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Flooded with water, light and sound

Ken Sawyer's vision of home as a yacht in a harbor is being realized in Cushing, Maine, by 300-some craftspeople in 15-plus firms collaborating as Yarkitecture Design.

Sawyer's Cushing, Maine, home blends yacht and architectural design elements, including port-light-style windows and gaff-rig curtains that can be reefed.

"Joining Yarkitecture" - yacht + architecture - "is like signing on as crew on a boat. You have to stretch creatively, pitch in or you don't stay," says landscape architect George Workman of Newcastle, Maine, who relishes Sawyer's creativity and positive energy. "Ken blends yacht and residential design concepts, new forms and interpretations, ancient and modern materials. The result is very eclectic and might be hard to grasp or overwhelming to minimalists."

Sawyer, a yachtsman who thinks way outside any box, tosses ideas to his Yarkitecture team: "I want to see this, feel that, to achieve a sense of security and serenity." He's always asking, "Can we do this? Why not?"
His home overlooking Maple Juice Cove combines the ambience and craftsmanship of a luxury yacht with a playful multilayered use of angles, spaces, horizontal sightlines and bend-the-mind illusions. And water, light and sound, which Sawyer calls the trilogy of life.
The two-story, three-bedroom home's sense of being at anchor begins with the views from the freestanding circular staircase of divergent yet harmonious shapes throughout the house and courtyard. Downstairs, "rooms" flow into one another, their shapes determined by moveable screens, a double-sided bookcase, furniture placement, an angled fireplace, a breakfast bar. Lights glow against gold wallpaper, through paintings on silk, and reflect from mirrors and polished floors. Sun shining through the galley kitchen's all-glass cabinets sets the goblets and glassware aglow.
The sitting area's inlaid cockpit, a butterfly hatch suspended in a bedroom cupola, vanities with proper fiddles, and multiple specific-use mini-kitchens all test concepts for his yachts. In the master suite upstairs, a Lyman-Morse-built gaff ketch rig forms "curtains" that can be reefed, lowered or raised. "When a breeze comes through the windows, the sails fill and you can sail away in your mind," says Sawyer, who is divorced and lives in the house alone. His bed can rock through 10 degrees, heightening the sailing illusion.
Throughout the home, Sawyer seeks sensory overload through fragmented, changing sources of water, light and sound. Everywhere are port-light-framed views, shimmers of light, curving waves, shapes within shapes, normal forms and their twisted counterparts. Washing over all is music, downloaded from Yamaha's dedicated satellite through Sawyer's S6 grand piano. "These water, light and sound waves all blend together, forcing your mind to just go overboard so you relax," he says.
Sawyer's belief that water, light and sound are the "dance of life" culminates in the recital hall, connected to his home through a stone lighthouse. Engineers disparaged his mix of materials - glass rods surrounding the upholstered "orchestra pit," sailcloth-covered sound-deadening panels in the performing area, stone arches and laminated wooden beams supporting varnished vaulted roofs. The acoustics, however, work.
"The sound waves are pushed like a boat's wake into the listening area and trapped, causing the chandelier to move," says Sawyer, who collaborates with Yamaha on audio and video technology and lectures internationally on molecular physics. "So you see sound and hear light, transporting you into a spiritual fifth dimension where you can just be."
You also are swept into this dance. Juvenile steel figures seem to emerge from the waters of an exterior reflecting pool to begin the dance. An oversized sunflower lamp represents their growth in the light and music to become the adult figures seemingly dancing on the clouds in a sunlit window.
"At some point, the music stops, the lights dim and everything changes," says Sawyer. A spotlight illuminates a stone dancing angel in the garden, inscribed with "My heart will never turn to stone."
"That's life's final phase," he says.
Watching over all of this is a stained-glass weeping lion, Yarkitecture's logo, memorializing Sawyer's only son Landon, who died in a skiing accident.
"The recital hall's transition of water, light and sound dissolving into each other sweeps you up and away," says Workman, who collaborates with Yarkitecture ( "It's overwhelming when you realize what he's trying to do."
Josiah Glover of Camden, Maine, who created the steel figures and sunflower sculpture, sums up another Sawyer goal: "Before working with Yarkitecture, I was a welder. Now I'm an artist."

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See related stories:

- The Sawzall School of Boat Design

- From the drawing boards: the Sawyer lineup

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.