Mussel Cove Classic
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography Francois Gagne
A Falmouth Foreside home manages the tricky task of combining casual with elegant
Down a tree-lined dirt road that skirts Falmouth’s Mussel Cove is a circa 1933 house that is at once elegant and unfussy. A sweeping driveway turns to peastone gravel as it nears the home, heightening the old-world charm of the home and landscape. A stone wall creates a small courtyard next to the house, and at its corner a grand apple tree spills its bounty each autumn. The home’s rustic, cream-colored shingles and mossy-green trim glow in the sunshine.
Homeowner Dawn Hoffman was immediately charmed by the home. “When we drove down the road and I saw the setting and the lovely property,” she remembers, “I thought ‘this would be a great house to renovate and bring back to its glory.’” In 2005, Dawn and her husband, Alfred Hoffman, Jr., bought and renovated the captivating Falmouth home. Alfred is a longtime Florida real estate entrepreneur who was sworn in as the United States Ambassador to Portugal in the same year that he and Dawn purchased the house.
With ambassadorial obligations in Europe, the Hoffmans—including their daughters, Sophie and Ava—only spend winter holidays and a bit of each summer in the seaside home. Visits may be short for now, but the house was designed for everyday living, comfortable family gatherings, and sophisticated entertaining.
In 1977, a three-car garage was added to the house, which allowed the Hoffmans to create a generously appointed guest suite above the garage, as well as a mudroom and back kitchen in the space connecting the garage to the house. During the latest transformation, however, it was the front entrance that received some discerning attention.
Architect Buell Heminway designed a new vestibule to push the entrance out from the house in a welcoming fashion. General contractor John Thaxter—of the three-decade-old, Portland-based Thaxter Company—also credits the heightened drama of the approach to landscape architect John Ackerman’s reconfiguration of the driveway. “The new approach just has a much more stately feeling now. There was a thoughtful handling of this site in general, and that was important to me,” says Thaxter.
The interior of the Hoffman house is even more alluring. There was never a question that the Hoffmans would work with Joan Simonsen-Hickok of Simonsen-Hickok Interiors in Naples, Florida: she has been designing for them since 1996. In turn, Simonsen-Hickok reached out to New York-based interior designer Wendy Klingensmith, her former colleague and regular collaborator. Together, Simonsen-Hickok and Klingensmith turned the Maine home into a seamless fusion of cozy, family-centered rooms and more stylish spaces.
As soon as she laid eyes on the 1930s-era house, Klingensmith had several ideas. “The thing that was important to me,” she says, “was renovating this house while keeping its original form—updating it while saving the charm, and expanding it while keeping the warmth.” Simonsen-Hickok echoes the thought, adding that the challenge was to maintain the integrity of the original architecture while meeting both the needs and desires of the new homeowners. Klingensmith strove to “pull from the classic architecture of the exterior and incorporate the ease of living needed in a Maine home.”
“I took into consideration the different lighting that Maine has as opposed to other parts of the country,” says Simonsen-Hickok, “and realized the importance of colors that would brighten the interior yet be appropriate to the space.” Throughout the house, the pair mixed classic antiques and found objects with, in Klingensmith’s words, “comfortable and well-built upholstered pieces.” Some antiques, such as plates and table accessories, were purchased in Portugal and shipped to Maine. “Pieces that we’ve collected throughout our travels in Portugal are seen throughout the home,” says Dawn, “as well as old pottery from the once famous factories in Oporto.”
The Hoffmans are entertainers, and whether for friends or extended family, they always savor a gathering. Simonsen-Hickok, who has worked with the Hoffmans for the past 12 years, believes that “most people today don’t value the time they spend in their homes as much as the Hoffmans. Every meal, every holiday is an event. They like their homes to be well executed but—more importantly—inviting and comfortable.”
To that end, Klingensmith and Simonsen-Hickok created a wonderful triangle between the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Dawn took a hands-on role in the design of the kitchen. “I knew the kitchen had to be functional as well as good looking, and Sarah Steinberg understood that from the get-go,” she says.
