The first time Marcia Sharp saw Cliff Island, off Portland on Maine's rocky coast, she was just 6 weeks old. Her parents, who had honeymooned on the tiny island, bought some land there in 1945. "And she's spent every summer there since," says Larry Sharp, Marcia's husband.
Early in their married life, about 14 summers ago, Marcia brought her new husband to this special place -- a rock two miles long and a half-mile wide with only 70 hardy year-round residents -- and he too fell in love with it. Each July or August since, the Sharps have journeyed to Portland, taken the ferry across Casco Bay to Cliff Island, and disembarked into a crowd -- meeting the noon boat on Cliff Island is a tradition among natives and vacationers as ingrained as watching the sun set in Key West, Fla.
Although the Sharps stayed with her parents for years during their visits, they built their own retreat in 1980, the year their youngest son was born. Working closely with architect Deborah Moncure, then with the Washington firm of Cass & Pinnell, the Sharps chose to build a somewhat traditional house that would meld with the island's scenery. They wanted to take advantage of the magnificent water views that the lot offered: It is on a point, surrounded on three sides by water. And they wanted the living room, dining area and kitchen to be combined around a fireplace so that the family could spend evenings together in front of the fire. Moncure's solution was to design four boxes. The first incorporates the kitchen, living and dining areas. This room, with a cathedral ceiling, frames a magnificent water view on one side and an equally spectacular natural setting of three birch trees on the other.
The second box is connected to the living room and houses a small pantry and space for the water heater, as well as a hall leading to the next box.
The Sharp home takes a turn at this point, so that the bedroom wing to follow continues to take advantage of the best possible views. This box contains a bathroom and laundry unit and a back door to the house, making it possible to enter and go straight to the bedrooms without marching into the living rooms.
The fourth box is two stories high. On the ground floor is a large playroom outside two bedrooms. Up a flight of stairs is a master bedroom with a private deck. Attached to the side of this area is a bit of whimsy -- a viewing tower, up a ladder to a platform higher than any point in the house. From there windows look out on the water from several sides. The space is about 10 square feet.
Life on Cliff Island is delightfully simple for the busy couple. In summer, the population swells to about 450 or 500, mainly New England families, but some from as far away as Washington. Larry Sharp, a Washington attorney, takes as many as four weeks each summer to unwind here. Marcia Sharp, who runs her own public relations firm in Washington, enjoys the life at Cliff Island so much that last summer she took off six weeks to be with the children there. The days are spent fishing, swimming, sailing and playing tennis. There is always wood to be cut for the fireplace, and friends and neighbors to visit. There are only dirt roads so people walk or ride bicycles most places. Says Marcia Sharp of the freedom her children have, "The feeling that there are your kids climbing on the same rocks that you climbed on as a child is wonderful."
The highlight of the day is meeting the noon boat, after which one may saunter over to the post office, or the store -- open only a few hours a day -- and then on to the library.
Says Marcia Sharp, "There's some continuing sense of place -- that there is that land and that water and now that house, which is an emotional anchor for me that does not change."