This family has had a long love affair with coastal Maine. The dad had an aunt who summered on Chebeague Island; their daughter had gone to camp in Damariscotta. From their primary residence outside of Washington, D.C., they were drawn northward whenever their schedules allowed.
“We started looking for a waterfront vacation home in Maine a long time ago,” says the lady of the house. “So we had time to refine our search, and to think about the location. We realized that we preferred to stay on the mainland—we’re just not island people.”
She and her husband are also passionate about historic architecture. Thus, when a Shingle Style house designed by Maine’s celebrated architect John Calvin Stevens came up for sale, in Cape Elizabeth, it hit all the right notes.
“This house, called SeaLights, came on the market in 2010,” the owners say. It was one of Stevens’ later commissions, built in 1910. “As soon as we stepped onto the porch, we knew this was the house we wanted.”
Stevens, who died in 1940 at the age of 84, is known for over a thousand buildings he designed in Maine, most in the Shingle and Colonial Revival styles. His commissions distinguish the coastal summer colonies, while his public libraries, municipal buildings, hotels, and churches are found in Maine’s cities and on its college campuses. Architectural historian Vincent Scully, who coined the term Shingle Style, described one of Stevens’ houses as “a masterpiece.”
Learn more about Shingle Style homes
The 3500-square-foot, storey-and-a half Cape Elizabeth house has Stevens’ characteristic gambrel roof, wraparound porch, and cedar-shingle cladding. Perched on a rocky promontory, it is set on a lot of two and a half acres; the long side faces the ocean. It had not, fortunately, suffered any debilitating indignities in its 100-year history. “The bones were very much there, though changes had been made through the years,” the homeowner says. “The porch once went around the whole house, but in the late 1940s, owners took a piece of it off when they added the garage. The water-facing part of the living room was once a screened porch, later enclosed.
“We made a few changes of our own. We removed skylights, built a new master bath, and redid the kitchen. That space was originally much longer; we created an alcove at one end and put the stove, the hood, and some cabinets in there.”
She praises the builders, Eider Construction of Scarborough, Maine, who installed built-ins, wainscoting, and cabinets. They built the unique kitchen island to the homeowner’s specifications. For interior design help, the owner turned to a team of Virginia estate liquidators, Roger Schrenk and Christopher Sultz. Although Schrenk and Sultz are not interior designers and since have turned to other lines of work, they did give her an invaluable tip: “They introduced me to the English Arts & Crafts designer William Morris—wonderful!” the owner says. “That brought everything together for me, as the patterns and palettes are the ideal accompaniment to a seaside, Shingle Style house.”
The owners specified Morris fabrics and wallpapers in the master bedroom and living room. But Morris & Co. patterns also drove her color choices on painted walls, which are done in muted, warm earth tones. In the living room, the wooden paneling lining the walls had been painted white. “We stripped the paint and chose a terra-cotta color for the walls,” the homeowner says. “We thought the color warmed things up, and [the orange tone] complements the blue of the water.” On the living-room ceiling, she installed grasscloth between the beams.
The living room features a favorite design element of the English Queen Anne style as well as the Arts & Crafts movement: an inglenook built into the space around the red-brick fireplace. “All the beams, bricks, and woodwork are original,” the homeowner explains. “According to the plans, there were supposed to be two benches flanking the fireplace, but the first owner must have opted to leave one out.” Above the mantel hangs a portrait of General Clinton Fisk, an ancestor who, after a distinguished Civil War career, founded Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as the first free public schools in the South for white and African–American children.
The kitchen is entirely her own creation, the owner says. “I knew that I wanted beadboard, a copper sink, soapstone countertops, and, especially, I wanted a central island based on the design of an old industrial cart. That was built from new and recycled materials by the carpenters at Eider Construction.” When the wheels of the cart are unlocked, it can be moved. The arching top of the new stove alcove echoes the gentle arch of the living-room inglenook.