A Dilapidated Stonington Camp Kickstarts a Brooklyn Family’s New Life in Maine

Christina Salway and John Moskowitz said yes to a modest 1890s farmhouse.

Christina Salway in the Stonington kitchen she and John Moskowitz rehabbed centers on an antique workbench topped with Carrara marble from Sedgwick’s The Granite Shop. It’s painted Benjamin Moore’s Gentleman’s Gray like the Ikea lower cabinets; Chantilly Lace, also by Benjamin Moore, brightens the original uppers

The Stonington kitchen Christina Salway and John Moskowitz rehabbed centers on an antique workbench topped with Carrara marble from Sedgwick’s The Granite Shop. It’s painted Benjamin Moore’s Gentleman’s Gray like the Ikea lower cabinets; Chantilly Lace, also by Benjamin Moore, brightens the original uppers. 

By Sara Anne Donnelly
Photos by Erin Little
From the July/August 2020 issue

The camp that changed Christina Salway and John Moskowitz’s life is surrounded by a stand of giant alders near Sand Beach in Stonington. At sunset, the cotton-ball-white clapboards on the modest 1890s farmhouse light up like a beacon, lending a purity that belies its “nightmare” condition just two years ago, when, the couple says, it hadn’t been lived in for half a decade. Legally, at least.

A dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, Salway had never thought much about Maine until she filmed an episode of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, where she was a resident interior designer, in Monmouth. “I was blown away by the light, the topography,” she says. By the end of the five-day shoot, she found herself scouring properties all over the state and, eventually, “dating” the Stonington wreck. “I kept looking at the Zillow listing and showing it to John and he was like, ‘What are we going to do with a house in Maine?’” But the couple had already tackled four fixer-uppers together, and given that this one was just $65,000, she told him, “How sideways could this possibly go?”

From left: Salway and Moskowitz removed a weary railing to open up the back porch. A Target brass pendant pulls the warmth of the exposed beams into the dining room, where salvaged metal chairs, a hand-me-down, mid-century table, and yard-sale oil paintings create an elegant, lived-in look. Playful vintage touches — lobster tchotchkes, enameled cups, hand-painted Italian dishes — enliven the kitchen.

Pretty awry, by the looks of the first visit with their agent. The windows were boarded up and the electricity had been cut, so the couple meandered through the rooms in the blue glow of their cell-phone flashlights, half expecting to find a squatter behind every busted door. Paint peeled from the ceilings in hanging curls; foot-size holes punctured the walls; the stair rail, missing most of its banisters, hovered over dusty treads; the bath conjured a truck-stop abomination with dark mud caking the tub and walls; and there were a half dozen empty fish tanks strewn about because, as Salway puts it, “why not?”

She began having second thoughts. But Moskowitz, a restaurateur, surprised her by falling for the place, situated steps from the water in a postcard-pretty town. “The house was a disaster, but only from neglect,” he says. “Hard work versus dirt is easy; you just have to do it. It’s not like there was stuff that required an artisan carpenter, an electrician, or a plumber.”

Over a year and a half, the couple did the hard work. They cleared trash in hazmat suits purchased on Amazon, pulled down plaster and drop ceilings to expose original hand-hewn beams, and erected a two-story woodstove chimney from a pair of ladders leaned precariously against the house. “Our neighbor came over and I feel like he was thinking, ‘I’m going to see these city folk die in their yard,’” Salway says.

Today, the house is bright, cheery, and just dinged up enough to avoid pretense, thanks to loads of Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace paint covering marred plaster walls, beadboard coated in white shellac-based primer concealing sections that were too sorry-looking to expose, and bold navy-blue and cherry-red accents on cabinets and second-hand furnishings. “I wanted it to be a place where you could tumble in and tumble out and not worry that something could get stained or damaged,” says Salway, who owns the interior design firm ElevenTwoEleven Design.

From left: A custom headboard cushion in durable Sunbrella fabric and Swans Island Company bedding dress up a Craigslist-sourced brass guest room bed. In the master bedroom, an antique brass chandelier from Chairish complements a Chinoiserie bed found on Craigslist. In the couple’s son’s room, mid-century bunk beds with Target plaid duvet covers and throw pillows made by Salway from wool saddlebags are a durable home base.

The camp cleaned up so well, and neighbors proved so friendly, that the couple and their 7-year-old son, Julian, began spending more time there. “Part of what we discovered in Maine is this different way of life where we can be more present for our son and for each other,” Salway says. In December, the family relocated from Brooklyn to a year-round home in Cape Rosier and recently decided to sell the Stonington place. “It’s such an extraordinary thing to be able to say, but that house changed our lives,” Salway says. “It feels sort of wonderful to think of passing the torch to someone else. And maybe it’ll change their lives too.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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