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A Boatbuilder-Turned-Designer’s Seaworthy Sauna in a Maine Harbor

Design—and the marriage of function and beauty—was always in the air, and sea, for Brendan Ravenhill. When he was a child, for instance, his father, then chief curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, helmed an exhibit called “The Art of the Personal Object.” But it was Brendan’s childhood summers on Islesford Harbor on the coast of Maine that had perhaps the most steady, staying impact. He became fascinated by the functionality of tools and wooden boats, going on to become a year-round lobsterman, then the co-founder of Islesford Boatworks, a boat-building school on Little Cranberry Island. He studied sculpture at Oberlin and industrial design at RISD and launched Ravenhill Studio in LA, where his team of twenty makes products, they say, “that have meaning beyond aesthetics and trend.” (Their headquarters is in the corner Capitol Records plant, which once pressed records for the Beatles.)

One Ravenhill project, however, hews closer to home for Brendan, floating in his childhood haunt of Islesford Harbor: the Sea Sauna, a full-sized sculpture of a sort, part wooden boat, part elemental design where nothing is in excess. The sauna was created during the first wave of the Covid pandemic, in June 2020, coming together with the help many gifted and salvaged components and much kismet.

Now the small structure floats in the Islesford Harbor for ten weeks out of the year, available to the community for a sauna and a plunge in the cold Maine sea. Provided you have a little rowboat or dinghy to get to it, of course.

Take a look at the building process and the finished result.

Photography courtesy of Ravenhill Studio.

brendan dreamed up a simple 8 by 6 foot design made mainly of cedar, inspired b 9
Above: Brendan dreamed up a simple 8-by-6-foot design made mainly of cedar, inspired by Japanese architecture and a trip he had taken to Tokyo in November 2019, just before the pandemic. Sheltering that spring in Maine, “friends offered a sauna stove, a finger float, and a mooring to the cause” over one weekend in June, “aand the Saturday work began,” the studio writes on their site.

Above: “Shingling provided a meditative escape from the stress of the pandemic, a way to release the fear and heartache of losing loved ones and juggling full-time jobs with scattered childcare while sheltering in place in Maine,” the studio writes. Most every component was gifted or salvaged; the timber frame and float were donated by two local lobstermen.
the key was to make the sauna light enough to float. the buoyant finger float & 11
Above: The key was to make the sauna light enough to float. The buoyant finger float “was overgrown with beach rose on the waterfront” before Brendan salvaged it.

the sauna is open to the community (get in touch with the team via @ravenhill   12
Above: The sauna is open to the community (get in touch with the team via @ravenhill__studio on Instagram for more info), though once you take the mail boat to the island, you’ll need a small vessel—whaler, kayak, rowboat, canoe—to cross the distance to the sauna.
two carved handles on the sauna door. 13
Above: Two carved handles on the sauna door.
brendan designed the structure with as much stripped away as possible for simpl 14
Above: Brendan designed the structure with as much stripped away as possible for simplicity’s sake—and lightness. To that end, shingles are nailed to hand-cut strips on the exterior of the sauna, and left visible on the interior instead of adding finished walls. “The language of the nailing strips is repeated in the construction of the benches,” according to the studio.
more donated pieces:
Above: More donated pieces: “The stove came from jeweler Sam Shaw, who welded it in 1979, the year Brendan was born.” The slate surround came from the roof of the Islesford Historical Museum. Photograph by Andrei Pogany, courtesy of Ravenhill Studio.
a whittled hook holds tools for the stove; the dustpan is made out of shingle s 16
Above: A whittled hook holds tools for the stove; the dustpan is made out of shingle scraps. Brendan chose cedar “because it withstands wet conditions and emits that classic woodsy, pencil-shaving sauna scent,” according to the studio’s site.
Above: “The water in Maine averages 57 degrees in the summer,” the studio writes. “The sauna heats to upwards of 175 degrees. The alternating extremes reset your mood and worldview. The sunsets aren’t bad either.” And serving as doorstops? A couple of local beach stones.

For more of Brendan’s work, visit Ravenhill Studio.

And for more singular design in Maine, check out our new book, Remodelista in Maine: A Design Lover’s Guide to Inspired, Down-to-Earth Style, out May 10 from Artisan Books and available for pre-order now. Head here for more info and to order.

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