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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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The original dark plywood interior was repainted in a soft palette of whites and grays.

Photo/Art by Lynn Karlin
The original dark plywood interior was repainted in a soft palette of whites and grays.

In 2007, she found a property that met all those criteria, and at a price well under $200,000. Even better, it was surrounded by much larger properties, affording the cabin privacy at no cost to herself.

Vintage accessories give the kitchen a charmingly retro feel.

Photo/Art by Lynn Karlin
Vintage accessories give the kitchen a charmingly retro feel.

But it wasn’t perfect. The interior of the 400-square-foot 1904 home was clad in plywood, and the big, inoperable picture window overlooking the lake lacked charm. What’s worse, the sleeping loft was cut off visually from the water, making it feel claustrophobic. And the house’s foundation was compromised; she would have to jack it up to create a more-solid footing. In fact, many of Karlin’s acquaintances advised her to tear the place down.

No way, she decided. Spending about $30,000 to improve the tiny camp, she and her longtime partner, Barry Way, first removed the plywood to expose its joists and had the entire interior whitewashed, brightening it considerably. Then she updated the electrical system and swapped the single window for five wood-framed double-hungs (her highest-ticket item) that open to let in the fresh air; to get a wraparound porch effect, she installed an additional pair on either side. She replaced the bedroom wall with an arts-and-crafts balcony built by her carpenter, Jack Ruth. Now at night, she can see the moon and stars reflecting off the lake.

Karlin has sacrificed certain creature comforts–though to hear her tell it, they’re hardly sacrifices. One critical affordability decision was to eschew indoor plumbing. Karlin chose to keep the existing outhouse rather than pay to install a well, pump, and septic system. “I want to live lightly on the land,” she explains, “so I carry out my dirty dishes instead of washing them.” She brings potable water in from Belfast, and on hot days, she fills her custom outdoor shower with heated water from the stove. Made of a galvanized metal chicken feeder welded to a watering-can spout, it hangs from a tree and holds enough for two comfortable showers.

With no running water in the cottage, this sink is purely decorative.

Photo/Art by Lynn Karlin
With no running water in the cottage, this sink is purely decorative.

Keeping costs down also meant forgoing a heating system. Karlin’s house isn’t insulated, but it does feature a cast-iron propane stove, which, she says, “takes the chill and damp out of the air” on cold days. Because the house lacks plumbing, she doesn’t need a generator, either, which is just as well: “I don’t like the noise,” she says. When the electricity goes out, there are always candles.

Karlin also carefully culled the furnishings that came with the place, keeping the wicker loveseat and chairs (freshened up with a coat of white paint) and discarding much of the rest. She added more pieces, found at her favorite antiques stores, auctions, and flea markets (see the accompanying sidebar, opposite).

One decor trick she learned from her many years freelancing for House Beautiful and Country Living was to use side tables and lamps to make a place warm and cozy. “They eliminate dead spots in the room,” she notes. As she gives the tour of her petite cottage, she points out details: an oar she repurposed as a railing; the push-button electric stove from the 1950s that came with the house; the wood-framed chalkboard above the kitchen sink. “Surround yourself with things that you love–not valuable things, but things that make you happy,” she says. And that’s certainly how the little place on the water feels, a few miles from everything, quiet and peaceful. For Lynn Karlin, it’s the perfect carefree, low-budget escape.

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