KENNEBUNK TALENT MEETS MR. COLOR
Here are two stories, which seem not to relate.
First story: Washington, D.C., resident Sherry Turner finds herself a newly divorced woman with a 14-month-old child and a desire to create traditions for her son. She and her ex make a plan. He will take their son for Christmas, she for Thanksgiving. For the next 25 years, Turner takes her son to the Greenbrier, a five-star resort in West Virginia, for the holiday. She likes the hotel’s history: 26 presidents have stayed at the Greenbrier, and during World War II, the hotel was used as an army hospital. Once it was restored to civilian use, influential designer Dorothy Draper—known for employing bold color, big patterns, and large floral prints— decorated the hotel in grand style. The hotel is formal, and teaches Turner’s son his p’s and q’s: the silverware he should use during dinner and the way to draw back a dining chair for a woman. When Turner remarries in 1999, she does so at the Greenbrier.
Second story: Turner and her new husband, Stephen Bull, make an offer on a house in Kennebunk. They’ve been vacationing in the area for five years and now want to buy. They find a centrally located house, just behind the shops of downtown and with views of the busy Kennebunk River, all those lobster boats coming and going. Walking through the home, Turner has a sense of something familiar, but she doesn’t know why. She already has a contract on the house—she and Bull are buying the place with furnishings and draperies intact—when her realtor gives her a 1993 issue of Good Housekeeping, and everything clicks. The apparently unrelated stories of her Thanksgiving tradition and her new home merge.
Carleton Varney, Dorothy Draper’s renowned protégé and author of the 2011 book Mr. Color: The Greenbrier and Other Decorating Adventures, had created the interior of Turner and Bull’s new house. In the 1993 Good Housekeeping Varney describes the “great fun” he had in designing the Kennebunk home “in the traditional Maine style.” “The colors: lobster red, sunny yellow, skipper blue, white, and forest green—and the accessories—are the secret of its success,” he writes.
Twenty-two years later, the secrets of its success are a renovation and redecoration that refreshed the house while honoring the impulses of the 1993 design. Yes to bold color, but not so much color. Turner and Bull kept the red and blue, added whites to lighten things up, and passed on much (though not all) of the yellows and greens.
The house itself was built in the 1850s. By the time Turner and Bull bought it, the property was in need of basic repairs such as a new roof, new siding, and insulation. The exterior was updated with fresh paint, porch latticework, a new fence, stonework, and two sheds. Where there once was a yard too steep to traverse, Mason Dixon of MCD Landscaping in Kennebunk created a trail that leads to a grassy area and perennial garden.
Guided by Scotty Falconer, the previous (and current) caretaker of the house, Turner and Bull found their way to local talent for the renovation, including the now-retired builder Glenn Cole of Lloyd Cole and Son of Kennebunk. For interior design, Turner and Bull consulted their good friend Louise Hurlbutt of Hurlbutt Designs in Kennebunk.
When Turner and Bull purchased their house in 2007, the front door opened into a room with vivid blue walls, a pool table, and a drop, acoustical-tile ceiling. This was the first of three primary ground-floor rooms. The other two were the kitchen/dining room and a parlor. To begin their project, Turner and Bull reconceived the spaces: the poolroom would become “the keeping room,” the kitchen would include a sitting area and breakfast space, and the parlor would become the owners’ bedroom. (The term “keeping room” dates back to the Colonial era and refers to a room adjacent to a kitchen, frequently with a fireplace, that serves as a family gathering space.) Meanwhile, the second floor would have guest rooms and, given its views, a living room suited for entertaining larger groups. The third floor, previously used as an owners’ bedroom, would become a guest bedroom/office.
The keeping room got the biggest do-over. The ceiling was stripped to the rafters and the walls were stripped to the studs in order to transform the room into a two-story space with skylights, a white beadboard ceiling, built-in cabinets, a gas fireplace, a decorative balcony, and plantation shades. With the exception of some early Windsor chairs from the 1993 house, the room is furnished with new items, including a custom dining room table from a now-defunct Scarborough antique shop and wingback chairs from Hurlbutt Designs. The latter were covered in Ralph Lauren outdoor fabric, since Turner and Bull knew they would rent their property for many weeks a year, and they needed their furniture to be durable.
Save for the keeping room and bathrooms, the house looks, in many ways, as it did in the 1993 Good Housekeeping article. The kitchen cabinets are arranged as they once were and painted the same cobalt blue, although they are actually new cabinets with beadboard fronts, purchased from Youngs Furniture in South Portland. The kitchen floor is still maple with large blue squares in a checkerboard pattern, but the paint has been refreshed. The red-walled downstairs parlor (now the owners’ bedroom) remains red-walled and has the draperies Varney made (out of the same fabric that is in the Greenbrier’s current tennis pavilion).
The second-floor living room has stayed vivid blue, with wicker rocking chairs that Varney painted white. The blue-and-white striped cushions he designed for these chairs and the matching Roman window shades are all intact. Turner has supplemented the decor with an assortment of blue and white porcelain plates that she hung on the wall and a large print depicting Kennebunkport’s annual Memorial Day Parade, featuring local residents, including a waving George and Barbara Bush on the sidewalk. Turner and Bull had first seen the print at a Kennebunk gallery. Initially they resisted buying it, but after attending the actual parade, which they found to be a charming throwback to midcentury small- town America, they changed their minds.
A spiral staircase—once painted red, now white—leads from the living room to the third floor. Because furniture can’t go up and down such a staircase, there is a large hatch on the ceiling of one of the second-floor guest rooms, hidden underneath a third-floor bed.
With the exception of a claw-foot tub, the new bathrooms (designed by Louise Hurlbutt) bear little relationship to the past. In place of linoleum floors and fiberglass, there are vanities and mirrors from Sylco Cabinetry in Waterboro and tiles from Distinctive Tile and Design in Portland. A children’s bathroom has playful wall tiles with sea creatures and shells, and floors tiled with white and light blue penny rounds. One shower has pond stone tile for the floor, which makes for great traction. (“I feel so safe in your shower,” one guest said.) Glass blocks were put in the window of another bathroom so a large stall shower could be built around the opening.
Turner calls herself the “queen” of eBay and Home Goods, and her house is full of her clever finds. “I can pick out the decent stuff and leave the junk,” she says. To locate artwork and pillows, she simply typed “Maine” into eBay and perused what came up. A white bunk bed she secured on eBay is now in the “lobster room,” a children’s bedroom so named because its various decorations and pillows all feature lobsters.
Still, Turner and Bull like to shop local when they can. A large model sailboat that sits on a shelf in the apex of the keeping room’s ceiling—sails ruffling in the wind of a nearby fan—came from Home Accents in Scarborough. The couple found an armoire, kitchen table, and model lobster boat, among other items, at Americana Workshop in Kennebunk.
Perhaps the most winning thing about the house—the couple has named it Bluebrier—is how very happy Turner and Bull seem to be in it. “We’re really proud it’s ours,” Turner says. She likes the house itself, but also its location, by which she means the address within town and the friendly community in which she finds herself. The very disposition of the rooms speaks to Turner and Bull’s pleasure at hearing friends bang at the screen door for an impromptu visit. Turner and Bull didn’t want their owners’ bedroom upstairs, because they didn’t want to miss a single person who stopped by. They are used to running into town for an errand and bumping into friends who issue a last-minute invitation: “Come for dinner. Bring a salad.”
“Hearts are warmer where temperatures are colder,” Turner concludes, saying she and Bull wouldn’t mind spending the rest of their lives in their comfortable, patriotically colored house, which so reminds them of past days at the Greenbrier, even as it welcomes dear friends of the present.