The Best of Both Worlds
A 200-year-old York farmhouse updated for decades to come
So many sprawling Maine farmhouses have been added on to and added on to, creating a warren of rooms and a jumble of passageways from a mishmash of eras, This is only partly true for the early-1800s York home of Glenn and Mary Farrell. Although over the course of our two-hour visit, Glenn makes reference to something or other having been “added on to” no less than nine times, in this case it’s nearly impossible to tell. If Glenn didn’t point out those additions, a visitor would never know. The old ends and the new begins in a smooth, seamless transition, an artful blending of historical detail with contemporary touches.
“It’s not, ‘Oh no, this doesn’t match the rest of the house,’” says Mary. “Instead, it’s a nice little evolution.” That sense of flow is thanks to Glenn’s handiwork. He happens to be a builder and the owner of YFI Custom Homes and YFI Millworks. While Glenn can be found working at his Cape Neddick office (when he’s not out on a jobsite) for the former business, the latter is actually housed in a barn on his home’s bucolic 30-acre property. “YFI Millworks allows me to have more control over what we’re building,” Glenn says, noting that, by creating the finish work such as the interior trim, built-ins, and cabinetry in-house, he can guarentee that client deadlines are met. That kind of business savvy is something he picked up from his first job: in the early 1980s he worked as a CPA in Boston. Eventually, Glenn admitted that accounting wasn’t his passion, and that’s when he moved to York to launch YFI Custom Homes. He’s been building quality custom homes—and slowly renovating his own home—ever since.
Like most old Maine farmhouses, the home was composed of a couple of buildings, and one of Glenn’s first renovation projects was to connect the main home to the back shed. To do this, he built a sunny breezeway with a checkerboard floor and skylights. Two sets of French doors on opposite sides can be thrown open, making the space feel like an outdoor room. Next, he began finishing the back shed, adding cabinetry, carpeting, and window trim for a great room with a sleeping loft for guests. After that, he built a screened porch with a sky-blue painted floor and attached a deck that overlooks the property’s gardens, fields, sheep pastures, and pond.
When the back of the house was finished, Glenn switched his focus to the front. There he created a new entry with a mahogany doorway and dentil crown moulding, both of which he made in the millwork shop. He also repaired and installed an antique Victorian coil bell with a pulley system similar to what’s shown in the opening credits of Downton Abbey. It now hangs in the corner, announcing visitors with a jaunty jingle. To the right of the entry is a charming renovated study paneled in pine, and facing the front door is the home’s centuries- old staircase. The second floor has the owners’ bedroom, where Glenn opened up the ceiling and installed antique beams, a guest room, and a bathroom. There is also a small sitting area that benefits from a huge picture window: Glenn installed it when the couple decided to size up to a king bed, knowing that the mattress wouldn’t fit through the home’s narrow doors and stairway and would have to be lifted in. (Glenn recalls how the mattress delivery crew was rather surprised to arrive and find a large, if temporary, hole in the side of the home.)
Most of this work, save for the picture window, happened before Glenn met Mary. The pair were introduced when they were in their late 40s by a friend of Mary’s who also happened to be a client of Glenn’s. Seven years ago, they held their wedding at a hotel that Glenn built; several of their 120 guests were former clients turned friends. Because Mary was working in Boston, the couple frequently commuted back and forth. But with an eye to spending more time in Maine and Mary’s retirement on the horizon, the couple decided to do another renovation.
For this second, more major remodel, Glenn and Mary called William H. Soupcoff of TMS Architects, a frequent collaborator of YFI Custom Homes, to help with the concept sketches. The existing kitchen was cramped, dark, and isolated, and Glenn and Mary wanted to modernize it, make it a central gathering place, and connect it to the outside gardens. “We tried to capture that character of an old Maine rambling farmhouse and build on what was already there,” says Soupcoff. Noting that Glenn is “an extraordinarily competent and capable contractor who can build most anything,” Soupcoff provided a visual aesthetic and sense of scale for the overall renovation, while Janice Page at PK Surroundings handled the kitchen layout. Glenn could take it from there.
The scope of work included adding a mudroom, building a banquette, knocking down the wall between the existing kitchen and living areas, and raising the ceiling, the last of which proved to be complex. “It was a challenge because part of the second floor was over the kitchen. But it helps to give the space a more dramatic feeling and to capture sunlight from above,” says Soupcoff. The new design also included adjusting the location of the windows and enlarging them. Now a pair of double-hung windows with black mullions, inspired by a design Mary found on Pinterest, is positioned over an enameled cast-iron sink that is outfitted with a gleaming brass faucet and cross handles. Brass also appears on the pulls, as well as on a vintage planter that holds a cluster of orchids, scooped up by Mary in a One Kings Lane sale curated by Nate Berkus. The cabinetry built in the shop next door features simple Shaker-style panels and is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter, a shade the couple had used and liked in their Boston living room.
To the side of the kitchen, the couple added a banquette upholstered in burgundy elephant-print fabric and an antique French vendange table. (Also known as a wine taster’s table, it collapses neatly to be easily carried through a vineyard during harvest time.) Above the table hangs an early American tin chandelier they brought from their Boston house, because it happened to match the existing one in the breezeway. With light flooding in from large picture windows, the sunny nook is now one of Mary’s favorite spots in the house.
Taking down the wall that formerly connected the kitchen to the living room created space for an island. It was built from antique chestnut that Glenn had been saving, and a wide swath of honed green serpentine was inset into the top. The kitchen is now open to the living area, which is painted in a dark brown shade that looks almost black. The couple furnished it with a pair of chrome armchairs that had been sitting in Glenn’s business office. The chairs, which had been his parents’, were revived with new dusty rose mohair upholstery. The couple purchased a new linen sofa and leather armchair, and in front of the sofa they placed a pair of Hitchcock coffee tables that had belonged to Mary’s grandmother. An antique oil portrait hangs over the sofa, and tucked away in a closet to the right of the fireplace is a television set that Glenn installed to swivel out when in use and remain hidden when not. The entire room’s effect is at once stately and elegant but also cozy and comfortable.
In the renovated mudroom hangs a photo of the farmhouse from 1895, still recognizable but markedly different. Today, the updated home is more of a gentleman’s farm, a pastoral place where the couple can enjoy many Maine pleasures: long bike rides, gardening, tending to their two sheep—Lucky and Laura—and picking blueberries from their 30-year-old high- bush plants. From a stool at the warm antique kitchen island, Mary serves up homemade blueberry cobbler and basil ice cream. “It’s a nice, clean modern take on things,” she says. “But in a charming old package.” Glenn agrees. “It’s fun, bright, and airy,” he says, “Yet you still have the bones of an old house. It’s the best of both worlds.”