Maine Art Maine Color
By Debra Spark | Photography Irvin Serrano
Cottage elegance in Kennebunk
To get to their summer home, Connie and Arthur Batson of Falmouth pack up the car and drive all of 36 miles to Kennebunk. It might seem strange to vacation so near one’s winter home, but for sixty years the Batsons have been summering at Kennebunk Beach. The tradition started in the early 1950s, when Arthur’s father, also named Arthur, went looking for a summer house. He liked the beach and wanted to be near a town with some activities, but he also wanted to be able to commute back to Portland to Lucas Tree Experts, where he worked. So he purchased a lot near Kennebunk Beach (for the lordly sum of $500) and built a house. In 1971, he bought an adjacent lot and put up a second home. Two years ago, a third lot, one house over from the original two, became available as well. Connie and Arthur—who followed his father into Lucas Tree and eventually came to own the company—bought and built on the new land. Now all of Arthur’s children—Connie’s husband and his two sisters—have a house in the small beach community. It’s not the Kennedys’, but it serves as a mini-compound for Arthur’s mother (now 98), her three children, their spouses, and 18 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Although her background is in social work and the clothing business, Connie has an intuitive sense of interior and architectural design. She made rough drawings of what she desired for her new home, and then collaborated with Joy Foster of Joy Foster Designs in Falmouth to refine the details of the plan. Connie knew she wanted an open-concept approach to the first floor and kitchen. She particularly liked shingle-style, gambrel-roof homes. Local zoning ordinances were one constraint on her vision. They stipulated that the house could occupy only 25 percent of its roughly 100-square-foot lot. Wanting her family and her children’s families to live comfortably under one roof, Connie was hoping for five bedrooms, each with an adjoining bathroom. To do this, she needed to build up, tucking a third floor under the steeply pitched roof.
Walter Wilson, founder of the Design Company, Inc., in Saco, took Connie and Foster’s conceptual drawings and continued to design. “They wanted a flashback to a hundred years ago, one of those big gambrel-style houses that you see up and down the coast,” he says. In the final design, three quarters of the first floor is open-concept layout, and the kitchen is separated from the great room by a divider with built-in glass cupboards and a rounded archway. A formal dining room, television room, and mudroom occupy the rest of the ground-floor space, and the screened-in porch functions, as Wilson says, as an extension of the central space. The great room has a large bank of windows on the ocean side of the house, as well as a fieldstone fireplace surrounded by built-in shelves. The second floor has four bedrooms and adjacent baths, and the third floor has an additional bedroom and bath. Because the attached bathrooms make the bedrooms self-sufficient, there is no need for narrow upstairs hallways. Instead, the second floor has one central hallway that functions more as a sitting area.
Most of those who worked on the home describe it as “cottagey.” But that word belies the home’s real elegance. Some of what Connie describes as its “timeless” quality comes from details like the great room’s coffered ceiling, the beadboard in the kitchen and bathrooms, the subway tiling for the kitchen’s backsplash, the black granite on the kitchen island, and the recessed paneling on the Glenwood Kitchen cabinetry. The various bathroom vanities are honed Carrera marble. The floors are white oak with a Jacobean stain. Other details that give the house a slightly more formal feel are the exaggerated head casings in the foyer and the small square pillar that defines the space between the dining room and foyer.
The Batson house has a clean, uncluttered look, in part because, save for the blue in the dining room, the home’s walls are all neutral colors and the woodwork all white. “Connie came in and added the color,” says Geoff Bowley of Bowley Builders in Kennebunk. And she added it in a very distinctive way. “I like to decorate with fabrics,” Connie says. The home’s bright splashes of color come from throw pillows, curtains, and upholstered sofas and benches, all of which Connie purchased from Carol A. Mcgurl, a South Portland decorator and friend to whom Connie turned to confirm her feelings about some of her design choices. Connie likes blue and greens, so the living room’s sofas are a cornflower blue and the upholstered chairs and pillows are a muted celadon green. Connie used a darker blue for the dining room walls and drapes, and a navy on the bedspreads in the bedroom reserved for her grandsons.
The Batsons collect the work of Maine artists, and modestly scaled paintings fill the house. The work tends to depict Maine or items you might find across the state. The dining room has a painting of Portland’s East End beach and another of Falmouth’s Town Landing, both by Freeport-based Phoebe Porteous. The great room has two paintings by Rockland’s Connie Hayes: one of Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and another of Little Diamond Island. Lynn Conley, who summers in Rangeley, did two of the home’s watercolors—a painting of asparagus and another of an Adirondack chair. An oddball in this collection is a small oil painting of Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams, which the Batsons commissioned from Jessica Gandolf. The Batsons had seen Gandolf’s work in an article that talked about her paintings of baseball players and boxers. After making inquiries, they discovered that she lived in Portland, and they commissioned a painting based on a historical photo.
Similarly, when shopping, Connie’s impulse is to go local, and much of the furniture and many of the items in her home come from stores such as Fogg Lighting in Portland, Antiques on Nine in Kennebunk, and Simply Home and Dwellings in Falmouth. At times, making a piece work in her home was a team effort, as with the substantial lantern-style brass light in the stairwell. “While framing, we planned a lot around how we were going to lay it out,” says Geoff Bowley, “and we did some blocking in the ceiling for weight, so it became a focal point during construction.” Another area of focus was the kitchen’s breakfast nook, an elongated bay window into which fits a custom-made table and built-in window seat that lifts up to reveal a storage area beneath. The table’s base was made in Massachusetts, and the top by Pennsylvania Mennonites using reclaimed barn wood.
On a typical summer day, relatives and children are running back and forth between the various Batson summer homes, not to mention between the homes and the beach. Given the high likelihood of sandy feet, Connie and Arthur’s house was also equipped with an outdoor shower and changing room. Family members can then walk to a side entry that leads into a mudroom with washer and dryer, where damp bathing suits and towels may be dropped. Not that this solves all problems, such as wet grass stuck to feet, for example. Invariably, the outside comes in, including—more desirably—views of the property’s native grasses and Rosa rugosa. From the third floor, there are views of the nearby ocean and the large, rambling Narragansett Hotel, a former resort (now converted into condominiums) that sits atop a stone promontory. And in a larger sense, Maine itself has made its way into the Batson home, through the artists and local talent that built, furnished, and decorated it.