When people ask George and Donna Scontsas if their Cape Porpoise property is on the water, the Scontsases like to tell them it is — “for at least four hours a day.” In 2004, the New Hampshire couple went looking for a place in the Biddeford area, where George has family, but couldn’t find anything in their price range. Then, a listing popped up for a 1940s fixer-upper on tidal Sampson Cove, ringed with marshland protected by the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. “We had no idea what we were getting into living on a marsh,” George says. “Was it going to be smelly?” But during 10 years spent renovating the cottage, they discovered the marsh’s charms outweigh any pungency. “Every time you look out the window, it’s different,” George says. “It’s sandy, then the tide goes out and it’s filled with wildlife.” Birds mostly, but one morning Donna heard something else wading. “Two moose!”
The couple worked with Kennebunk’s Peterson Design Group and local builder Chuck Archer, since retired, to open up and streamline the downstairs. Beadboard walls in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, antique white-oak flooring from Longleaf Lumber, in Massachusetts, and rustic furnishings convey the cottagey look Donna was after. A corner cabinet from Kennebunk’s Antiques on Nine and a zinc-topped table by Vermont’s High Falls Furniture Co. — positioned beneath vintage factory pendants — hold her collection of Parisian Astier de Villatte pottery. A rack for glasses from Kennebunkport’s Farm + Table and a distressed cabinet from Antiques on Nine form a bar area.
Zoning laws prevented the couple from expanding the 1,600-square-foot cottage, so they focused on space-saving elements, such as built-ins and pocket doors. A new gas fireplace with a soapstone surround anchors the living room, flanked by a sofa and pickled-wood table from Hurlbutt Designs, in Kennebunk, and “a really old wicker chair — George is afraid to sit in it,” Donna says.
The couple planted several rose varieties that didn’t make it through the winter. Then, George discovered cold-hardy “own-root” climbing roses from Alfred’s Old Sheep Meadow Nursery that are not grafted, as is typical, but grown from cuttings. “Within two years, they were up to the roof,” he says.
Awning windows frame the marsh and the couple’s Bristol skiff. At high tide, they might motor south to Goat Island Light or north to Goose Rocks Beach, stopping on the way to watch seals basking on rocks off Marshall Point. “We kill the engine and play jazz, which they seem to like,” George says.
One of two downstairs baths, this one has a Carrara-marble-topped vanity by High Falls Furniture Co. and a mirror made from a tin ceiling tile from Antiques on Nine. There’s also an outdoor shower, “which I use the minute we open in May until the day we close in October,” Donna says.
The couple raised the floor in what was probably a former garage to create a shorter climb to the kitchen. Peeling paint on an antique barn door distills the room’s palette. Between a pull-out sofa here and two bedrooms, the cottage can sleep a crowd. Still, when their kids and grandkids descended last year, George says, “we rented a room at the Cape Porpoise Motel.”
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