Home Inside a Year

Words by Brian Shuff | Photos by Jeff Roberts

Two globe-trotting bioengineers at last find a permanent residence

Architect: Stephen G. SMith Architects, Builder: Vision Builders, Landscape Architect: Terrence J. DeWan & Associates

Wild sea, a jagged coast pushing against the back of the property—the Thompson-Rekow home in Tenants Harbor demands aerial views.

Wild sea, a jagged coast pushing against the back of the property—the Thompson-Rekow home in Tenants Harbor demands aerial views.

Figuring conservatively, about four months passed from the time doctors Dianne Rekow and Van Thompson first set foot in Maine (mid-December, by the way) to when they’d made their initial offer on a remarkable coast-side plot off Tenants Harbor, near the tip of the St. George peninsula. “We both like cold,” Dianne says, laughing easily as she often does, while at the same time preempting any stock commentary on the winters. This is the pair of them: fun but not trivial, considered but not stuffy, accommodating but never hostage to social minutiae, or even the demands of their highly specialized field—research in biomaterials as pertains to dental health. Indeed, it was a work trip to Newark, New Jersey, that Dianne and Van chose to escape that December, and both fondly recall the impromptu decision to rent a car and aim it toward someplace called Rockland. By the end of their truant excursion, they shared an insight: “Maine was where we wanted to retire.”

A traditional Shingle Style vocabulary—popularized in Maine by Portland architect John Calvin Stevens in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—accounts for much of the home’s exterior. But note the many contemporar y quirks—an invisible (glass) hallway gives a glimpse of the ocean through the house.

A traditional Shingle Style vocabulary—popularized in Maine by Portland architect John Calvin Stevens in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—accounts for much of the home’s exterior. But note the many contemporar y quirks—an invisible (glass) hallway gives a glimpse of the ocean through the house.

June of the next year had the two in talks with Steve Smith of Stephen G. Smith Architects. “It takes eight to 12 months to come up with the design and complete the construction drawings and to go through the bid process,” Steve says from his office in Camden, “then construction on a house of their size and quality takes about another year.” This brings the clock—from visit one to welcome mat—to just inside four years. Dianne and Van trade frequent inside jokes regarding the hastened chronology, and each private chuckle seems to admit, We’re not quite sure how any of this fell together, either. 

The house is a stunner. A large, classic New England Shingle Style, standing solitary on a cliff of dark rock, Atlantic below, with a turret facing the sea, a soaring widow’s walk, and a hallway of glass connecting the main house to a garage apartment, the home evokes drama with a capital D. Of course this place would inspire impatience! 

“We were exceptionally happy with the quality of everything that went into this place,” Dianne says. Owl Furniture at the Geoffrey Warner Studio in Stonington (who provided the dining room table chairs) and Mougalian Rugs in Portland “really went out of their way to help us find things that look good.”

“We were exceptionally happy with the quality of everything that went into this place,” Dianne says. Owl Furniture at the Geoffrey Warner Studio in Stonington (who provided the dining room table chairs) and Mougalian Rugs in Portland “really went out of their way to help us find things that look good.”

And yet particular is the word that keeps coming to mind. Despite the home and locale’s grandiose scale, Dianne and Van have not surrendered the extreme precision that must have informed much of their professional lives. “They’re very detail-oriented people,” Steve says. “They had specific requirements for almost every room. Number of bookshelves. Top-hinge kitchen cabinets. Materials. Everything.” One especially notable criterion involved preserving “the natural warmth of wood” on all interior window trim. Dianne remembers the persistence of on-site foreman Peter Mitchell of Vision Builders in West Rockport. “He and his partners were phenomenal at putting together mock-ups,” she says. “They made several versions in small chunks for us to consider. All of the exposed wood came about from those collaborations.” 

The positioning of the structure itself was configured to the owners’ explicit stipulations. (A great perk of designing from the ground up, and one of little surprise given that even a decorative compass inside the doctors’ front entrance appears to be accurately calibrated.) According to Steve, “the thing we discussed most was that they wanted every room to have a view of the ocean, so all the rooms are basically on the southeastern side of the site. The light variations are wonderful. Beautiful sunrises, exposure.” 

Steve Smith’s son, Justin, served as Project Architect on the home, completing the construction drawings and masterfully accommodating Dianne and Van’s call for “a view of the ocean in every room.”

Steve Smith’s son, Justin, served as Project Architect on the home, completing the construction drawings and masterfully accommodating Dianne and Van’s call for “a view of the ocean in every room.”

The site provided unique challenges for Landscape Architect Keith Smith of Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, but the end result is tidy, tranquil, and unobtrusive, beautifully supporting the main event out back.

The site provided unique challenges for Landscape Architect Keith Smith of Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, but the end result is tidy, tranquil, and unobtrusive, beautifully supporting the main event out back.

Particular, too, can name a certain distinctive quality, and the doctors have no shyness about the ways in which the home incorporates their own unique natures. Running throughout the house on built-in shelving, a magnificent glass and ceramics collection from Peter Layton Galleries in England adds elegance and splash, but for Dianne and Van, the pieces are significant beyond their beauty; they share kinship with the doctors’ research, especially their seminal investigation of fracture fatigue in all-ceramic dental crowns, work that was sponsored by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Van likes to kid about the home’s unusual floor plan, too. “We’re not necessarily sure anyone else would want it,” he says. “The way it’s laid out, it really could be said that it has one bedroom.” What he means is that the upper level consists only of the couple’s bedroom and library, when a house of its size could easily have accommodated four or five. Still, the doctors don’t seem too worried about resale value. “We designed it for the way we want to live,” Dianne says. No apologies.

Broad windows and a perfected balance of whites and natural wood help the doctors “keep it light on the inside.”

Broad windows and a perfected balance of whites and natural wood help the doctors “keep it light on the inside.”

At the time of their first tour up from New Jersey, Dianne and Van were living in London, where Dianne served as dean of the Dental Institute at King’s College. Upon their joint retirement in 2017, construction on the home was incomplete, so the two moved into the space above the garage, squatting in a way, through the end of the build with only space heaters, a portable induction stove, and a microwave. Just one more testament to the duo’s individualistic bent and to the delight with which they must have been anticipating their new home.

That delight remains. Having bounced between academic appointments the world over, the good doctors appear giddy at the chance to finally create and enjoy a permanent home. “It was a dream having lived in apartments the last 15 years,” Dianne says. “Almost everything in here is new.” She pauses. “Except for the people.” And again they’re both laughing.

Seclusion, stillness, a water view library, a policy against computers in the main house, and a deck (with grill) that spans the entire backside of the home—after long and respected careers, doctors Dianne Rekow and Van Thompson have created a retirement utopia.

Seclusion, stillness, a water view library, a policy against computers in the main house, and a deck (with grill) that spans the entire backside of the home—after long and respected careers, doctors Dianne Rekow and Van Thompson have created a retirement utopia.

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