Inside a classic colonial in Kennebunk, Dagmar and Kevin Sullivan have created a modern home of plush comfort and streamlined style.
Dagmar Sullivan loves to organize things so much that, “I would do it as a job,” she jokes. She invites me to take a look at her spice drawer. The sleek German-designed Poggenpohl cabinetry glides open without a sound, revealing a meticulously ordered drawer with every spice one could possibly need, from ginger to cumin to dill. “I’ll show you my closet in a minute,” she promises. Her Kennebunk house, where she lives with her husband, Kevin, and her youngest daughter (her older two daughters have left the nest), is marked by this kind of sharp attention to detail and comforting organization. Remodeled in 2013, the contemporary space pays tribute to Dagmar’s keen sense of style as well as her Danish heritage.
The house was originally constructed in 2000, built from a floor plan designed by Dagmar and Kevin themselves. “Once we lived in it with three kids, we learned a lot about the space,” Dagmar says. The size and layout of the home weren’t working for the family, they decided. But they didn’t want to leave their neighborhood. “In reality, I couldn’t leave the yard that I worked so hard on,” Dagmar admits. And so they decided to completely restructure the interior: they moved walls to create a larger kitchen, shifted the guest bathroom to a new location, added additional storage space to the entryway, and reconfigured the second floor to create a more natural flow. “We stripped it down to the two-by-fours,” Dagmar says. The couple worked closely with architect David Graham of Graham Architects in Kennebunkport to design the new layout in what Graham calls “a collaborative process.” “He understood my Danish style so well,” Dagmar adds.
As a result, Dagmar’s aesthetics are visible in every conceivable corner, from the gray-stained, wide-plank white oak floors to the soft fur hides from Denmark that are thrown across sofas and on midcentury modern metal chairs. This style can best be described as a juxtaposition of soft and hard: it is sleek, streamlined, hyggeligt. Hyggeligt (pronounced hoo-gah-ligt) is a Danish word that describes a feeling of cozy well-being, like the feeling that comes from being snuggled up in fur next to a fire. On her farmhouse kitchen table, white pillar candles blaze next to a vase of fresh flowers and a bleached pair of antlers, creating a tableau that is at once both rustic and elegant. “I lit the candles before you got here,” Dagmar confesses. “I wanted it to feel hyggeligt.”
Heat flows into the house through vents, piped in from deep in the earth thanks to the marvels of geothermal heating pumps, which were installed in 2013 by Biddeford’s Jim Godbout Plumbing and Heating during the remodel managed by builder Tim Spang of Spang Builders in Kennebunkport. “It was one of the bigger geothermal jobs that I’ve done,” Spang says. “But it now runs the whole house, as far as heat goes, and we used spray-foam insulation that is the best quality on the market.”
“We installed an entire energy recovery system in their house,” adds Graham, who worked closely with Spang on the remodel, which not only updated the interior structure of the home but also made it far more energy efficient. “We took the house from having a more traditional colonial floor plan to an open one,” Graham says. “It was also important that we bring in Scandinavian design elements to reflect Dagmar’s background.” The result is “a bit different from the other houses in this region,” says Graham. From the street, the Sullivans’ home, with its stained dark gray clapboards, appears perfectly suited to the neighborhood. Inside is a different story. You could just as easily be in a Copenhagen townhouse as the suburbs of southern Maine. Fortunately, the simple lines of New England colonial homes pair well with Danish minimalism, and there are plenty of shared principles between Maine culture and Nordic style. One of these shared values is the emphasis on natural elements, such as earthy gardens and toasty fires, both of which can be found on the property.
In the spacious and light-filled living room, embers are glowing in the modern fireplace (which Dagmar converted from an old-fashioned American-style piece to a contemporary Danish woodstove with an insert), and there’s plenty of wood waiting next to it. A collection of birch logs sits stacked in a rectangular, sharp-edged steel holder that Dagmar purchased in Denmark and brought back in a suitcase. Dagmar and Kevin are so dedicated to the comforts of wood-burning fires that they’ve installed an outdoor fireplace on the front patio and another one in the backyard. “For three seasons out of the year, we eat in the yard,” she says.
“We wanted a big fireplace outside so we could have our dinner in the garden. We have a separate set of dishes for the backyard, too.” When all three of their daughters are in town, they like to spend hours catching up in the backyard, lounging in the garden, and eating late dinners al fresco.
Like the interior of her home, Dagmar’s backyard is a study in understated elegance. “Years ago, my mother told me that properties in the United States are so large that you need to treat the land like a park,” she says. Dagmar took this advice to heart and designed hers with a focus on functionality. Boxwood, blueberry, and azalea bushes form neat hedges around the pool and the garden, while a green lawn provides plenty of space for entertaining guests. Rhododendrons and hydrangeas supply pops of color throughout the season, as do her newly planted rosebushes. “I had never done roses before, but I am just loving them,” she says. “I try to keep it simple, because I don’t want to be a slave to the garden. I want to enjoy it.”
Dagmar clearly takes pleasure in order. When she shows me her closet, it’s filled with clothes of similar natural hues, rolled into tidy packets and arranged by color. Her linen closet follows a similar layout, as do her drawers and bookshelves. She knows where every item is located. And by choosing a simple color palette—white, natural linen, and soft gray—everything in her home is guaranteed to coordinate. “When we were designing the remodel, I knew I want everything to be square,” she says as she sips coffee from a blue and white Royal Copenhagen porcelain mug. She likes sharp edges, straight lines, and, she says, a well-packed dishwasher (“I don’t want any of my dishes to move in there.”) “I have chosen things that won’t go out of style,” she says. “It’s why all my couches are natural colored, so they will never look outdated.”
After 16 years of living in this home, and 3 of them in the renovated version, Dagmar is finally satisfied with how the different elements and influences have come together. As she says, “I wake up every day, and I say to my husband, ‘There is nothing here I want to change.’”