Feature > A Home With a History

In December 1821, saddler Nathaniel B. March placed an advertisement in a Portsmouth newspaper announcing that he was moving his leather-goods business from Daniel Street to a new brick building on State Street, where he would continue to sell items ranging from saddle and harness leather, to buffalo robes and “curled hair mattresses.”

As historical serendipity would have it, 182 years later, in 2003, Mark M. Bodi moved from his residence on Daniel Street into March’s State Street building, which he bought at auction (it was one of five buildings that belonged to the estate of Portsmouth businessman Jay Smith). Since then, Mark—the chairman of the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission— and his wife, Marie—a real estate portfolio manager for INEX Properties—have carried on a love affair with the city where they met and that has provided them, they say, with a wonderful quality of life.

Preparing the Space

Before moving in, the couple conducted a nine-month renovation of their living space throughout the building’s foyer and upper three floors (the first floor is retail space). The renovation included replacing the windows, redesigning the lighting, adding central air conditioning, making the fireplaces functional, and adding crown molding and bookshelves.

In the kitchen, the cabinets were gutted and reconstructed, and granite countertops in hues of brown, black and tan with speckles of gold and deep plum were added; the old countertop was recycled as a desktop in the fourth-floor loft office.

However, the most complete and stunning alteration involved stripping the floors and the home’s centerpiece—its circular staircase—which was painted burnt red, and bringing them back to their original “pumpkin pine,” which is the vernacular term used to describe the reddish-orange heartwood of truly old growth white pine. The distinctive wood color guided Marie in choosing the home’s paint colors, which are the bright yet earthy tones of a New England fall: various shades of orange, yellow/gold, green and slate blue.

Romancing the City

The building has quite a charming city setting. The front entryway is tucked behind Byrne & Carlson Chocolatier, which occupies the space that March once used for his leather- goods shop. The small entryway includes a spiral staircase, which is open up to the roof of the condominium, and an ocular window, which is one of only a handful of original oculars that remain intact in Portsmouth.

Both entryway features served as driving factors in the renovation. For example, when Mark and Marie added a piece during the renovation—such as a light fixture or piece of furniture—the couple sometimes chose a circular shape to mimic the staircase and window.

Walking into the building and up to the upper floors, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported to a Parisian arrondissement. However, the views from the plentiful windows remind you that you could only be in Portsmouth: There is the North Church clock tower from the living room and the back deck, and the condominium is surrounded by the angular rooflines of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century clapboard houses and the mellowed brick structures that give Portsmouth its Old World, architectural beauty.

“Our story is really a Portsmouth story,” Marie says, as she recalls how she and Mark literally bumped into each other in front of a local restaurant five years ago after knowing about each other after a blind date had failed to materialize months earlier. Both are from the Manchester area, and both were drawn to relocate to Portsmouth. Since becoming a couple (they married in Italy in the spring), their condominium has become their intimate space, but the city itself has become their home.

“We’ve become so much a part of the community,” Marie says. “We walk everywhere, and we know many of the restaurant owners and the shopkeepers, many of whom we count as our friends—some of whom we consider family.”

Honoring the Area’s Artists and the History

The couple’s Portsmouth connection also is evident in the artwork they have collected. Many of the paintings they own are by Seacoast artists; are of Portsmouth buildings and landmarks; or picture Seacoast land and waterscapes. Artists include Dennis Poirier, Kathy Morrissey, Nancy Nelson, Ruth Nugent, Larry Young, Lisa Noonis, Dennis Sheehan, Ron Brown and Jamie Lafleur.

Mark especially is interested in history; he likes to collect old-fashioned signs—originals and reproductions—as well as historical documents. His collection includes documents from New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War hero and signer of the U.S. Constitution, John Langdon, as well as an original marriage certificate signed by New Hampshire’s last royal governor, John Wentworth. Other notable items include a telegram from Winston Churchill (an avid painter, he requested additional paint supplies) as well as items from Yoko Ono, the Kennedys, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Intrigued with history, Mark engaged a local company called House Histories of Portsmouth to research the building’s roots. Upon learning of March’s occupancy, Mark’s intrigue grew as did his desire to acquire something of March’s. For a special occasion, Portsmouth antiques dealer Hollis Brodrick helped Marie find a small leather box that March made, which now sits atop a mahogany sideboard in the couple’s dining room.

The leather box embodies Portsmouth’s history and makes it possible, perhaps, to imagine what early-nineteenth-century Portsmouth must have been like: a bustling seaport and shipbuilding community that was home to entrepreneurs such as March. That historical connection defines Portsmouth’s unique sense of place, a reason so many people, visitors and residents fall in love with it.

“For Mark and me, Portsmouth is a utopia,” Marie says. “We feel so lucky to live here.”