Kennebunks: A Designer’s Tour

A shingle-style summer home sports two weathervanes.
A sunny afternoon on one of several sandy beaches in the Kennebunks.
Come summer, the Kennebunk River is packed with boats of all stripes.
Founded in 1889 by 13 summer residents, the Kennebunk River Club was originally focused on canoeing, with tennis courts added in 1929. The club’s iconic, shingled boathouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nautical details and patriotic colors decorate the exterior of a classic cape.
Now condos, Narragansett by the Sea on Kennebunk Beach was built in 1905 as a hotel.
Having sailed around the world as a teaching vessel with the Ocean Classroom Foundation, the Spirit of Massachusetts is permanently docked in Kennebunk and operates in the summer as a floating restaurant.
new home incorporates classic seaside cottage elements and modern design.
The bridge over the Kennebunk River that divides Kennebunk Lower Village from Kennebunkport’s Dock Square is named for local businessman and Kennebunkport selectman Mathew J. Lanigan, who died unexpectedly in 2012 at age 48. Photo by Heidi Kirn
St. Ann’s Episcopal Church on Ocean Avenue is open from mid June through September. Built of stones from the surrounding shoreline, it has twenty stained-glass windows, some of which incorporate seashells in the design. The church’s expansive grounds include flower gardens and an outdoor chapel. Photo by Heidi Kirn

Almost everywhere you look in the Kennebunks there’s another Instagram-worthy scene: wide beaches bordered by wild roses, winding streets lined with classic New England homes, handpainted signs pointing the way to galleries, shops, and restaurants. Separated by the tidal Kennebunk River, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport have been popular summertime destinations since the mid-1800s. Today, visitors come almost year-round for weekend getaways, or to experience events such as Christmas Prelude in December, Paint the Town Red in February, and the Kennebunkport Festival in early June.

Those lucky enough to live in this scenic place are accustomed to welcoming out-of-town guests. Interior designer Louise Hurlbutt, who lives in Kennebunk with her husband, Ralph, has a regular route she takes to introduce visitors to the community. “I always love to walk out our back gate and show my guests the Webhannet Golf Club, a beautiful 1890 club house with spectacular grounds,” she says. A short walk leads to Trinity Chapel, where antique ship models are displayed on the walls. Next, it’s on to Lords Point, a spit of land extending into the ocean, with stunning, shingle-style homes on either side of its dirt road.

Hurlbutt and her guests then visit the beaches. “We drive along Beach Avenue past Mother’s Beach, Middle Beach, around the old Narragansett Hotel (now condos) and park at the point there,” she says. “We walk across Gooch’s Beach and all the way to the Kennebunk River, recounting all the history along the way—in my childhood there were 14 hotels on this side of the river.” Returning to the car, Hurlbutt makes a stop at Saint Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery. “The grounds are beautiful, especially if you take the path down to the river and the old boathouse,” she says.

Next, the tour heads across the river to Kennebunkport, turning onto Ocean Avenue and stopping at the Arundel Yacht Club. “Everyone loves seeing the interior of this old wooden building with all the festive colored burgees hanging from the rafters,” Hurlbutt says. Across the street is the town green, where the gardens are dedicated to Barbara Bush. Farther along, walking into the Kennebunk River Club “truly brings one back in time,” she continues. “From the porch you can look left out the mouth of the river to the ocean, and on a clear day you can see across the water to Mount Agamenticus.” Just down Ocean Avenue is the grand Colony Hotel. “It’s always a treat to take friends into the lobby and back to another era,” Hurlbutt says. Across the road on the ocean side is Saint Ann’s Episcopal Church; the historic stone chapel is an especially popular spot for weddings. The final stop is another lovely old hotel, the Cape Arundel Inn and Resort, which has a view of the open ocean and of Walker Point—the summer home of Kennebunkport’s most famous residents, the Bushes. “The porch at the inn is the place to be on a summer evening,” Hurlbutt says. “It’s a perfect spot to have a drink, breathe in the salt air off the ocean, and feel truly grateful for where we live.”