Feature > A Seaside Summer Home’s Revival
Some renovations speak to the best instincts of everyone involved, as was the case with Mayfair, a Shingle-style home in York Harbor, Maine, that became the Old York Historical Society’s 2007 Decorator Show House.
Having once been a gracious summer cottage by the sea, the house had endured sixty years of neglect before it was rescued in 2006 by an owner with resources, energy and heart; an architect with vision; two construction crews of talented and efficient craftsmen; and many creative decorators who respected the house’s lines and history, while enhancing it for the twenty-first century.
Old York’s show houses are so popular that many summer visitors plan their vacations accordingly, and the staff is known for choosing houses that exemplify the Maine coast. Mayfair was built in 1903 by Henry Blanchard Dominick, who was president of Dominick and Haff Silversmiths in New York City, a silverware supplier to Tiffany’s and other major retailers. (Dominick didn’t name the house Mayfair; the show house committee selected the name after one of the silver patterns designed by Dominick and Haff.) Dominick married Mary Sampson, whose family were long-time summer residents of York Harbor. The house belonged to the Dominicks until 1948; after that, it had a series of owners, some of whom used it primarily as a rental property.
One of those renters was Charlotte Finley Maynard’s mother’s family. “My mom had many stories of being in the house as a child. For example, her sister apparently jumped off the portico and broke her arm,” says Maynard, whose extended family owns summer residences in York. “So I always felt like I had a personal connection to the house. It’s on my running route, and whenever I ran by it, I thought, ‘Someone needs to take care of that house.’”
The house went up for auction in 2006, and Maynard’s father, John Finley, bought it. “When he told me that he bought the house, I asked him what he was going to do with it. He said, ‘That’s up to you. I’m going to Florida,’” she remembers.
The Renovation Begins
Maynard and Finley own Creative Development Company, a Boston-based commercial and industrial real-estate company. Although they don’t work on residential properties, Maynard is a construction supervisor who knows how to run a job and she knew what she was getting into with Mayfair. Her goal was to renovate the house and then sell it; she recognized that if Mayfair became a show house, it would help her marketing efforts and, at the same time, support the Old York Historical Society. So she hired Matt Banow, who specializes in residential architecture, to help with the redesign; they had six months to provide a clean stage for the participating designers and a lot of major structural problems to deal with.
“The house had been systematically cut up over time, and there were many ill-conceived ‘renovations’ that had been half-finished,” Banow says. “Some load-bearing partitions had been torn out and rooms were added with no supporting beams, so the house was sagging in places. Plus, regular maintenance had been deferred for years. And there were some strange things! For example, a spiral staircase, circa 1960s, had been installed, which cut into the back porch and went down into the basement—it was like something out of an Austin Powers movie.”
Banow had two major goals for his redesign. First, he wanted to improve the flow through the house on both the first and second floors by creating connections between rooms, and by reclaiming the third floor as a living space. Second, he wanted to create more natural light throughout the house by shifting the floor plan, and replacing and adding windows.
On the first floor, Banow redesigned the kitchen wing, which had been the servants’ area when the house was first built and was isolated from the rest of the first floor, including the reception hall, the living room and the dining room. He wanted to make the kitchen spacious and inviting so that people would gravitate to it, and he needed to redesign the floor plan to make it more accessible.
His new floor plan combined the old kitchen and pantry into one seventeen by- twenty-eight-foot kitchen space, which ranges the full depth of the house. At the back of the house, he replaced opaque, stained glass windows that weren’t original to the house and made the kitchen dark, and added a full bay window to take advantage of the views of the harbor. At the front, Banow created a mudroom and butler’s pantry out of the old entryway, and added new windows.
To improve the flow between rooms, he designed two spectacular wood-paneled barrel-vaulted passageways that connect the kitchen and dining room, picking up the design idea from the original wood paneling on the sides of the stairwell.
The second floor had five bedrooms, inadequate bathroom facilities and a kitchen that had been added at some point. The location of the back staircase meant that the flow on the second floor suffered, and all the rooms were in a severe state of disrepair. Banow’s new plan created a master suite out of six existing spaces, and includes a master bath with generous new windows that maximize the natural sunlight and views of the water.
The most significant architectural addition to the house, though, is the extended central staircase that now goes from the reception hall to the third floor. This extension allowed the back staircase from the second to the third floor to be removed. In addition, a media room and laundry were added to where the old second-floor kitchen had been.
“The stairway really proves Matt’s instincts as an architect,” Maynard says. “From the beginning, his idea was to extend the main staircase, and once we started tearing walls down, we found that it had been there all along, but had been filled in “The house inspires respect,” says owner Charlotte Finley Maynard. “It’s the kind of house that makes you want to do your best.” with four inches of Sheetrock and plaster. Someone had blocked it off, probably to save on heating costs.”
Maynard found the old spindles for the second-to-third floor staircase in the attic, but they couldn’t be used because building codes required a higher banister. So Maynard’s husband, Todd, who is a builder, re-turned forty-five spindles to replicate the look of the original staircase.
The old third floor had one bedroom and a common room, which was little more than a glorified corridor. “There was also a glaring disregard for the year-round views of the ocean and the Isles of Shoals,” Banow says. His new floor plan created another bedroom where the back staircase had been, and the views are greatly enhanced by the addition of expanded windows. “The central staircase now serves as an axis on which the whole plan of the house revolves,” Banow says, “and the house, on all floors, is flooded with natural light.”
The attention to structural detail throughout the house is truly impressive. For example, where the molding was replaced, it was made to match the existing molding; new doors look just like the originals; and the columns on the new kitchen island were turned to match those flanking the fireplace.
Mayfair Becomes a Show House
The decorators who adorned the rooms took their cues from the attention paid to the structure of the house. “Initially, I thought I’d do the room in a contemporary style,” says Diane Hughes, who designed “Madam’s Study” on the first floor. “But the house has formal lines and the woodwork is so wonderful that my instincts sent me in a more traditional direction.” And Melissa Kane and Valerie Kyros, who designed the dining room, paid homage to the house’s history by using ceiling wallpaper patterned with silver stars as well as other silver accents in recognition of the original owner who made his fortune in silver.
“I did labor over every detail,” says owner Maynard. “At one point, I was standing in the kitchen trying to decide between eighty different types of molding. Because why not? Why not try to make all your decisions the right ones? The house inspires respect, and, to me, it required three-inch crown molding. It’s the kind of house that makes you want to do your best.” NHH
The 2008 York Show House
This summer’s Museums of Old York’s (formerly the Old York Historical Society’s) annual decorator show house will be held at The Ledges on Gerrish Island in Kittery Point, Maine, a recently renovated 1890s Shingle-style home.
Preview garden party:Friday, July 18
Show house dates and hours:
Saturday, July 19, through Saturday, August 16. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Closed Tuesday.
Location: 36 Pocahontas Road in Kittery Point, Maine
For more information about the show house, related programming or ticket purchases, visit www. oldyork.org or call (207) 363-4974.