A Chicken in the Kitchen

The old farmhouse was dirty, derelict, and rambling, but this owner came to appreciate its vernacular roots.
LEFT: Tony Elliott on the farm. RIGHT: The barn has a huge sliding door. This owner added the low, colonnaded farmer’s porch to the house.

Tony Elliott was worried about continuity. How would he deal with renovating a hodgepodge agglomeration of spaces? The original section was built in 1750, with later structures attached to it. The house was rambling and disparate. Then he found a 1980s book that set him on a path. Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England is a landmark study of the New England vernacular, by Thomas Hubka. Now Tony had permission and guidance on how to piece together his fixer-upper in Kennebunk, Maine.

In the dining room adjacent to the kitchen, the table is from Tony Elliott’s childhood home; Windsor chairs are reproductions. The painted console came from an Asian temple by way of a local antiques store. He added six windows to the old sunroom, which became the dining area. Flooring here was salvaged from the attic.

Hubka’s book is particularly apropos, as it chronicles the evolution of the Walker Farm just down the road, in Kennebunk’s Alewife neighborhood. Like Elliott’s farmhouse, that property with attached dwelling and farm buildings evolved over many decades. In this region, snow piles high and the cold is bitter. The vernacular form allowed the main house to connect with a kitchen, stored firewood, livestock needing tending, and eventually sanitary facilities. Housebound families could get on with farm life. In northern New England, the homestead got corridors and connectors and additions. 

Open shelving in the no-nonsense kitchen is convenient and uncluttered. Cabinets are cherry;
lighting fixtures are retrofitted antiques.

“These farmhouses didn’t really have a single architectural pattern or style,” Elliott realized, to his relief. “Once I got into my brain that Yankees have always retrofitted their houses, I knew I could do it my way.” Planks from the barn loft became flooring for the living area. Doors were stripped but not refinished and remain in place, keeping freshly painted rooms separate. Elliott added wainscoting with oversized dentil moulding as a cap, formalizing the parlor.  The approach is a nod to the past with a wink in the present.

LEFT: At the far end of the kitchen sit a writing desk and favorite chair. Wood wainscoting goes to
a high chair-rail height. RIGHT: At the kitchen entry, a parquet pattern was inlaid using pine salvaged from the barn’s hayloft. “This is a renovation, not  a restoration,” the owner clarifies— but one that conserved much of the history.

Renowned for his idiosyncrasies, he is the personality behind Kennebunk’s Snug Harbor Farm, a nursery that sells perennials and gardening staples but also specializes in topiary, succulents, and pottery and garden ornaments designed by Elliott. His love of nature is evident in the omnipresent windows.

LEFT: An antique console divides the kitchen from the dining space. RIGHT: The small kitchen was designed for efficiency with a cook’s island and a short peninsula that allows counter seating. The corner sink is placed to give the dish washer a broad view
 of the outdoors. 

Because he was living at Snug Harbor Farm when he bought this property, renovation (on the other side of town) was not rushed. In fact, it took five years of intensive work before Elliott even could move in. Early on was a cleanup: From the early 1900s onward, three of a gentleman farmer’s four sons lived on the farm together. After 1960, “they never threw anything out.”  

Lined up on a console table in the foyer are old beer bottles found hidden in the eaves of the house. Furnishings are an eclectic mix of local and exotic pieces, many brought back from trips abroad.

 With the old farmhouse, Tony Elliott bought 15 acres of what had been an 85-acre farm. He continues the farm tradition by keeping livestock, as the generous acreage allows him to raise the sheep and poultry that have always been part of his life. The big, connected barn lets him entertain to his heart’s content. 

LEFT: The poodles lounge in the living room the owner dubbed his “Travel Room” in reference to the artwork and photos from trips abroad. He installed higher than usual wainscots topped with a large dentil moulding: “I love playing with scale,” he explains.
RIGHT: Chicken motifs and old things create vignettes.

Elliott has preserved elements important to the heritage of the house, from original plaster to ancient finishes in “the Blue Room,” once a boys’ nursery. Great care was taken to save the granite foundation; looking toward the future, a geothermal heating system was installed. 

A patina on the plaster walls was found beneath old wallpaper, and kept as is. Fabrics are from India.

Some things had to go, however, including 100 tires, a tree growing up through a manure spreader, and extensive piles of National Geographic magazines. “I don’t for a moment regret finding the courage to bring back this house,” Tony Elliott says.


windsor chairs
Restoration Hardware (RH) rh.com

bath sink
similar at Restoration Hardware (RH) rh.com

Benjamin Moore benjaminmoore.com

lighting, furniture
antique & vintage 

Related Resources

Whidbey Millhouse whidbeymillhouse.com 

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