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An Historical Building in Coastal Maine Gets a Modern and Artistic Overhaul

How a pair of leading architects turned an old fraternity hall in Maine into an unlikely experiment in design and living.

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Outward Bound, the character-building program that takes young people into some of this country’s wildest places, isn’t for everyone. It definitely wasn’t for a teenage John Ike, who showed up from Cincinnati in 1970 unprepared for a cold, leaden month of hiking Maine’s central coast. “I got great exposure to Penobscot Bay—that was the silver lining, because otherwise I hated it,” says Ike, now a partner in the Manhattan design firm Ike Kligerman Barkley.

Since then, Ike has experienced the softer side of Maine’s Blue Hill peninsula with his wife and three grown children. He has rented a house in Brooklin for many summers, always keeping an eye out for something to buy. One day over lunch with fellow Brooklinite Robert Baird, a noted historic preservationist, Ike floated a crazy idea. Maybe they should go in together on the local pile known as the Odd Fellows Hall?

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The building, positioned on a bluff overlooking the harbor, was a town landmark with a haunting look, an Edward Gorey illustration brought to life. Dating to 1895, with a boxy mansard roof in the Second Empire style, it had lain derelict for years. It had once been Brooklin’s civic hub, home to the general store, post office, and a succession of other operations on the ground floor. Upstairs was a community center for plays and concerts; the third floor belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that began in the U.S. in the early 19th century.

Ike was intrigued by the building’s history and by the affordability of all that square footage, the price of which—roughly $270,000—was about half the cost of a Manhattan studio apartment. Working with Baird, he figured out a way to restore the hall and split the costs among investors. In 2017, they formed a partnership with Steve White, owner of the Brooklin Boat Yard. They divided the structure up like a layer cake, with White on the bottom, Baird in the middle, and Ike on top, in the former aerie of the Odd Fellows.

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“I still don’t know exactly what Odd Fellows do—drink and try to get away from their spouses, probably,” the architect says.
White had an idea of what they did. As the only local among the partners—his grandfather, the writer E. B. White, had moved to Brooklin from New York City in 1933—he had evocative memories of the building from childhood. “I would sneak up to the third floor and play pool there with my friends,” he says on the phone, a belt sander audible in the background. “It was such a big, cool space.”

The boatbuilder thought the ground floor could make a fine workshop for the reproduction of a series of classic sailboats, modeled after Nathanael Herreshoff’s 1912 Alerion, which he crafts now for the Sanford Boat Company. Baird’s intentions were looser—he wanted to rent out the second floor for parties and events. By far the most quixotic plans were Ike’s for the top floor. Beguiled, he says, by “those B&B Italia ads shot in some fabulous palazzo,” he visualized the former Odd Fellows ceremonial hall, which did measure a palatial 40 by 50 feet, arrayed with his collection of Italian furniture from the 1960s and ’70s, including pieces by Osvaldo Borsani, Mario Bellini, Gaetano Pesce, and others. There would also be two bedrooms, a sleeping loft, and a simple kitchen where Ike and his family could cook up local corn and shellfish.

Baird, for one, was charmed. “Throughout his whole career, John’s thing has been Italian midcentury modern,” he says of the architect, who is celebrated for his stylistic fluidity and range, from exacting neoclassicism to inspired riffs on the Shingle style. Ike and his partner Tom Kligerman both worked in the office of architect Robert A. M. Stern before launching their own firm in 1989—Joel Barkley joined a decade later—and Stern’s obsession with the American vernacular clearly rubbed off on them. Through it all, though, Ike has maintained his enchantment with Mediterranean style. “He wanted an Italian villa, really,” Baird says. “But he’s kept the feeling on the exterior. And the second floor is very coastal Maine.”

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Because the building had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, it was eligible for government tax credits as long as the repair work was up to the Department of the Interior’s rehabilitation standards. Baird made sure that it was. (He’d contributed to the restoration of the U.S. Capitol dome in 2016, so the Odd Fellows project was a comparative breeze.) Roof, windows, floors, plumbing, electrical, foundation—all needed attention, and the total cost amounted to more than five times the purchase price (or 200 times the 1895 construction price of $7,500).

The 20-month restoration gave Ike time to pad out his own version of L’Avventura. After painting the original plaster walls with tinted limewash, which echoed the papery effects of fresco, he studied those mesmerizing magazine ads more closely and chose pieces from his collection that would make the trip to Maine. From his homes and storage units in New Jersey and San Diego, he earmarked a pair of Paolo Buffa rush-seated chairs, a Gino Sarfatti floor lamp for Arteluce, and an Osvaldo Borsani brass bed. Even so, the 2,700-square-foot space needed some filling in. “This place soaks up a lot of furniture,” Ike says. So he purchased a sprawling brown velvet sectional sofa by Mario Bellini and another in black leather by de Sede. He also bought a Joe Colombo freestanding motorized bar (“very Bond-like,” he says) and a swan-shaped fiberglass chaise, both of which were procured through his longtime network of regional auction houses in Italy.

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Ike’s fascination with Italian modernism dates back to his grad-student days at Columbia University, when he came across an exhibition catalog for Emilio Ambasz’s 1972 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape.” He never forgot Ambasz’s radical, politically charged survey. “That catalog got me going,” Ike says, though it would be decades before he began buying and only after a detour into Scandinavian Modern. “My collection isn’t super one-off rare stuff—it’s really production material,” he says. “That’s what makes it cool to me. It’s accessible, not über-precious. It really was great design for the masses.” Embracing the chips and tears of age, he buys mostly vintage pieces and rarely bothers having them restored.
His laid-back approach suits the impromptu nature of the Ike family’s new palazzo, which they’ve begun to regard as a possible exit strategy from New York. The architect has installed his McIntosh MC275 amp and preamp/tuner and his mammoth Klipschorn speakers, along with a vintage turntable and his sizable vinyl record collection.

“Music sounds great up there,” he says. “Robert definitely benefits from my music.” To add to the cool factor, on weekdays Steve White shows up for work at the boat shop in his 1975 El Camino. Just in case there was any doubt about it being a new day at the Odd Fellows Hall.

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