by Rebecca Falzano
Photography Irvin Serrano
A London designer builds her summer home in Maine.
The story of Sandra Ankarcrona’s home has fairy-tale beginnings. Her parents met one summer on the beach in Maine—her father’s family vacationed at one end and her mother’s at the other.
They fell in love, and years later began taking their young family to the same spot on the shore. The tradition was passed down over the years, and today their children—adults with their own children now—have summer homes steps away from each other, linked by wooded paths along the sea, not far from where their parents first exchanged glances.
And so it has turned out that Ankarcrona, a London-based interior designer who has lived all over the world, has spent every summer of her life in Maine. When it came time to finally build her own home here (“I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I would want in a house in Maine,” she laughs), Ankarcrona wanted something that would “sit down in the woods, not be obvious from the outside, and would be a surprise when you enter.” After her brother and sister built their own summer houses, it was time for the interior designer to build hers.
Though Ankarcrona’s home reflects her worldly experiences—a career in London; studies in Brussels; travels to Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Ethiopia; work in Italy and South Africa; her husband’s Swedish heritage—it is inextricably tied to her love of and connection to Maine summers. For a few months every year, the house becomes a gathering place for family from near and far. It’s a place where twenty-five people might come over for dinner, and where the bicycle shed below the house looks more like a bicycle shop. Where rounds of tennis and golf become family competitions, and where at one recent family gathering seventy-five cousins were counted. “It’s been a lifelong dream to get everyone back to Maine and have our summer homes here. It’s the only time we see each other,” says Ankarcrona. “And it’s wonderful.”
Although the house is filled with European influences (a Swedish-inspired dining room, art and furniture from around the globe), its connection to Maine is evident in the shore-inspired palette, the wooded surroundings, and shingle-style architecture. As a designer, Ankarcrona has always had a flair for stylish, grand interiors, and her Maine home is no exception. But here, practicality was also a primary concern: the likelihood that grandchildren would be running around with sandy feet or that she might be hosting a dozen people for an impromptu lobster bake was worked into the design. “It was a balancing act,” she says. “There is no point in having silks on your chairs when you know a wet bathing suit is going to sit on them before they’re a week old.”
Ankarcrona’s London-based firm, Coxe Design Ltd., executed the interiors. While she knew that designing her own home from overseas would be a challenge (and would require countless shipping containers), she could never have anticipated one of the obstacles that was thrown her way. “I had allotted ten days to be in Maine to install everything before my son’s wedding,” she recalls. “But when I got here, my shipment of furniture was held up in customs for two weeks. I had to go back to England without having installed a thing.
On the verge of panic, Ankarcrona called an old friend, Louise Hurlbutt of Hurlbutt Designs in Kennebunkport, to come to her rescue. “I naturally thought of Louise,” she recalls. The two have a long history together; Ankarcrona bought Hurlbutt’s interior-design business in London twenty-five years ago. “I gave Louise the room plans, fabric swatches, and furniture plans, and her amazing team installed this house from top to bottom in five days, just in time for the wedding. Without Louise, this house never would have happened,” she says.
Hurlbutt also helped Ankarcrona source items locally and install the family’s art collection, which includes works by Carl Larsson, Marc Chagall, and Jean Laboureur. “Sandra has fabulous art. The layout of that alone took two days,” says Hurlbutt. “There was a lot of back and forth between the two of us—as friends and as designers. Sandra’s style is the epitome of Old World design; it has such simple grandeur.”
Ankarcrona’s passion for family and entertaining also informed the architectural design, which was done by Tim Bolton of Kenyon C. Bolton III & Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He designed the home around a central core that contains the public spaces—dining room, living room, and kitchen—off of which are the private and guest wings. For Ankarcrona, the placement of the house was critical. “Tim and I discussed it at length, and we decided to have the house be ruled by the light.” Morning light enters Ankarcrona’s bedroom in the east, then moves throughout the day to the kitchen porch, then the living room. The daily cycle ends with sunset falling across a screened-in porch on the west side of the house.
To build her home, Ankarcrona hired builder and lifelong friend Larry Wagner of Eider Investments in Scarborough. “Larry is very creative and positive. When I threw an eighteenth-century Swedish dining room at him, he never said a word, but you could see he was working out how the impossible was going to happen. He’d never done one before—of course, why would he?—but he did an amazing job. Figuring out how to frame all the custom-painted canvas panels, and calculating boards for a timber floor that radiated from a round center point into a finished octagon, was just mind-blowing, but Larry did it beautifully. He can build anything,” says Ankarcrona.
That “anything” also included a spiral staircase connecting the three floors, inspired by a project Ankarcrona worked on in Germany. Hanging in the middle of the staircase are three connected light fittings on a chain, a “real engineering feat,” according to the designer. Wagner and Ankarcrona worked well together, despite a minor language barrier at times. “Even when I slipped and used my European vocabulary for architectural elements, Larry got it. I’d say ‘an architrave’ and he’d say, ‘Oh, a casing,’” says Ankarcrona with a laugh.
As for her interior design, Ankarcrona’s traditional European styling comes through, but it has been personalized with treasured items. “Everything in the house has meaning; there is a story behind each piece,” she says. A crystal dorgi from Bhutan. Tribal headdresses from Burma and Thailand. A stone basin from Santa Fe. Wooden musician sculptures from India. A custom-made mixed-media work by American artist Ryan Metke that tells the family’s story in a code only they can understand. And, of course, Maine artwork from just around the corner. Eighteenth-century Swedish furniture coexists with shells or sea glass the family finds on the beach. New furniture is complemented by pieces recycled from the family’s house in London. “We just threw things in the containers and somehow it worked,” says Ankarcrona.
True to her summers in Maine, the palette is beach inspired. “It’s a little reminiscent of rocks and sand—very subtle—and then a pop of turquoise, which I love as a summer color,” says Ankarcrona. The exterior trim is the same color as the main interior walls, bringing the outside in. In addition, she chose gray cedar shingles, which have an aged, weather-worn look.
In keeping with the property’s wooded surroundings, the landscape design by Meg Lord of Meg Lord Landscaping in South Portland and Jaqui Gallagher of Seaside Gardens in Windham was kept very natural with ferns and ornamental grasses. While the rocks in the landscape are local, the terrace with its sunken water feature was inspired by travels to the East.
This summer, the Ankarcrona home will be filled with three generations of family. “It’s a constant flow of people of all ages in and out, which I love. It’s what summer is all about.” Her next project is to build a bunk room in the basement for her three grandsons.
When the summer ends, Ankarcrona will have to return home to the United Kingdom, but Maine will stay close to her heart: “It’s the smell of the trees, the pine scent, hearing the waves crashing at night and the salty air that means Maine to me. I’m truly at home here.”