Catherine Honeycomb loves her modern farmhouse, a classic architectural style reimagined with contemporary insights. Honeycomb, an interior designer, worked directly on the project with architect Stephen Pondelis of Attardo Pondelis Architecture and builder Scott Lewis of Wright-Ryan Homes. What followed is a success story. Not only did Honeycomb’s home turn out even better than she had imagined, but the process for client/designer, architect and builder was as positive, pleasant and productive as any of them could have hoped.
The Honeycomb house is set on a four-acre, pie-shaped plot in a Cumberland Foreside neighborhood marked by rolling hills and forested privacy. The white core of the house is set between two tall brown gabled sections: One is the garage and the other contains many of the significant spaces of the home, including the living room and the main entrance at the start of the wrap-around porch. The facade is asymmetrically composed, finely balancing the high peaks of the brown gables with the crisp, white lines of the porch posts and window frames with their black muntin bars. It is a single step from the artfully stone-laid walkway to the open porch. Even from the outside, the handsome home has a practical air and a subtly sophisticated flavor.
The interior is a showcase for balancing mass with the reductive spareness of materials. As in so many traditional New England farmhouses, the kitchen is the practical entry, a true gathering place. Seated at the impressively scaled two-inch-thick walnut island in her kitchen, Honeycomb discussed the project. Bathed in window light, the room itself is a study in materials, their heft and their grace. The giant walnut slab in the center is only the beginning. To one side is an open pan rack designed by Honeycomb. It features reclaimed hemlock and hardware custom made by blacksmith Tim Greene. The open shelves in the kitchen are a handsome element repeated throughout the house as well as a notable design collaboration: Honeycomb wanted a simple bowed support bracket; Greene sketched it with soapstone on his toolbox and suggested a traditional heat-welded look, and then Lewis added an angle iron to improve the installation and offer a visual frame for the shelves. It is a terrific bit of design.
The most noteworthy visual element of the house is the use of oak beams reclaimed from an 18th-century barn in upstate New York. Honeycomb and Pondelis had gone to Longleaf Lumber in Berwick to pick out beams, with the idea of installing them as decorative elements in the gabled living room ceiling. Pondelis persuaded her to go with oak instead of hemlock for the texture, but the beams were so visually appealing that they were upgraded to a starring role in the center of the space. They offer a muscular aesthetic to the home’s key flow point, where the living room meets the kitchen and the staircase from the top floor. The shift from the ceiling to the defining edges of the spaces lifted the oak elements from decoration to an essential form that defines the architectural content of the house.
Some of the beams were milled on site so the structural posts could be wrapped within the old beams; the toothy texture of the oak supports the illusion of solidity to perfection. The effect is elegant and impressive.
The living room is anchored by a hand-laid stone fireplace finished with custom hardware. Despite the heft of materials, light flows in from every direction. The beams and stone are joined by antique wooden tables of various styles leaning toward the bold rather than the precious. Just off the opening from the living room to the main entrance is a “keeping room,” a cozy, easy-to-heat winter space common in colonial-era New England homes. Every member of the team remarked how the collaborative efforts made for better, smarter and more creative choices. “Steve is an immensely affable and erudite gentleman. And Scott is so funny, I had to watch every word that came out of his mouth,” mused Honeycomb. “The banter never stopped.” The architect and builder have worked well together on many projects over the years, but this was the project manager’s first client who was an interior designer—and he was thoroughly impressed by her detailed vision of what she thought her home should be.
Their combined judgment pushed them toward eliminating anything unnecessary. “Once we decided to take something out,” notes Honeycomb, “we never put it back in. These guys gave me something much less embellished than what I first thought I would get and the house is much better for it.”
Honeycomb wanted to create a comfortable home for herself and her husband that would be large enough to host their children and grandchildren. To accomplish these twin goals, she envisioned rooms of varying sizes: large, open spaces on the first floor accompanied by smaller gathering spaces such as the keeping room and the television nook at the upstairs landing.
One of the house’s most creative and interesting spaces is the tiny double bunk room. The group wondered how to take advantage of extra space above the living room. Honeycomb turned some of
it into elevated closets. Pondelis suggested using it as a loft space. Together with Lewis, they created a ship’s ladder that takes up no floor space and doubles as a guard rail for a play loft that is now her grandchildren’s favorite place in the house. And however strewn with
toys the loft space may be, the floor of the room always appears completely clean.
Scott notes that working with the Honeycombs was easy not only for him, but for the entire Wright-Ryan building team: “It was really a great experience working for the Honeycombs. They were quite generous in providing many lunches for the crew; they even brought in a food truck featuring lobster rolls!”
ATTARDO PONDELIS ARCHITECTURE
Scott Lewis, project superintendent
GNOME LANDSCAPE, DESIGN, MASONRY & MAINTENANCE
STANDFAST WORKS FORGE