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Rustic Lakefront Home in Maine | A 400-Square-Foot Getaway

Rustic Lakefront Home in Maine | A 400-Square-Foot Getaway
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A second home doesn’t have to drain your bank account. One intrepid New Englander reveals how she landed her perfect waterfront getaway for less than $200,000.


Photo/Art by Lynn Karlin

Some people like their vacation houses big—equipped with every convenience and luxury. But photographer Lynn Karlin has a different idea. At her tiny lakefront home near Belfast, Maine, she can drop in without fanfare, take a dip, read by the fire, and dine under the stars–then hop in her car and head back to town worry-free. It’s a Thoreau-like approach to weekend living, a minimalist sort of R&R.

Fresh lake breezes blow through the cottage's siting area.

Photo/Art by Lynn Karlin
Fresh lake breezes blow through the cottage’s siting area.

Typically, a simple getaway isn’t so simple to achieve. While property is expensive in itself, furnishings, taxes, and plain old upkeep can turn what was once a retreat into an endless source of worry.

Then again, maybe not. Karlin is eminently practical, something she learned, no doubt, while building her commercial photography career in New York in the 1970s. Originally from Queens, she became the first female staff photographer at Women’s Wear Daily, traveling the world and capturing the likes of Jackie Onassis and Princess Grace. A stint at the New York Times Magazine followed. Forever ready for an assignment, she perfected a light and nimble journalist’s lifestyle.

But Karlin harbored an insatiable agrarian fantasy. On a visit to back-to-the-landers Helen and Scott Nearing’s farm in Harborside, Maine, in 1983, she discovered the beauty and solace of coastal living and decided to drop anchor. She quit her job, sold her New York home, and began farming with her husband, using her camera to document the many moods of rural Maine. Their beautiful book, Maine Farm: A Year of Country Life, published in 1991, captured that time.

Complementary paint colors define the distinct spaces within the cottage's open floor plan.

Photo/Art by Lynn Karlin
Complementary paint colors define the distinct spaces within the cottage’s open floor plan.

A year later, Karlin separated from her husband and landed in Belfast, establishing herself as a garden and interior photographer for magazines. Almost immediately, she began to plot her weekend escape. Her initial attempt at a second home–a camp about 45 minutes away–didn’t work out. She didn’t visit often enough to justify the cost. “I learned that I had to have a place nearby,” she says. So for almost three years, Karlin hunted for a better spot.

While searching, practicality (and frugality) guided every decision. “Keep it simple,” she continually told herself: no computer, no TV, no frills. An avid swimmer, Karlin wanted a place on a quiet lake. And because she wanted to be at the pond’s edge, she needed an existing camp grandfathered into that location. (Newer houses have to be built at least 75 feet back.) It also had to be small, to keep taxes down.

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