On the site of the former Eagle Rock Hotel, a house designed with the past in mind.
In 1886, the Eagle Rock Hotel was built on a hill near Kennebunk Beach, a soaring structure with four and a half stories and a cupola. It was one of several grand hotels in the area where the same guests would come year after year to stay for an entire month. From the open porch, visitors would take in the sea views and salt breezes; in the dining room, they would eat three meals a day. A newspaper advertisement dated July 4, 1896, sums up the scene succinctly: “On elevated ground. Spacious verandas. Table first class.”
The hotel changed hands—and names— over the next several decades. In 1928 Edward Clark bought it and renamed it the Webhannet Inn. His wife, Harriet, ran it from 1952 to 1963. The following year, Jon Milligan and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased it. Because of the high cost of complying with newly mandated local and state fire regulations, the top three and a half floors were eventually removed, and the first floor was converted to a single-story cottage.
Fast forward to 2010, when Judy and Bill Turner were visiting their son and daughter- in-law at their house next door to the former hotel. The building, not a private residence was for sale, and the Turners decided to buy it. Their son and daughter-in-law had worked with Arundel builder Shawn Douston and Kennebunk interior designer Louise Hurlbutt to renovate their home the year before, and recommended them to Judy and Bill. When Judy asked for the names of local architects, Brian Beaudette of Kennebunk was among them. “When we met, I could tell we were all on the same page,” she says.
The project was a nostalgic one for Hurlbutt, who worked summers at the hotel as a chambermaid during college in the early 1960s, when her friend Harriet Gott’s parents (the Clarks) owned it. She has fond memories of the hotel in its heyday: the interesting summer visitors she got to meet (many from Canada), the chef’s bell summoning the staff for dinner every night, riding her bicycle between work and her parents’ summerhouse on Fairway Drive, and the weekend sophomore year when the Clarks let her take over the whole place for a party.
When the Turners came on the scene, however, the building was a shadow of its former self. Having been gutted and added on to so many times over the years, the structure was in poor, if not unsafe, condition. The couple’s hopes of restoring the property were dashed on their first walkthrough with Douston and Hurlbutt. “We just couldn’t save it,” says Douston. “We had no choice but to demo and start over.”
While the building as a whole was beyond repair, the team did uncover a handful of pieces from the original structure that they were able to repurpose, including the solid wood pocket doors to the left of the entry that lead to an exterior storage area. “It was an incredible thing to find those,” says Douston. “They were hidden in the walls of the dining room, and I don’t think anyone realized they were there.” The team also found two mahogany French doors from the original front-porch entry that wound up as doors to the upstairs turret sitting room. “It was weird because we salvaged them before Brian even had the door sizes, and they fit perfectly—as if he had designed with them in mind,” says Douston. Brackets from the old porch were installed beneath a cantilevered stair-landing bump-out on the side of the house.
In keeping with many of the area’s turn-of- the-century “grand dame” mansions, Beaudette designed a shingle-style house with gambrel rooflines and sweeping covered porches studded with square tapered columns. “The former hotel that stood on the site was an example of Maine’s historic architecture,” says Beaudette. “We wanted to honor the site by replacing the structure with something that would look as though it had been there for years.”
Like many of the shingle-style homes of the era, the house features shingle flares and siding, brackets, stone accenting at the base, cottage-style windows with multiple grilles in the upper sash and none in the bottom sash, and deep roof overhangs with crown and bed moulding, beadboard soffits, fascia boards, and raised frieze boards. Roof lines are carried down to the first floor, so the second floor appears to be “built within the roofs, creating a warm and welcoming approach to the structure,” says Beaudette.
One of the most iconic historic elements of Beaudette’s design is the columned porch that the Turners, like the hotel guests before them, spend so much of their time on. The couple wanted to be able to use the porch in three seasons, so the team built custom screened and glass panels. Rather than place the panels between the columns, Douston came up with a hook system where the panels are attached behind the columns, allowing the architectural features to be seen in their entirety and maintaining the period character of the porch.
On the interior, Hurlbutt’s palette, finishes, and fixtures needed to mesh with the homeowners’ early-American furniture and artwork from their house in Vermont—as well as the way the space would be used, primarily as a seaside summer house. “We wanted our friends to feel welcome,” says Judy. “I like things to look well put together, but seating has to be comfortable, and surfaces can’t be too fragile.” The great room features a slipcovered sectional where the Turners can snuggle up with their grandchildren in front of a gas fireplace with a stone surround by Biddeford masonry company Raymond Dussault.
The kitchen’s custom cabinetry was crafted by Sylco Cabinetry in East Waterboro and painted in Benjamin Moore’s Baby Fawn with a custom back glaze in black. A beige crackled tile backsplash by Distinctive Tile and Design in Kennebunk complements the cabinetry, as well as the honed absolute black granite countertops from Blue Rock of Maine in Portland. “The house is rustic in a sense, yet refined. We combined Old World style with a little modernity,” says Hurlbutt.
These days, when Hurlbutt walks down the wide upstairs hallway she feels a twinge of déjà vu. “I especially love going into the turret room at sunset,” she says. “It’s the same sunset as it was in my college days. There’s something about Maine and the way it always pulls you back.”
Because Judy assembled the players early on and had a clear idea of what she wanted, Douston Construction and the team were able to finish the project under a tight time frame, just in time for the Turners’ summer stay. Project manager Crystal Wilson, of Douston, said working on the home was a joy because of Judy’s involvement and dedication to creating a house worthy of the site’s past. “I like to say we ‘reclaimed the Rock,’” says Wilson. “It’s so warm and welcoming here—you can almost picture walking into the old hotel, through the big doors, and past the check-in desk.” In other words, history lives on. The Eagle soars again.