Hospitable Home

FEATURE-May 2012

by Debra Spark | Photography Irvin Serrano

A beachside retreat makes the perfect stage to throw a party

When people say they want a home that’s good for entertaining, they often mean they want a comfortable living room, a kitchen that’s easy to work in, and a dining room that seats eight or more. Interior designer Anthony Catalfano and his partner, Steven Kapfhammer, had grander things in mind when they renovated their beachside ranch house in Kennebunk. Visitors—whether overnight guests or the 60 to 80 people who attend their annual Fourth of July party—were at the forefront of their vision for every space in their house. Zoning regulations did not allow them to expand the home’s existing footprint, so even the garage became a party room.

“Anthony has genuine hospitality in his blood,” says Jonathan Cartwright, the renowned chef of Kennebunk’s White Barn Inn. “His home is a wonderful stage to do a party.” Cartwright has catered several events for Catalfano and Kapfhammer, including last year’s Fourth of July party, so he knows how the home’s various spaces can be put to use for a gathering.

First, there’s that garage. “It’s one of my favorite spaces in the house,” says Neal Adamiak, the senior job captain at Woodmeister Master Builders in Holden, Massachusetts, the firm that designed and built the house with substantial guidance from Catalfano. The walls and ceiling are finished with Douglas fir beadboard, and the brick floor is heated. “It’s almost like a horse-tack room,” Catalfano says—but a horse- tack room with a screened-in porch, bar, flat-screen television, and (unless there is a party going on) sports car.

Catalfano describes his house as “very textured, very comfortable,” and indeed the most immediate pleasures are the colors—ecru, oatmeal, chocolate, and blue—and the tactile experience of materials. Sisal wool rugs, grasscloth wallpaper, crewel on Belgian linen drapes, woven rope on the dining room chairs, textured slate for the master-bathroom floor, a rug made of coconut fiber. It takes great restraint not to reach out and run a hand over the limestone surface of the foyer table or to finger the intricate carvings of the “tramp art” trunk in the master bedroom. What your fingers hesitate to do, your body can. Every chair in the house feels like the chair you’ve always longed to sit in. They are that comfortable.

Who wouldn’t want to attend a party here?

On a warm summer evening, a guest might begin the evening in the living room, admiring a painting by folk artist Doris Lee or antiques that include Majolica and Chinese porcelain. The room is bright and airy, in part because the original ceiling was replaced with a cathedral ceiling and painted V-groove boards. A large central window overlooks the mouth of the Mousam River as it empties into the ocean. Parsons Beach stretches beyond.

From the living room, a guest could wander into the dining room, which sits between the kitchen and a garden patio. Outdoors would seem the obvious direction to head, only the kitchen is commodious, and there’s no reason to suppose partygoers wouldn’t be gathered around the large central island, made of heart pine reclaimed from barns, or standing by the farmer’s sink and looking out the window at the saltwater marsh.

Inevitably, though, guests would make their way outside. The very architecture encourages such movement. The beams of the coffered ceiling in the dining room extend out to the patio’s pergola, and when the French doors are open, the outdoor space feels like an extension of the interior.

The land adjacent to the dining room once sloped down to the water, but landscape architect Brian Frazier of Brian Frazier Design in Cohasset, Massachusetts, designed a flat, elevated terrace to maximize views and accommodate a tent with bar and tables when Catalfano and Kapfhammer are entertaining larger crowds.

If this were the Fourth of July and Cartwright were the chef, both the view and the aromas might lead the visitor down the lawn and past a trellis covered in New Dawn roses to a private rocky beach. Here, by a fire pit, Cartwright would be serving oysters and shrimp if it were early in the evening or grilling if it were later.

A visitor given access to the more private spaces of the home would find even more to enjoy. There is a bedroom on the ground floor and two bedroom suites on the basement level. Descending from the front foyer to the basement floor, you pass a window that offers a framed view of a temperature-controlled wine cellar made of Douglas fir. The basement level feels comfortably set apart from the public spaces in the home. Similarly, the master-bedroom suite on the second floor has a sitting area, office, and coffee bar. Catalfano and Kapfhammer can enjoy their morning routine alone, even when the household is full.

Catalfano describes his style as classic. He wanted his new house to have a gambrel roof and look “like it was always there.” To achieve this, Woodmeister Master Builders applied white-cedar shingles in a traditional manner, shingling the rakes of the house and under the eaves and flaring the bottom row. They made use of corbels, red-cedar roof shingles, and decorative oval windows, which Catalfano calls “jewelry” for the house.

“I don’t do trendy work,” Catalfano says, referring to his Boston-based business, Anthony Catalfano Interiors. “My designs last a long time.” Words such as “tailored,” “organic,” and “natural” pepper the designer’s descriptions of his home. Yet for all its old-world style, the house owes something to the Jetsons. True, there is no robotic maid relieving the homeowners of their briefcases, but much of the home—including the lighting, audiovisual, heating, air-conditioning, and surveillance systems—is controlled by computer.

“Anthony can be at his desk on Commonwealth Avenue on Friday afternoon with the aspiration to head up to Maine for the weekend,” explains Mark LaFave, director of the digital playground for Maverick Integration, the New Hampshire company responsible for the technology. “At his desktop computer or phone, he can adjust the temperatures in all the rooms.” He can also control all the dimmers and wall switches throughout the house using his computer. “We can program a series of lighting events based on the astrological calendar,” LaFave continues. The landscape lighting can be programmed to go on at dusk; the motorized shades can be programmed to open at sunrise. While away, Catalfano and Kapfhammer can use the surveillance system to watch an approaching storm on their iPad. They can turn the television on and off from afar. They don’t, but they can.

More usefully, the house tells them when the house needs help, signaling if there is a break-in, power outage, or leak. “You know when they fix your computer by remote access?” says Kapfhammer. “We can call Maverick Integration, and they can use remote access to troubleshoot in the house.”

In a “smart” house, everything has to be coordinated well in advance. As an example, Neal Adamiak describes the home’s weather station, a custom mahogany panel that displays wind speeds, barometric pressure, temperature, and tides. It was actually a gift from Ted Goodnow, the owner of Woodmeister Master Builders and a longtime friend of Catalfano and Kapfhammer. The panel had to be wired to a gauge on the roof during construction. Similar planning went into the motorized shades (the hardware is hidden in the walls) and the motorized chandelier lift, which lowers the main stairwell’s lighting fixture for cleaning.

If the technology seems wild, what’s wilder, perhaps, is that one doesn’t notice it. It’s just part of what makes the house so comfortable. You know where to walk because the lights tell you. If it’s winter, you don’t slip on the walkways, because they are heated. If it’s a party, you just enjoy the music, unaware of the fact that it’s synced through a server with the hosts’ iTunes playlists in Boston. Jonathan Cartwright calls Catalfano and Kapfhammer “party geniuses.” But credit must be given where credit is due. Their “smart” home knows a thing or two about pleasing guests, too.