Getting Away from Getting Away

After two decades of spending summers off the grid, a family learns to modernize
Words By Brian Shuff
Photos By Maura McEvoy
ArchitectLife House Home Design - Terry Mason|Barn ArchitectBrad Clark|BuilderMichael Sheehan|StylistBasha Burwell

Twenty years have passed since the day Jennifer Kindig and then-boyfriend Brad Clark first stood on the patch of coastal land that would become their beloved summer escape. Jennifer’s mother had heard whispers that the plot might soon become available. “At that point in our lives,” Jennifer says, “we could either get a great piece of property, or we could buy a house, but it wouldn’t be on the water. Seeing the place for the first time, we both knew we’d do whatever it took to make it work. We’d live in tents the first few years.” 

Jenifer’s daughter painted the barn white to provide a neutral backdrop for her mother’s inventive assemblages.

A few years turned into decades, turned into two children, turned into summer after summer with no running water, no electricity, no luxury beyond the uber-luxury of the hypnotic landscape. Jennifer says, “I think we preserved a lot of magic by keeping the place low tech. Our whole existence was about making things work: heating water for a shower, washing dishes in lobster pots, trekking into town to do laundry, eating dinner on the porch with a million citronella candles.” Tasks they’d have done in minutes at their “real-world home” in Pennsylvania consumed entire days, but the difficulty of performing them induced a calming rhythm. “Even when we have problems,” Jennifer says, “and every summer it’s something—we’ve had mice crawling up the tent walls, we’ve had black worms that came up out of nowhere—we are always at peace here. Always, always. The joy and beauty of being at this place exceeds any inconvenience by miles.” 

“We’re on the water,” says Jenifer, “so we take paddleboards right out our back door. Kayaking, or rowing, or sailing. We’re fortunate.”
Lush bedding certainly helps, but ultimately it is the nightly sounds of insects, waves, and the stirrings of the forest that yield deep sleep. 

Perhaps Jennifer’s outlook owes something to her work as a third-generation antiques and textile dealer. The bulk of her professional life has been spent seeking out—and helping others appreciate—the value of old things. “When you’re in the antiques business,” she says, “you’re on the hunt all the time for that perfect gem, that piece no one else knows about but that you’re able to find, and to share with people, and you just know it’s incredible.” Often, these pieces are discarded or forgotten. Another person might be inclined to buff, or polish, or purchase new, but Jennifer maintains a salvage ethos, one with which she has clearly imbued the Love Shack (their nickname for the summer home). Each structure on the property is curated impeccably with vintage finds from around the world.  

Still, Jennifer and her family understand that even things left untouched will change eventually. “I love candles, and I love using lanterns, but as time goes on, as you get older, staying out here the way we do becomes a harder lifestyle,” Jennifer says. “It becomes exhausting.” The property’s previous owners were schoolteachers who bought the place in the  1960s. “They sold it to us because they couldn’t live this way anymore,” Jennifer says. Her children are also teenagers now, living their own lives, less eager to leave their friends for the summer.  

Bit by bit, she and Brad have begun to incorporate modern conveniences. They added a bathhouse with running water and a steam shower. The platform tents now have full beds with down comforters. Most recently, they constructed a barn where the kids can have more space to themselves, play Ping-Pong (there’s also a climbing wall for a daughter who competes in the sport), and where Jennifer stores some of her collected treasures.  

They’ve envisioned a full-blown house on the property with boardwalks connecting various buildings, but Jennifer knows these upgrades will come with a loss. “When we first started coming here,” she says, “we had the tiniest little driveway connecting to the property, just a chewed dirt trail. When we added water lines for the bathhouse, the road had to be widened for the trucks. As soon as it was done, I knew I was never going to hear branches brushing the sides of our car on the drive in anymore. It breaks your heart in a way. Once we start making bigger changes, nothing will be the same here ever again. You can’t go backwards. We’ll be more comfortable, we’ll be able to use the place in the winter, but something will be gone, too.”

It’s an unspoken rule among the neighbors not to get too specific with the location, lest the haven be found out. “People around here don’t even post pictures,” Jenifer laughs. “But I get it.”

For now, the family has no official plans for construction. To the contrary, they seem committed to putting it off as long as possible. “Every year we say we’ll do it, but we can never bring ourselves to,” Jennifer says. “This summer we considered building some little structure, but we’re back to looking at tents. Of course, it’s not ideal to live in a tent right on the water. We get mildew and mold. But there’s something irresistible about waking up to the sound of the ocean and having your coffee on that little porch. Even though the water looks the same, everything is always changing. The view is always different.”    

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