From Downfall to Rising Triumph

Two houses by James McNeal Architecture & Design turn their lots’ steepness into assets with cantilevers, bridges, and overarching views

Renderings by JMAD/DreamTrace

In a 1,000-square-foot room, James McNeal Architecture & Design (JMAD) can immerse you in some of its greatest feats in the past, present, and future through ahead-of-its-time virtual reality technology. Two examples: the Pier House in Orono and what the team dubbed “the Speck” in Deephaven. 

Believe it or not, neither have been created yet, but both show just what the firm can do. Better yet, these larger-than-life renderings allow future owners to walk around and add their own specs and personalizations for when they bring the homes to life.

The Pier House

Here, the steepness of the Orono lot creates beautiful views over the wetlands and forest, but it also eliminates most of the exterior space for landscaping. JMAD’s solution? Make space out of nothing with a 45-foot cantilever. To get to it, a 10-foot glass guillotine door lifts straight up. But to see the view from the farthest point, one must slip into the cantilever’s shallow, solar-heated pool.

The rest of the house is formed with carefully placed large stone masses wrapped in glass, and the entire structure is poised 6 feet off the ground. While the four-person design team (which consisted of JMAD founder and principal architect James McNeal and colleagues Angela DeCoux, Robert Hull, and Pamela Cariveau) drafted the home to boast an open floor plan, small details like soffits keep the flow of the house defined. 

“It is 360 degrees of composed spaces, and it feels better when you’re moving through the house because everything has a balance,” McNeal says. “We don’t have the typical landscape of a yard, but there are certainly plenty of spaces for kids to play. In fact, much more so, because of the playfulness of the land. You’re more in the woods. You’re more Swiss Family Robinson-like.”

Home Details 

  • Location: Orono
  • Bedrooms: 5
  • Bathrooms: 5
  • Style: Modern, sustainable stone pier

The Speck

The land was similarly challenging in Deephaven, but JMAD conceptualized a glass-enclosed bridge that not only serves as part of the main living space, but also as the overhang of an outdoor entertaining area. And, as opposed to the other home, the team highlighted the sloping ground by following the grade—creating a waterfall and downstairs entertainment space also surrounded by glass.

The only real entrance point is near the garage, but McNeal and company elevated it with a stone veneer and turnaround court with low steps that ripple out from the home’s glass entryway. When you enter the house, gray stone, wood floors, and a floating staircase juxtapose floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking views of the verdant wetlands. And, if you’re looking for more fresh air, simply pop up to the rooftop garden.

“The land is what we call a sleeper lot,” McNeal says. “It’s a valuable piece of land, but nobody wants to buy it if no one can put a house on it. We want to show people that working with properties like these, you can create much more interesting architecture and way better spaces.”

And virtual reality technology makes it possible to do just that.  

Home Details

  • Location: Deephaven
  • Bedrooms: 3
  • Bathrooms: 3
  • Style: Modern, sustainable, organic, sleek, artistic

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