How would one convert a museum into a residence? What are the ethical issues such a museum renovation might face?

We took part in a design symposium that asked the question: what if the Black House were purchased by a private individual? Small museums disappear all the time, as funding to maintain and operate their facilities becomes scarce. The question is hypothetical, but realistic. Adaptive reuse of old buildings is part of the fabric.

The Woodlawn Museum in Ellsworth is former home of a lumber magnate who lived around the time of George Washington. Washington, in fact, slept at the Black House, the main building at the Museum.

The Black House is a fairly substantial brick building, with an imposing facade that looks east from the top of a hill. The plan for the house comes from a book. The owner embellished what was an unadorned design with the white trim and decoration that gives it a Colonial look.

Woodlawn Design Symposium

We imagined a very particular individual purchase the home: Claudia Kincaid. The heroine of “From the Mixed-Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” would be about the right age to buy the house. She would be very interested in living in a museum. She herself would be a sculptor, and the purchase allows her to create a place to show her own art.

Our proposal keeps the Black House and its historic facade intact. Rather than renovating the interior to make it suitable for modern living, we designed a contemporary, apartment-like addition on the back. The apartment and an art studio form a circular space that we filled with water: a fountain area for sculptures.