Home at Last

After several itinerant decades, a couple puts down roots in historic Paris Hill.

front of home

After several itinerant decades, a couple puts down roots in historic Paris Hill.

By Sara Anne Donnelly
Photos by Rachel Sieben
From our December 2017 issue

For John and Deb Gillis, settling down was a long time coming. John’s job with a Montreal-based engineering and construction firm meant decades of transfers: every few years, a new state, new neighborhood, new house. “We always knew that work was going to make us pick up and move,” John says, “so we never focused on having a home that was ours.”

Hillcrest blends original details with modern touches, like a pot-filler faucet over the stove, custom coffered ceilings, and a granite fireplace surround.

But now, retirement. Now, Hillcrest. Built in 1899, the four-square house at the top of Paris Hill is a notable home in a neighborhood of notable homes. The Paris Hill Historic District is a close-knit community of people like the Gillises who have carefully restored some of Maine’s most storied Victorians, including the former home of Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s vice president. But the Gillises went beyond a by-the-book restoration. Instead, Hillcrest is a little bit Edith Wharton, a little bit Data the Star Trek android. It’s elegant, with a double-decker collonaded porch, three fireplaces, and handcarved moldings, and also high-tech, with radiant heating, a Bluetooth-linked sound system embedded in the ceiling, and remote-controlled lights with programmable settings like “cooking,” “dining,” and “entertaining.”

“We just put in what we wanted,” Deb explains. “We didn’t think about resale. And that’s why we really enjoyed doing this house. It’s got a piece of us in it.”

An updated guest room doubles as a craft room, with hooked wool rugs made by Deb Gillis. Triple-hung windows in the office provide access to a second-story porch. In the living room, original maple flooring was stained black for added contrast. The master bath was inspired by an Irish castle and features an Italian lava soaking tub.

The couple’s many moves have helped make Deb a skilled interior designer and decorator. For Hillcrest, she collaborated with architect David Matero, contractor Gus Fillebrown, and consultants like Lighting Concepts to design nearly every part of the home. She was inspired by design sites like Houzz, hotels she and John have stayed in on business trips, and even Diane Keaton’s bright and cheery kitchen in the 2003 rom-com Something’s Gotta Give.

Spacious and sun-drenched, the Hillcrest kitchen, Deb’s favorite room, is built for the person who loves to cook. Located in a new ell, it’s anchored by a large island with its own dishwasher and crisper drawers. A breakfast nook, reminiscent of one in Deb’s childhood home, sits under four large south-facing windows. The kitchen flows into the dining room so Deb can interact with her guests as she cooks. Last Christmas, more than a dozen friends and family milled around in the warm flicker of the ground floor’s two fireplaces. Christmas carols played from the Sonos speakers in the ceiling. The lights were dimmed to the “entertaining” setting. Outside, a clear winter sky made the broad, snow-covered yard glow. Inside, Deb scanned the party. Her guests seemed, she thought, “as comfortable here as I did.” The Gillises were home, finally.

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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