Deck the Walls

By Andi Axman | Photography by John W. HessionIn 2001, when buying nearly five acres in Gorham, Edwin and Victoria Giron agreed about almost everything. They loved the location just a few miles from the center of town, where Edwin practices dentistry and Victoria assists him. “We value the environment, and the quality of life is very good here,” says Edwin, who rides his bicycle in the summer and enjoys cross-country skiing in winter.

“We both like old houses with character,” says Victoria, who grew up in nearby Milan. “My parents had an older New England house, and I always wanted one. But neither Edwin nor I is a fixer-upper.”

Edwin thought about building a log cabin, but that wasn’t Victoria’s cup of tea. In 2007, the couple noticed an ad in Yankee magazine for a Vermont company called Connor Homes, which provides kits for reproduction New England homes. “We visited their factory in Middlebury to learn about their process and liked a lot of their models,” Edwin says. “They only use real materials, not particleboard,” adds Victoria, “and their prices are very reasonable.”

The Girons chose a Greek Revival farmhouse and by last January had moved from the apartment over their dental office into their brand-new home. Their goal was to fill the house with furnishings that Victoria says “would help the house to look as accurate as possible.”

Decorating the House

The couple had some help from Edwin’s parents, who collected antiques and reproductions; many of those pieces are now in Edwin and Victoria’s home. One striking piece is the American Empire mahogany couch with arms of carved dolphins that Edwin’s mother commissioned to resemble one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “What we like about the Greek Revival style is that it was okay at that time to mix all types of furnishings—William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and early Empire—and that works perfectly in our home.”

One design challenge the couple faced was what to do in their living room, where they had a twelve-foot-long section of empty wall with a radiator at its center. “We couldn’t put a piece of furniture there,” says Victoria. Having become dedicated students of Colonial interior design—reading books on the subject as well as visiting the Shelburne Museum in Vermont; the museums of Deerfield, Massachusetts, and Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth; and the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgeton, Maine—the Girons discovered murals. “Only the wealthy could afford wallpaper,” says Edwin, “and others would hire itinerant painters to do murals.” They decided that would be their choice in Gorham.

Victoria did some research and was pleasantly surprised to find Lisa Nelthropp, a talented muralist in Wolfeboro Falls who has worked in the Rufus Porter and Hudson River Valley styles of landscapes. Victoria also remembered seeing Nelthropp’s work in a New Hampshire Home story (A Well- Appointed Rural Retreat, September/ October 2008) about Thomas Thomas and J. Steven McCall’s Deering estate, Hayfields. Like Porter, Nelthropp frequently travels to create artwork for her clients throughout New England, in the mid-Atlantic states and in Washington, D.C.

Designing the Murals

The Girons explained to Nelthropp that they wanted a Rufus Porter-style mural for their living room, but Nelthropp felt that too was informal for their house. She suggested that a painting inspired by the more realistic and romantic Hudson River Valley School was appropriate here.

For the subject, the Girons wanted a landscape showing their house, the White Mountains, water and cows. “Water was key because the Androscoggin River is so important to this area,” Victoria says. “Cows added the essence of tranquility. Then we left Lisa alone to work her magic.”

Nelthropp used gouache, opaque acrylics “with the consistency and palette of oils. They’ve very velvety and flat—like Rufus Porter’s—and that’s why I like them.”

Edwin marvels at the results of what he calls Nelthropp’s “true artistry.” After Nelthropp sketched out the mural, she made another drawing of the floor plan, “so that the furniture placement in the room felt balanced.” She also came up with the idea of a trompe l’oeil frame for the twelve-by-four-foot mural. The Girons were so delighted with the results that when Edwin consulted a book about Winterthur, the Dupont estate in Delaware, he and Victoria decided they wanted Nelthropp to paint six additional panels in the living room. She completed all this work in just four weeks and says she “had a blast painting” at the Girons’ home.

On the three panels over the fireplace mantel, Nelthropp was inspired by a Danish naval scene she saw online (she is of Danish ancestry), which the Girons also liked. To the left of the fireplace is a scene featuring The Flume, the granite gorge near Franconia Notch; to the right is a scene from the Saco River in nearby Conway. To the far left is a lush English landscape, and to the far right are two cypress trees that Nelthropp says symbolize Edwin and Victoria. The cypresses are also a tribute to Edwin’s mother’s chairs around the dining room table; the chairs’ upholstery features the same trees. In addition to these murals, Nelthropp marbleized the wood under the mantle, so that it would match the rose marble hearth below, and marbleized the entire fireplace in the adjoining library, which adds pizzazz to that smaller room.

“Before Lisa came,” Edwin says, “this living room was a room we just walked through. We didn’t spend any time there.” Victoria adds that it was “a sterile, cold room with no personality. Now this is the room where we want to be.”