSS  |  photography BRIAN VANDEN BRINK

“It’s what a kid draws when they
draw a house.”

Given the impact Scott Simons’ Hillside House still has in the world of contemporary architecture 20 years since its completion, his frank comment about its roof line isn’t what one would expect to hear from such a renowned architect.

“It’s true,” says Simons about the Yarmouth landmark, which he designed for his family. “The gables were all inspired by the rustic sheds and old barns I grew up around, as well as those that dominate the surrounding community. So it blends in, but also stands out.”

That’s not to say the gables’ appearance and pitch have no purpose other than to pay homage to old memories in a new neighborhood. Far from it. Be it harvesting solar power, creating shade during summer’s swelter, discarding winter’s accumulations or just looking aesthetically beautiful as they flow into the forested landscape, every aspect of Hillside House was thought out as far as how it relates to other design elements and the world around it.

“It shakes your hand instead of ignoring it,” says Simons, principal at Scott Simons Architects in Portland. “It faces you, warmly, inviting. There is a simplicity borrowed from nature, an organic fluidity from exterior to interior space as well as the same inside, from room to room. So many homes do the opposite. They hide their face in the shadows, or they don’t invite nature in.”

At about 2,400 square feet, it’s not a large house, yet it feels that way. A major exterior wall  almost entirely composed of large, angled glass windows blur boundaries between nature and home. The open floor plan and vaulted ceilings, inspired by the New York lofts Simons lived in through the late 1980s, create open expanses reminiscent of being outside. Natural materials, many native to New England such as granite and wood, salute the past while celebrating the modern architectural style.

It took Simons a year of letting various thoughts and concerns percolate, and sketches evolve, until Hillside House’s final form came to be. It took Freeport general contractor Mark Dorsey about seven months to construct.

“We’d collaborated with Scott prior to his contracting us,” says Dorsey, whose firm, Mark Dorsey Inc., specializes in historic reproductions. “That was the first time we’d built a dramatically contemporary home.”

Although any kid might be able to draw the roof line, constructing it was a different matter.

“Oh, that was one of the biggest challenges by far,” says Dorsey. “The reverse pitch, the dormer ridge not being level, a 40-foot run of open interior space. That and fitting the foundation exactly into solid ledge was not easy.”

And while the air at this level of architecture is pretty thin, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some lighter, even humorous aspects to the build. When Simons noticed the colors of the material choices for the countertops—black granite, white Corian and natural maple butcher’s block—mimicked those of Eric Clapton’s famous guitar Blackie, from that point on they became the Blackie Counters.

Or while determining the angle of the garage in relationship to the house, Simons laughs, “When I asked the surveyor what that number was, he said, ‘322°.’ I told him to make it 321° so it would match my birthday.”

That same light-heartedness also played a role in a very difficult decision for Simons—to sell Hillside House to friend and architect Kyo Bannai.

“When Kyo and her family came over to view the property, her two girls just started tearing through it like it was theirs already,” beams Simons. “That meant a lot to me, that they were able to sense all the work that went into making Hillside House not so much an architectural space, but a family’s home.”

Scott Simons Architects

Mark Dorsey, Inc.
Mark Dorsey

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