BROOKSVILLE — A small but elegant house overlooks a vast flowered field on one side, a wooded copse and the winding Bagaduce River on the other.

On a cloudless summer day, a symphony of crickets fills the air. The scene is one of perfect enjoyment for Chris Noble and his wife, Christine Farrow-Noble, who have the windows and screened doors open to a susurrating breeze.

“We love it,” Farrow-Noble said, as she gave a tour of the cozy home which, despite a small footprint, has a surprisingly spacious feel. From the main entry, there’s a straight-shot view through the kitchen to a cathedral-ceilinged living room and, beyond, a screened porch. A ladder in the living room leads to a second-floor loft, which serves as Noble’s office, protected from a precipitous fall by a sturdy rail.

A narrow hallway by the kitchen leads to a guestroom and bath, then a studio, which also has its own entryway from the outdoors. A graceful staircase climbs to the master bedroom and a second bath on the second floor.

This well-designed small home represents something of a trend, particularly among older professionals seeking a summer getaway, perhaps a retirement option, and choosing to live lightly on the land.

For Noble, a lawyer who practices in Cambridge, Mass., the idea of a second home did not occur to him until one day in the 1990s. His good friend, architect Robert Knight, convinced him to go in together on a beautiful tract of land in Brooksville. This purchase would be the start of Knight’s own turn toward the small home.

In the 1970s, Knight and his wife Lucia bought and renovated an old farmhouse in Blue Hill. When the dirt road was paved—cars zipping by and running over their animals—”My wife said, ‘We’re out of here,'” Knight recalls. She found the remote Brooksville tract, but it was costly. Accustomed to spending summers on their boat, they decided to save money by building small.

“We were in a 2,000-square-foot house at the time. It seemed we ought to be able to cut that in half,” Knight said. “And we did. One of the cool things about a small house is, it’s kind of like wearing a suit of clothes. You’re never more than five or ten feet from the walls, and if you’ve got a lot of windows and you’re in a pretty place, it’s almost like living outside.”


Affordable was key to Noble, as well. Knight’s initial design for the Noble house, which was built within distant sight of his own, included a main house with an ell. Although small, Noble and his first wife, Bette, decided it would be too expensive to build. So they built in phases, starting with the living room with a temporary kitchen in it, adding a structure that could be moved and turned into guest quarters. But they also built the infrastructure for the entire plan—full basement, septic system sized for several bedrooms, underground electricity. The exterior was finished to a nicety, with a cedar roof and lovely Greek revival detailing. The interior was more like a typical Maine camp, but fun, sheathed with pine on a diagonal, the wood floor stained and polyurethaned.

“It was gorgeous,” said Noble.

Bette passed away, and Noble reconnected with Farrow, a writer, teacher and authority on labyrinths. They decided to build out.

“We wanted it to be a four-season place where family could come,” said Farrow-Noble.

With Farrow-Noble’s input, phase two, originally designed as a straight shoebox, was revised to create the small guest suite, angled to the rear of the house. Phase three was the back studio. A vestige of the original space is an interior “Romeo and Juliet” window, as Farrow-Noble calls it, between the second-story bedroom and the living room.

The result? One might think of a small house as a box. But here, pathways and nooks create wonderful visuals and various privacy options.

“It’s very scalable,” said Noble. “We’ve had 20 or 30 people here. It works well for that. And it works well to be here by myself.”

Knight designs houses of all sizes, but his small houses, ranging from 636 to 2,000 square feet of heated floor area, have attracted a lot of attention, thanks to his wife’s idea, in 1995, to publish a catalogue of 20 small-home plans built in Maine. The 636-square-foot space, just over 20 by 30 feet, is a dining/living room, small kitchen and bathroom and sleeping loft.

“Larger houses are usually site-specific,” he said. “A lot of the small houses are like objects in the landscape. So I went back through our files, and picked out houses I felt were portable, that would do well on different sites, providing people were intelligent about how they picked them.”

But Knight sees some irony in the term “small home.”

“I drive by houses every day in Maine that are smaller than the smallest Lucia’s Little House, and I don’t think those people think they’re living in a small house,” he said. “They just don’t have a lot of dough.”

Clients, or folks who have bought a plan, tend to build for year-round occupancy, but initially spend only summers in their second homes. They seek energy-efficient homes that take advantage of sun, site and design, and they have modest housing needs, Knight said.

The plans, although small, require the initial investment of any size house—driveway, well, power, septic.

“It’s people, maybe in their 50s, who bought a hunk of land and want to put down a footprint,” Knight said. “Later, they spend more time here, and then maybe expand the house.”




George Gekas, on Mount Desert Island, is also a long-time small-home designer.

“Maine is becoming a second-home utopia,” Gekas said. “These are people who already have the money and want a second home, or simply want to retire and downsize at the same time. Usually they go for a home that’s smaller in scope and easier to maintain, compared to their primary residence. But that doesn’t always mean they’re affordable.” One 1,300-square-foot house came close to a half million dollars due to the one-off design for all aspects of the project, much of it driven by extreme site conditions.

Gekas is currently designing a 940-square-foot home, with a small, semi-detached garage/storage unit, for a retired person on a fixed income.

“Much care was taken to make sure all areas are accessible from one level for getting around when older,” he said. The space is largely open, except for a 12-foot Shoji screen to define a guest/study area. Among its features, a cantilever deck expands the summer footprint; a flat roof accommodates solar panels, and also avoids “the idea of designing wasted space that no one will ever use.” The structure can be built off-site and shipped flat for quick assembly.

For both client and designer, ideas like these make the small home something of an experimental lab.

“I enjoy the challenge of small buildings, 1,000 to 2,000 square feet,” Gekas said. “I can make a small building work. I think of it as a young and fresh approach with regard to manipulating light and space from a new perspective. But I have to educate the client as I go along, sometimes myself as well. It takes a person who’s not only willing to experiment with the given building components, but more often than not, a rethink of the lifestyle component. These are homes that are unique to the individual.”

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