Art, antiques, and other collectibles recombine in a renovated Kennebunk Cape
The retired lawyer’s license plate reads Aftermath. Ditto the stone plaque on the column marking the drive to the home he and his physician wife own in Kennebunk (in addition to primary residences in Wellesley, Massachusetts, near where she practices, and Naples, Florida). Customarily suggesting a time after troubles, “aftermath” also refers to the second growth that appears on a mown field. The latter connotation appealed to the lawyer–physician couple, who purchased their home in part to prepare for the next stage of their lives: with their son having graduated college, their sights were set on Maine for their older age.
Near Mother’s Beach, the Kennebunk house had originally been the barn and workshop of Hank Spaulding, a famed Boston developer, whose sons later converted the structure into a two-story Cape fronted with three doghouse dormers. Ten years ago, when the couple bought the place, they wanted to make space for a 1,200-bottle wine collection from their Wellesley house, so they turned to architect David Graham of Graham Architects in Kennebunkport for a wine cellar, as well as an accompanying great room and outdoor patio. The wine racks were made of mahogany and teak, and the bordering great room had bluestone floors, partial stone walls, an inside/outside stone fireplace, and a fir-lined canopy ceiling. Five years later, the homeowners returned to Graham for an additional and “pretty aggressive design program,” as he puts it, one complicated by the tightness of the lot and the existence of a “paper street” on town plans, which meant there was a sewer line just where they would otherwise have wanted to build.
For the initial renovation, the builder had to build lower into the site. Now Spang Builders of Kennebunkport had to build up, while reorganizing existing spaces. As Clayton Spang describes it, the to-do list was lengthy, given the couple’s desire to reconfigure the first and second floor; make bedrooms more commodious; design spots for existing art; incorporate an elevator for aging in place; add a thirdfloor conical roof for an office landing, a sunny sitting room (with wraparound views), and a bathroom with attached sauna; upgrade finishes; redo the kitchen; add a pool; and integrate two separate exterior deck areas. And these were just the functional wants. For the design, the husband hoped to extend aspects of the first renovation (like the fir ceiling and white column detailing) into other areas and to use existing furniture and objects from the Kennebunk house and the now-downsized Wellesley house in a seamless way. All of this was a particular challenge given the varied nature of what was being combined. The husband comes from a family of collectors. He had inherited art and antiques from them and also actively acquired pieces on his own.
As currently appointed, the house is full of art, sculpture, Oriental rugs, custom and antique furniture, precious objects (such as an elaborate Mardi Gras mask), and curiosities (including shark’s teeth, a ventriloquist’s doll, and a gigantic tortoise shell). The art is largely, though not entirely, contemporary and can be frankly dark (like the large apocalyptic painting of beekeepers by David Pettibone in the den) or whimsical (like the sculpture of a man and a lion in a cage that hangs above the breakfast table, by Pat Keck) or pleasingly strange (like the partial face of Picasso painted on a piece of framed driftwood by Virginia Peck, hanging in the owners’ bedroom.) “We buy what we like,” says the husband. “I am pretty obsessive-compulsive. I do research before I go to an auction. I look in advance. Sometimes people don’t know what they’re looking at, or they have spent their allotment earlier in auction, or they got tired and have left. You would be surprised what you can pick up.”
The husband’s collecting success only intensified the design challenge, however. How to combine a late 1700s antique cellaret (a stand for wine bottles), a marble-topped French console table with bronze edging, an Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Brideshead Revisited, a nineteenth-century painting of the Doge’s palace in Venice, a tiger maple custom four-poster bed, and a Louise Nevelson intaglio and stencil on handmade Japanese paper?
For help, the couple turned to Melissa Freeman and Louise Hurlbutt of Hurlbutt Designs in Kennebunk. Freeman notes that, when you have work that is not unified by period, you can find a color or design through-line that helps you make effective combinations. The Japanese-inspired pergolas that had been added at the front entry and as part of the parking area during the first stage of the renovation inspired Art Deco choices for the house, including select sconces and mirror-framed mirrors for bathrooms, as the clean lines of one style matched the other.
Freeman offers another example when describing the evolution of the living room design. Only one of the homeowners’ existing rugs, a black and neutral Oriental, would fit the space. The husband was already hoping to redo the previous rustic stone fireplace with a more classic wood surround and black granite base. The rug and fireplace palette then drove the rest of the design. Freeman selected black petrified-wood side tables to add a natural component. With the black element in place, she considered existing furniture to see about additional neutrals. Clean lines were already part of the program, so she picked geometric Kelly Wearstler fabric for throw pillows. For continuity, what was going on in the living room was echoed elsewhere in the house, as in the black partial throw on the owners’ bed upstairs.
As for other examples of continuity: the house’s collectibles include animal skulls and other objects with horns, so a Visual Comfort lighting series that has arms suggestive of horns was used for the dining table chandelier, the stairwell, and select sconces. Plaid fabric (for a pair of wood-framed English chairs with ram’s head armrest carvings) serves to dress down the formal antique piece and accentuate colors in the great room’s Oriental rug. Upstairs, the plaid was also used on the built-in mudroom bench, where the fabric colors echo the palette of a contemporary framed textile of a mermaid whose body is full of fish. Such patterning happens many times throughout the house.
One notable new item is a built-in dry bar of cherry made in part to showcase a boat model, another item the couple collects. Otherwise, interior design additions were largely made by way of knitting items together through new upholstery, lamps, paint colors, drapes (“which complete a room,” says Hurlbutt), and occasionally wallpaper, such as the grass cloth that distinguishes the dining room walls from the adjoining rooms.
Outside, Ted Carter of Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes of Buxton did his own knitting together, integrating the terrace built during the initial renovation with a renovated upper terrace of bluestone. Here, Carter designed a plunge pool framed in granite coping. Two fieldstone partial walls form a spillway that arches water into a corner of the pool. A separate water feature spills over a flat granite face wall (hugged by two hardy Schoodic jack pines) and into a lower stone catchment area. The effect is “to introduce sound and movement,” Carter says, “to an otherwise static surface.” Away from the house, the homeowners worked with others to sight a seven-foot-long stone Joseph Wheelwright sculpture of a partial moon face, a 37,000-pound granite arch made by Alan Webster, and two sizable fieldstone planters by Magna Design Group.
The husband may be the more active collector of the couple, but the home is very much a team effort. The location was more the wife’s pick. On his own, the husband says, he might have opted for beachfront. The wife’s favorite aspect of the house is wonderfully unexpected: she cites the new switchback stairway for its pleasing relationship of stair rise to tread length, something David Graham says that he and Ted Carter puzzled over at length, as they did the fieldstone risers and bluestone treads of the outdoor steps that make an appealing visual and spatial transition between terraces. What makes the wife most happy, though, relates to her husband and suggests great promise for their life together here: “It’s that he loves this place,” she says.