Cottage Living All Year Long

A Scarborough couple follows their fond memories to a home at Higgins Beach.

By Meadow Rue Merrill
Photographed by Douglas Merriam
As high school sweethearts, Nick and Kathleen Alfiero caught rides to Higgins Beach in Scarborough, where they’d while away the day sunbathing on the half-mile strand without any idea how they were going to get home to Portland. After they married, they would reflect on their carefree days in that beach neighborhood and dream of buying one of its coveted cottages. “I actually knocked on doors and asked people whether they would sell me their house,” admits Kathleen, who is the cofounder of an educational multimedia production company and a former school counselor.

I’m the one who cooks, and for me it’s perfect. … It is a one-person kitchen. I can get to the refrigerator, the stove, and the sink in a couple steps.

When a coworker revealed that a 100-foot-by-100-foot parcel next to his cottage was for sale, she and Nick snatched it up and built a small shingle-style cottage that they planned to use as a second home. Soon, however, they were living there year-round, so they doubled the house’s size with help from Portland architect Samuel Van Dam (who has since relocated to Vermont). “We tried to make it look as much as we could like an old cottage,” says Kathleen. That meant rustic yet elegant finishes like the bead-board walls and ceilings, which are painted a crisp summery white, and the fieldstone fireplace, designed after the one that warmed the Higgins Beach cottage where Kathleen’s family vacationed when she was a child.

Last spring, they redecorated the place they’ve now called home for nearly 30 years. They weeded out unwanted items, replaced light fixtures, laid down new rugs, reupholstered favorite furniture, and constructed a new, illuminated dining room pantry with a sliding barn door.

Living the Maine Life

The Alfieros’ home not only offers easy access to Scarborough’s Higgins Beach, it’s also surrounded by a nature preserve teeming with wildlife.

They didn’t change a thing in the small, contemporary U-shaped kitchen, which has a long granite bar and cabinets built from reclaimed windows. “I’m the one who cooks, and for me it’s perfect,” explains Nick, who often brings home seafood from Portland’s venerable Harbor Fish Market, which he owns with his brothers, Ben and Mike. “It is a one-person kitchen. I can get to the refrigerator, the stove, and the sink in a couple steps.”

This is where he and Kathleen collaborated on the Harbor Fish Market cookbook, inspired by repeated recipe requests from friends and Nick’s customers. Nick would prepare family favorites like lobster stew, linguine with calamari and red sauce, and truffle scallops with greens, while Kathleen sat at the counter and took notes.

The open-space design of the first floor allows for easy entertaining. Two mint-green chairs swivel easily from the upholstered coffee table to face the fireplace. Built-in shelves hold family memorabilia, including a silver-etched glass bowl that Kathleen’s father gave to her mother for their wedding and a pair of painted porcelain bathing-beauty dolls picked up in Florida.

A Jacuzzi tub in the second-floor bathroom is a serene perch from which to watch deer, foxes, and rabbits flitting through the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, which wraps around the home on three sides. After all those outings as teenagers, it’s clear the Alfieros are finally home.


Down East, May 2015See more pictures of the Alfiero’s Maine Cottage in our May issue.

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Meadow Rue Merrill

Meadow Rue Merrill is a Down East contributing editor.