Hearth & Soul

Amy and Alden Philbrick strip, polish, and perfect one of Cape Elizabeth’s oldest homes.

By Kiley Jacques
Photos by Brian Vanden Brink
From our September 2017 issue

The Cape Elizabeth home in which Amy and Alden Philbrick reside much of the year couldn’t have fallen into more loving hands. Designed in 1910 by celebrated Maine architect John Calvin Stevens, the Shingle-style house is unique in myriad ways, including its extreme proximity to the shoreline, but past remodels had robbed it of its simple elegance. “It was high ’80s style,” jokes Roger Schrenk, a principal at Roger Christopher Interior Design in Virginia. “There was no real soul.”

One of the last works of renowned Maine architect John Calvin Stevens, the Philbricks’ house was originally sited behind a massive granite wall, so it could sit as close to the ocean as possible while being protected from storm surges.

Intent on restoring the home’s original aesthetic, Schrenk introduced the Philbricks to the textiles and wallpapers of William Morris, an English designer associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, and to the fashionable palettes of the late-Victorian period. They chose warm tones, like the burnt-orange walls in the main living spaces, to complement the pine, cherry, and mahogany paneling and trim.

Amy’s pièce de résistance is the kitchen. Working with Eider Construction, of Scarborough, she reconfigured the space and added custom elements of her own design. The island, for example, is made of butcher block and old railway wheels and ties. Modeled after a vintage industrial cart, it was built for maneuverability. “That was my linchpin piece,” she says, beaming.

A near floor-to-ceiling cabinet resembling an old-timey wooden icebox houses a modern refrigerator. “I was absolutely fixated on the icebox,” Amy muses. “I collected boxes of hardware, but I could never get a full matching set.” Ultimately, she hired a metalsmith to make the latches, hinges, and other items.

As part of the Philbricks’ restoration, all the molding was darkened and grain painted. Interior designer Roger Schrenk guided the selection of rugs, wallpapers, and upholstery, evoking the aesthetic of William Morris, a leader of the late-19th-century Arts and Crafts movement. Top left: The fireplace retains its original mantel, beadboard, and John Calvin Stevens’ signature bench seat. Bottom left: Also original are the bar-area staircase and the living room floor.

Amy is comfortable mixing design styles, such as placing an ornate credenza in the dining room, which itself is unadorned in the Arts and Crafts manner. The sideboard “has a lot of character, and it’s functional,” she says. “I like to contrast different periods. That’s how houses evolve — you inherit furniture, and then the period changes.”

The living room decor takes its cue from the view. “The stickiest wicket was [finding] leather Chesterfield chairs to bookend the window that looks out over the ocean,” Amy says. “Many an auction later, we finally got the perfect pair. That started the room.” Amy showcases her vintage glassware collection on the wet bar by the stairs, a piece that gives her particular pleasure. “I grew up with a little bar like that,” she says.

The Philbricks relied on Schrenk to source most of the period lighting and upholstery. “You have to determine the aesthetic — colors, textures, metals — that would have been appropriate in a home like this,” Schrenk says. “Anything that can be imagined can be found and reworked.”

Today, the house stands as a confluence of ideas, simultaneously respecting the original design and serving as a livable contemporary home. Says Schrenk, “This really is a house for the ages.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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