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When you buy a landmark property, your intentions become everyone’s business. Larry and Mary Biddinger learned that lesson when they bought the cottage that had graced the mouth of the Indian River for more than a century, a house loved for its super-sized screened porch, artesian-fed fountain and rocky “waterfall” tumbling down the riverbank.
Neighbors, even strangers gliding past in boats, urged the Biddingers to save the structure. And though the floors were slanted, the foundation made of giant stumps, and the bathrooms squeezed into closets, the Biddingers seriously considered renovation when they bought the property in 1998. After all, Mary had summered nearby her whole life and was as fond of the old cottage as anyone.
Then they brought in the architects. “When they were on the outside, they would say, ‘I hope you’re not going to tear this down,’” Mary says. “But when they got inside, they would say, ‘You can’t save it.’”
Builder Andre Poineau agreed with the prognosis. But he also convinced the Biddingers he could design a house that would honor the original cottage while being immensely more livable. Poineau especially appreciated the Biddingers’ concern that the new house have the same, albeit bigger, footprint as the old. It was a crucial decision, one that has had an almost magical effect.
“When people went down the river after it was done, they said, ‘You did such a nice job renovating that old house,’” Mary says. “Or they’ll say, ‘We’re so glad you saved that old fireplace behind the porch.’ But there was no fireplace there in the old house.”
To Poineau, a master woodworker turned designer and builder, there is no higher compliment. He wants his houses to “look like they’ve always been there,” so he manipulates the site as little as possible and bases his designs on an eclectic but reverential mix of classic motifs, such as Arts and Crafts and Adirondack style.
On this project, Poineau started with the general shape of the demolished cottage, an unadorned Victorian with a pitched-roof, two-story center and symmetrical one-story wings. Then he worked an architectural makeover, topping the middle structure with a pavilion roof, lifting the wings to 11⁄2 stories, and primping the outside with deep soffits, exposed rafter tails, and a tiny, second-floor porch. The result? A completely different style but one so timeless that the new house easily passes for 80 or 90 years old.