Sarah Steinberg, of Steinberg Custom Designs, worked on the kitchen and nearly all of the home’s six bathrooms. Steinberg relished the challenge of fitting a kitchen replete with every modern accoutrement into a space much smaller than most contemporary kitchens. “We had to push a lot on the edges,” says Steinberg with her ever-present smile. She worked particularly hard to fit in the much-needed island and make room for three bar stools around it. “Wendy created the homey, elegant feel of the kitchen, and Sarah executed it to a precise fit,” says Dawn.
The kitchen features dramatic Cambrian Black granite countertops edged with black-and-white mosaic tiles in a checkered pattern. “This granite was selected to give the look of slate but offer added durability,” Klingensmith notes. Above the wide pine floors and dark counters, the seeded glass-fronted cabinets were painted a creamy white to brighten the space. The home’s original slate farmer’s sink was repaired and saved, while a large commercial range was added, complete with a kettle faucet on the wall above.
The back kitchen, with its refinished brick floor, filled out the Hoffman’s culinary needs. “We selected a bead-board-style door front with a painted and distressed yellow finish,” says Klingensmith of the room’s cottage-like aesthetic. Soapstone was used for the countertops and chicken-wire inserts were added to several cabinet doors. “It’s connected but not identical,” says Steinberg. “It feels a bit more lighthearted than the main kitchen.”
Via a swinging butler’s door, the kitchen flows into the decidedly more formal dining room, which in turn opens onto the vaulted-ceiling living room. Sets of French doors in both rooms lead to the back patios and offer commanding views of Mussel Cove and the Portland Yacht Club. Florida-based artist Molly Anderson added beautifully painted floors that elevate the dining room’s sophistication. Simonsen-Hickok says she “introduced Swedish design elements into the dining room as Maine has a similar climate and light. The chairs and built-in cabinetry were executed to combine the style of straightforward design with a quiet elegance and gentility.” The designers softened the transitions between the formal and casual spaces by keeping certain design elements consistent. “This technique,” says Klingensmith, “allows the spaces to be formal when needed for elegant occasions, as well as casual for family gatherings.” Dawn particularly admires the juxtaposition of elegant and intimate in the dining room: “It allows for an intimate group of four people or sixteen for a nice sit-down dinner.”
Bedding Down at Casa Hoffman
In addition to the airy guest suite over the garage, there are two guest rooms above the kitchen and den, while the family bedrooms are located at the other end of the house. Just beyond the formal living room, a small antechamber leads left into the master bedroom or right into a spacious, custom-detailed dressing room.
The master bedroom’s dark-stained hardwood floors are brightened by pale-yellow walls and accents of robin’s-egg blue in the furniture and window treatments. Beyond the fireplace and faux-bamboo, four-poster bed, bay windows open to views of Mussel Cove. A side door next to the windows leads out to a brick-and-stone patio surrounded by mature trees.
A well-appointed master bath, meticulously crafted by finish carpenter Mark Perry, also links the bedroom to the dressing room. Klingensmith revised the original floor plan to accommodate the white and yellow bathroom with double vanities, window seats, a soaking tub, and a large double shower. “This end of the house is truly a master getaway,” muses Klingensmith. “It is an escape from the rest of the home.”
Above this masterful master suite, the two girls have an entire floor to themselves. Klingensmith and Simonsen-Hickok designed each girl’s bed and bath with their personalities in mind. “Sophie’s room was outfitted around an inspirational blue toile fabric,” says Klingensmith, “and is a tailored expression of her love of horses and riding.” Ava’s room, on the other hand, was inspired by the five-year-old’s sweetness. “It incorporates lots of frilly feminine details like fringe and ruffles and scallops,” Klingensmith says, calling it a “fresh, peachy-pink cocoon that surrounds you when you enter.”
The Ease of Living
Dawn Hoffman doesn’t have to think long when considering her favorite characteristic of the Falmouth home: “The ease with which it flows,” she says. “It has great space and great flow without being too large, but it is still roomy enough to house a very large group of people.”
Refining the idea of how and why the home’s spaces work so well, Simonsen-Hickok says, “As a design team, we always remember there will be dogs, children, and guests milling around….Maine is all about stepping back, enjoying life, and appreciating what life has to offer.”
The house, according to Klingensmith, has “grown into a place where the Hoffmans want to spend more time together as a family. They want to spend holidays here—that is when we know we have done our job as designers.”