On Maine's south coast, a home gets a bright new look that suits its modern family while staying true to the spirit of its Colonial-era origins


By: Megan Fulweilter
Date: Monday, May 4, 2009
Publication: New England Home

This house first took shape along Maine's pastoral southern coast back in 1767. For heavens sake, Benjamin Franklin was alive! If we watched a movie of its construction, we'd see a big ox pulling timbers, neighbors convening to help and a feast - heavy on pies- staged under leafy trees. Travel through centuries to the 1930s. The Chrysler Building is dazzeling New Yorkers; readers everywhere are mad for Gone with the Wind. Up in nothern New England, the little house has endured. Countless sunrises, seasons and storms - both natural and man-made- have come and gone. An architect and his family now make the house their home. Using his skills, the architect moves the sturcture, sliding it down the lane to a better site, then englarges it. Along with more space, the house gains polish: a gracious front entry, arched doorways and sweet window seats that invite reverie. Of course, the ancient hand-hewn beams are maintained as a tribute to earlier days. More years pass, a fresh millenium begins, and suddenly it's 2009. The same architect's grandson, with grown children of his own, occupies the house now. Like his grandfather before him, he recognizes the need to modernize. So he recruits architect Lisa DeStefano to guide the house forward once more. DeStefano's passion for history and provenance makes her the ideal choice. "A renovation, especially one with an addition, is always a challenge," explains the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based architect. "You need to fulfill your client's wishes. But you also need to transform the house in a way that will leave it still looking at home in its landscape. A success is when people can't tell the old part from the new." By the time DeStefano arrived on the scene, the house- as handsome as it was - had begun to seriously lag. A bevy of small rooms diminshed livability, natural light was at a premium and the princely water views weren't getting the play they deserved. "The place had a lot of old-fashioned ideas," says the owner, "among them, a dark kitchen and a cramped upstairs." DeStefano's savvy "rehabilitation," as the husband likes to label it, has transformed all that and made way for visiting children, grandchildren and a regular armada of friends.

Certainly, some would argue it might have been easier to demolish the existing structure and start afreah, admits DeStefano. "But," she says, "it's far more sustainable to take something that's there, work with it and make it better." To that end, she, along with Maine Coast Builders, launched a thoughtful remodel up and down. Today, a large gambrel-roofed addition that looks as if it has always been there houses a spacious kitchen. The second floor holds an ample master suite. A graceful new staircase links the two levels, while an elevator on the second floor feeds into an apartment above the newly constructed attached garage. The existing three-season porch has also been rehabbed, and the old parlor (read: living room) enlarged to reflect contemporary standards. Meticulous in her approach, DeStefano had every door and most of the windows removed, restored and replaced. New skylights in the mudroom and in the upstairs hall usher in the sun and brighted the ambiance. DeStefano managed all this without damaging any of the original detailing installed by the owner's grandfather almost eighty years prior. If anything, the stunning architectural features, picked out in white, have been showcased. And updated with contemporary wall colors, the house seems to have more character than ever.

It's obvious that the level of planning was intense. Every piece of art, every rarefied antique and collection has its place. And in almost every instance, subtle strategies make it impossible to guage where past and present merge. The elegant living room examplifies the cunning involved. DeStefano expanded the room's size by a third. Then, she blurred the alteration by duplicating a corner cupboard - an original element. Visitors see a room with twin cupboards, one where it has always stood and another in the opposite corner of the enlarged room. Only an expert's examination could discern the age difference. The handsome library, which also serves as the dining room, remains in its original location, but DeStefano hop-scotched the kitchen to the home's south side, where garden and water vistas make far better company for the chef. "This kitchen reflects the current age and how people live," says the husband happily. "It's a large room, yet if I need something I can always find it." An accomplished cook, the wife has no patience for kitchens that favor show over function. So she enlisted local kitchen designers Pamela and Charles Bold to create a practical space with a generous work area and an excellent traffic plan. The idea? Make it as amenable for large crowds (the antique table expands to seat twelve) as it is for two. The room's pleasing mood stems from the contrast of a pale palette and snowy marble countertops playing off a honey-colored wood floor and gleaming copper pots. A bounty of shelving provides limitless space for storing equipment as well as for display. And display, no one fails to notice, is not without importance in this home. Take those pristine pitchers marching along on the kitchen windowsill. Just one example of the wife's tasteful eye, they look as natural to that spot as dasies to a garden. Attuned to good design, she arranges hosts of simple objects from books to flowers throughout the house in an artful manner. Her touch gives the classic, antique-infused decor a spark. "Drop in unexpectedly and every room is always beautifully put together. It's just how she does things," DeStefano says with admiration. Comfortable rooms charged with the sun - who would have guessed old could feel so new? Indeed, this is no happy ending but a cheery beginning. Given a lively update that is respectful of all that has gone before, the storied house has every reason to anticipate a long and happy future.

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