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Boatbuilder's House

Boatbuilder’s House
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For years Stephen Florimbi and his partner, Sarah Price, had a vision of what they wanted in a home: a life tucked away in the woods, isolated, private, off the grid. For Sarah: lavish vegetable gardens. For Stephen, a boatbuilder: a barn for his work.

And at the center of the property: a small, energy-producing house of contemporary design, bearing little resemblance to the Capes, Colonials, and Greek Revivals sprinkled around their adopted coastal village of Rockport, Maine, whose ship- and boatbuilding heritage had first lured the pair from New Hampshire in the late 1980s.

The couple bought land in nearby Appleton. Stephen converted a small shed into an even smaller one-room living space. No plumbing, no running water. Around their work schedules–Sarah waited tables, Stephen mixed house construction with boatbuilding–the two mapped out their dream. But just as the couple was set to move forward, a water test revealed high traces of arsenic. Rather than invest in a costly filtration system, Stephen and Sarah set their sights on finding a new place to call home.

Their search took them to an 1840 Greek Revival. Located a half mile outside downtown Rockport, it had once been part of an estate belonging to a prominent local shipbuilding family. In recent years, however, the house had been vacant, and what had been described to them as a “fixer-upper” more than lived up to the name.

Drainage and septic problems plagued the place. “You could put your hands on the walls and feel the dampness,” Stephen recalls. Windows were blown out, the roof was shot, the old coal-fired heating system was cooked, and on the second floor a thriving Virginia creeper had inched its way inside and taken up residence. And yet …

“It was a real mess, of course,” Sarah says. “But it had such nice detail–all these windows–and the way it was laid out gave it this great flow.”

It wasn’t long before Stephen knew Sarah was hooked: “I remember walking up to the second floor, and Sarah turned around and gave me a big kiss and said, ‘I love it!’ ”

He’s recalling this as he sits at the dining room table of the couple’s now-renovated home. A new Douglas fir floor runs underfoot, spilling out into the nearby kitchen. There, amid stainless-steel appliances and the counters and cabinetry that Stephen made, Sarah is putting the finishing touches on a pizza, smothered in fresh vegetables picked from her gardens. The setting, restored and now dry–plaster walls included–is a testament to just how far the couple has come since work began in 2003, when Stephen started hauling a foot-thick layer of mud out of the cellar by wheelbarrow.

It also serves as evidence that the pair hasn’t made quite the radical departure from their first vision as it might seem. Their interest in sustainability, which fueled much of their original plans, hasn’t waned. It’s just taken on a different face. “What we’re doing,” Stephen emphasizes, “is preserving something that’s good and was well made.”

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