A Flexible Home

The adaptable design of Kimberly Sampson and Adam Maltese’s home accommodates their growing family and lets them get the most out of living in nature.

| March/April 2017

Educator Kimberly Sampson and architectural designer Adam Maltese were driven to design their small, efficient and hyperfunctional dream home on a wooded lot in Maine by a common parental desire — to do the best they could for their children. Having grown up in upstate New York, Kimberly says she took a childhood spent in nature for granted. But as her children grew up in a coastal Maine town and she saw the emphasis on busy schedules and technology in so many modern lives, she realized she wanted to give her kids the opportunity for something more.

Kimberly and Adam’s desire to create a home in nature led them to a neglected, off-the-beaten-path tract of land a few miles from the Maine coast that had been something of a dump site for area residences, as well as a nearby sawmill. It had housed gravel pits and was completely overgrown after having been clear-cut in the 1950s. But Kimberly and Adam liked its size, manageable at four acres; its diverse ecosystems, which include pine forest, wetlands, ponds and bogs; and its seclusion, a few miles outside the small town of Damariscotta. 

Jumping In

Adam and Kimberly say they both have a knack for jumping into projects with both feet, and they certainly did when it came to building the house. They bought the land and built the house in less than a year, with Adam handling nearly every task himself (along with a few days’ help from generous family members), from setting the foundation piers to building the extensive front porch (one of Kimberly’s aesthetic requests). Adam’s father was a general contractor, so Adam has a lifetime of experience with building projects, and his work as an architectural designer (he worked freelance at the time the house was built and now works for design-build firm Knickerbocker Group in nearby Boothbay) meant he had plenty of design ideas for the couple’s own home. “This was a chance to try some building techniques I’d wanted to try but hadn’t had the opportunity,” Adam says. “The concept was to keep the building as clean and crisp as possible and with as few components as possible, and to make each component do multiple jobs.” 

They chose to keep the house small, in part for construction practicality. By sticking with the size of the largest commonly available building materials, Adam was able to construct the home in a modular style, keep costs down, and source supplies as close to home as possible. While Adam and Kimberly wanted the home to be efficient, they valued an adaptive, workable design over aiming for net-zero. “I see it time and again,” Adam says. “People will build these houses that are wonderfully efficient, and five years later they remodel and they kind of undo the resources they’ve tried to be conservative of. They haven’t used a lot of heating oil, but then they cut a hole in a wall and replace windows with new ones and upgrade other systems — it sort of blows the whole idea.” 

So instead of aiming for state-of-the-art, they chose to aim for functional, durable and flexible — a home that would last for many years. There were also livability reasons they wanted the house to be small. By staying small, they would minimize their home maintenance requirements, and they’d be able to opt for higher quality — even on their trim budget. “I didn’t want to take care of our house often,” Kimberly says. “We’re pretty tidy, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time maintaining a tidy home. So we knew we wanted a small home. But there were also a few beautiful things we wanted. If it was small, we could have the beautiful rug or sofa.” 

 A Natural Education

After the family moved and started settling in, Kimberly, a lifelong educator, began to envision a new purpose for their land — a new project to dive into. “Here our children have this lovely experience of being able to have their early years outside,” she says. She wanted to share that experience with more than just her own family. “I’ve been caring for children and families for more than 20 years, and now more than ever I see the benefits of children spending time outside. I have seen that outdoor time helps children grow strong and helps build their imaginations. Conflict resolution is rarely needed between children, and I feel in the long run children perform better academically. In addition, children who spend time in nature regularly are shown to have a deeper lifelong appreciation of the environment.”

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