Home for the Holidays
Interior designer Debra Villeneuve creates a “cozy cocoon” for herself in Falmouth
For years, the phrase “home for the holidays” has had a slightly different meaning for interior designer Debra Villeneuve than for most people. She always wants family to come to her place for celebrations, only these days, “her place” is in Houston, and her children and her fiancé’s children live in New England. Given this, it never made sense to ask everybody to travel to Texas, where she relocated for a job in 2001 after years of living in Falmouth. Instead, she routinely came back to Maine and rented a house for get-togethers. Eventually, she decided she wanted a more permanent option. When she saw a lot for sale in 2011 in the very area in Falmouth where she had twice rented, she eagerly made an offer. In addition to providing a blank canvas, the property put her near the water and included a boat mooring.
A marketing job with Cole Haan first took Villeneuve to Texas, but in her mid-40s she chose to pursue interior design, which she’d come to love over the course of building three family homes with her ex-husband. In order to formally change careers, she studied at the Art Institute of Houston, graduating in 2008. Now she had a chance to design a brand new place for herself.
Villeneuve immediately started surfing the web and scouring magazines for images of what she wanted. She found herself consistently drawn to modern farmhouses. Because cost was a factor, she opted to build a simple gabled structure with a front porch that would reflect what she loved most about the town: its friendly, welcoming vibe. “Falmouth is not a resort town,” says Villeneuve. “It’s more of a family town.”
Villeneuve’s property lies in an area that was known at the turn of the twentieth century as Underwood Park. For the eight years before it burned down, it boasted a three-story casino, an open-air theater with weekly vaudeville shows, underground freshwater springs, and an electrical fountain. Now the area features stylish homes that make use of elements of Maine vernacular but are quite clearly contemporary. Villeneuve’s own home has an open plan downstairs, but not in the typical way. Walking through the front door, one sees what is essentially a rectangle with living room area and fireplace at one end of the room, kitchen at the opposite end, and dining area in between. The spaces are distinct only insofar as they are defined by elements of furnishing (a high-backed sofa in the living room, for instance) and a change in the ceiling height (a slight drop from dining room to kitchen). Meanwhile, a powder room, stairwell, pantry, and laundry room are hidden behind the far wall. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and a shared bath. Should Villeneuve sell or decide to live in the home year-round, the current plan allows for the easy addition of a first-floor owner’s bedroom suite and quick conversion of the unfinished space above the two-car garage into a private guest apartment or office.
Villeneuve likes things in her house that have “a special meaning” to her, and memories from her childhood figured prominently in her choices. She was raised in Vermont, where her grandparents owned a sawmill. Their fondness for wood is honored in the use of exposed beams for the first-floor ceilings and ash for the floors, staircase railing, and lighthouse-shaped newell. The dark gray and white wallpaper in the owner’s bedroom appealed to Villeneuve because the pattern reminded her of the forest ferns that her grandfather once brought home for her grandmother to pot in a living room planter.
Although her last name is French, Villeneuve has to go back three generations to find a French person in her family. All the same, she loves things that remind her of Paris, so she chose brasserie-type chairs for the stools at her kitchen island and a French-influenced chandelier with seeded lights and brass finish for her living room.
Villeneuve’s thrift in some areas allowed her to afford custom pieces elsewhere. The white Shaker-style flat-panel kitchen cabinets with pewter pulls were built by RG Eaton Woodworks of Westbrook, as were the bathroom vanities. Elegant creamy-white linen drapes run from the 10-foot-high ceilings to the floor, along the entire length of two of the first-floor walls. Made in Texas, the drapes were hung by Brunswick’s Fogler and Ketchum Drapery Workroom. The lower halves are lined for privacy, but the upper halves remain unlined to let in light. “I can’t have enough windows in a house,” says Villeneuve, “but this is a tight-knit neighborhood, and I wanted to be able to run downstairs in my pajamas.” She also wanted her living room “to feel like a cocoon inside,” so she chose a high-backed couch that is as deep as a twin bed; two people can lie on it and comfortably read or rest or watch the snow fall. Another custom item is the dining room table, which has a driftwood base (made of wood gathered from around Lake Michigan) and a zinc tabletop covered in Lucite. The one-of-a-kind piece was built by Ben Forgey, whose work Villeneuve discovered in a magazine.
Other purchases are from national stores that are favorites with interior designers: Restoration Hardware and Design Within Reach for furniture, like the weathered living room wardrobe that hides the TV, and the Michael Thonet bentwood chairs with wicker seats in the dining room; Visual Comfort for lighting, including the kitchen’s antique bronze and brass globes; and Kohler for a tub, select sinks, and toilets. But Villeneuve also likes to shop locally. She picked up baskets, bird prints, posters, and maps from businesses like L.L.Bean and Abacus, and had work framed at Falmouth’s Galeyrie Maps and Charts, as well as Falmouth’s Elizabeth Moss Galleries. Two yellow-brown vintage trunks from F.O. Bailey Real Estate and Antiquarians in Falmouth are stacked at the foot of the guest room bed. One day, a fortuitous trip to Falmouth Town Landing for a sandwich took Villeneuve by a sign for a Nicola’s Home tent sale. (Nicola’s Home is now located in Yarmouth.) That day, Villeneuve purchased numerous items, including a flower-shaped mirror for the guest bedroom and, for her own bedroom, an intricate chandelier made of white plaster flowers that are run along chains that connect to form a globe.
As for the exterior, the house and garage are similarly sized and placed at right angles to each other to form an ell. Cedar siding covers the garage, and James Hardie siding—a prestained concrete product with a grain that suggests wide planks—clads the rest of the exterior, affording sturdy protection from ocean weather.
I visit Villeneuve the day after she’s hosted a baby shower for 30. Due to bad weather, her house was reconfigured for an indoor party, with table and chairs shifted from the porch into the garage and the laundry room converted into a bar, thanks to its high counters. Villeneuve likes to go all out when she entertains. With a wildlife theme, the party featured candles in tree trunk holders, cupcakes decorated with antlers, a cake on a tree trunk stand with animal figurines treading in the frosting, and trail mix fixings. Villeneuve and her daughter-in-law were responsible for flower arrangements worthy of the most talented florist, while others took magazine-worthy photographs of the day’s event. When I meet with her, Villeneuve is headed the next day to Chicago. Her partner has work to do, and she will be taking an architectural tour of the city. Then they head home for Houston. Before long, though, they’ll be back, to fill the house with happy gatherings.