Into the Great Wide Open

May 2009

by Rebecca Falzano
Photography François Gagné

A designer brings her bucolic vision to the transformation of a Falmouth ranch

Some houses wear their hearts on their sleeves—or on their shingles, as the case may be—their exteriors offering a predictable glimpse of what lies within. Others hide behind their facades, revealing an entirely different character once you step inside. The renovated Falmouth home of interior designer Linda Banks falls in the latter category. From the road, it looks like a traditional two-story home on three acres of lush meadow. Once inside, however, the house reveals its surprising identity—a wide-open barn-meets-loft infused with French-inspired interior design, salvaged architectural gems, and strong aesthetic elements.

Prior to its transformation, the house was a single-story, 1960s-era ranch, which turned out to be a perfect fit for Banks. “I wasn’t specifically looking for a ranch, I was looking for a possibility,” she says. That possibility evolved into her idea for a one-room barn. “I love a barn in the romantic sense,” she says, recalling her first kiss in a Bridgton hayloft in sixth grade. “A barn evokes thoughts of a gentler way of life; a bucolic image comes to mind.”

Banks, owner of nearby Banks Design Associates and the retail store Simply Home, acted as both architect and interior designer for her home, transforming its compact five-room footprint into an open, airy space. As with her clients, the goal was to make the space uniquely hers. “My dream was somewhat reflective of my own split personality. I was always torn between two opposites: living in an urban loft or a country barn,” she says. The resulting design combines both, giving her the volume of a barn with the adaptability of a loft—a perfect combination for the entertaining she likes to do. “A loft represents efficiency to me—all the primary “big living” in one open space—and flexibility,” she says.

To transform the ranch-style home into her bold, wide-open vision required a phased approach. “Since I had to live there through this, I broke the project into four stages,” explains Banks, who chose Flying Point Construction to be the builder. In the first phase, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom wing was tackled first to provide living space during the renovation. The second phase involved the conversion of a three-car garage into a two-car garage, and the addition of a guest suite and potting shed where the third car bay used to be. Next, during perhaps the most dramatic stage, the middle of the house and rear sunroom were completely torn down, and a new one-room barn with attached sunroom was built, complete with a second-story office and an interior balcony overlooking the kitchen. At one point, the only thing standing in the middle of the house was the chimney in mid-air, flanked by the finished garage on the right and the bedroom wing on the left. In the final phase, stairs were added and the roof between the garage and the “barn” room was raised to connect and finish the balcony over the kitchen.

The 4,000-square-foot house’s main living area—the 1,200-square-foot barn room—is divided down the middle by back-to-back fireplaces that give definition to the large space, which comprises the kitchen, dining area, library, and two sitting areas. The resulting layout offers the flexibility that was so critical to Banks’s vision. “Our dining table, Christmas trees, couches, club chairs, and breakfast table have lived in many different spots over time,” she says.

After changing the layout of her house, Banks filled it with the kind of classic design touches she has been providing her clients for more than twenty years. Banks has a talent for using strong visual elements in her designs, and her home is no exception: the size of her signature crown molding is larger than normal, the wall board broader, the French doors taller, the kitchen island oversized, and the openings between rooms wider. “Most new houses today feel ‘thin’ to me. It’s a comfortable feeling to transition through these beefed-up passageways,” she says. In addition, Banks concealed the structural members required for the twenty-four-foot-high ceiling with a ridge beam, keeping the volume as open as possible and deemphasizing the back-to-back chimneys while still meeting code. The result is a bigger, bolder space that retains its sense of proportion and cozy intimacy.

Inspired by a tiny island village in France where Banks spends every August, the interior design is best described as a blend of traditional and contemporary styles. “Everything there is pale blue and white,” says Banks. “Wood is used everywhere inside, often stone on the exterior, and French doors abound.” An honest use of materials is central to the designer’s philosophy. “Wood should be used like wood, stone should behave like stone,” she adds.
Tidewater Millwork is behind the home’s custom woodworking. Tidewater crafted the kitchen cabinetry, the mahogany French doors with crisscross transom, the newel posts on the stairs, and an exaggerated version of Banks’s favorite crown molding to create definition between the ceiling and walls. They also milled the interior tongue-and-groove walls, which are made of Banks’s signature “nickel-gap poplar board,” so named for the technique of placing a nickel in each groove to emphasize shadowing.

Tidewater’s Alex Hamilton says the innovative sense of scale on the project was a challenge. In addition, Tidewater milled the white-oak floors, which were finished a dark chocolate color by Dean Leslie of Casco Bay Hardwood Flooring. “I wanted to be able to see the grain in the floor, but I didn’t want it to be completely opaque, so we used a chocolate brown custom mix of paint and stain,” Banks explains.

Traditional architectural elements punctuate the home’s contemporary feel, a result of the designer’s penchant for architectural salvage. The project’s interior strength and character come, in part, from the repurposing of architectural elements that were woven into the custom moldings and millwork. “I try to build soul into all my homes, and this provides instant character,” says Banks, who credits her good friend Alice Dunne at Portland Architectural Salvage with giving her a heads-up on “the good stuff.” Banks’s key finds include salvaged mantelpieces from a John Calvin Stevens home and a door surrounded with pilasters and fan from a facade on Portland’s Brown Street.

For Banks, these time-tested architectural elements are more appealing than design trends that might fade over time. “I try not to get caught up in momentary fancies like the 1980s Palladian windows or the 1990s crown-molding madness. I want to create timeless, light-filled living spaces with integrity and appropriate proportions. I also always want good floor-plan flow for living and being comfortable,” she says.

Wearing two hats—that of both designer and client—was rewarding, but it was not without its drawbacks. “This project surprised me; it required more of my time, money, and attention than I anticipated,” says Banks. It was also a challenge when it came time to decorate because, as Banks is the first to admit, “I love so many things!” Where a less-skilled designer may have ended up with a clutter of disconnected elements, Banks selected a range of diverse items that work together harmoniously to tell the unique story of the homeowner—in this case, herself. “It has to look like a compendium of short stories by the same author, rather than a collection of stories by many authors,” she explains. In her home, this compendium revolves around her love of vintage signage, books, and well-worn and well-loved European and American objects. “I grew up being dragged around the Ellsworth area in the summers haunting Razor Crossman auctions, and still have things my mom and dad bought when we summered at Green Lake. I cherish those childhood memories of lazy July weekends and the hum of the auctioneer’s holler as I explored the odd lots of someone’s lifelong collection,” says Banks. With these kinds of meaningful pieces, the house has become a story in itself, one that is uniquely her own.

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