With an eye on a quick sale, a couple updates a tattered old house on Portland’s Munjoy Hill — and they like it so well, they decide to stay.
By Meadow Rue Merrill
Photographed by Meredith Perdue
From our January 2017 issue
Ryan and Katy Harkleroad bought their 19th-century house on Munjoy Hill — one of Portland’s priciest neighborhoods — with plans to flip it for a profit. “But the more time we spent here, the more we fell in love with it,” says Katy, noting the narrow, densely settled streets, friendly neighbors, and easy walks to both downtown and the Eastern Promenade overlooking Casco Bay.
Just 20 feet wide, with tiny rooms, low ceilings, and a rotting addition, the house needed so much work that one engineer suggested tearing it down. Instead, the Harkleroads hired Portland architect Mark Mueller and Buxton builder Maurice Barnett to restore the traditional exterior and update the interior, while preserving its maple and pine floors and the original doors with their mortise locks (they even boiled the porcelain doorknobs in a crockpot to remove old paint). The couple salvaged wood from the roof, which needed to be replaced. They bleached, sanded, and sealed the boards, then used them in different ways around the house to lend touches of warmth and character.
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Above the sink, an old window separating the kitchen and the entry hall came out of Ryan’s grandmother’s house. Despite the sink’s location, the couple “still wanted that feeling of being able to look out a window while you do dishes.”
The kitchen is the heart of the house. “I cook a lot,” Katy says. She and Ryan chose contemporary white cabinets, tiles, and countertops, which contrast with rustic beams and a support post encased in the reclaimed roof wood. A built-in pantry serves as a wall between the kitchen and a cozy dining area. A sliding barn door — rough on one side, smooth and painted mustard yellow on the other — opens on Katy’s office in the front room, outfitted with built-in bookcases, salvaged French doors, and a bay window that was her pet project.
“When we bought the house, that window was about the only pretty thing on the exterior,” she says. “I desperately wanted to save it, but my builder, husband, and friends said the windows were a total loss. To replace them and get the same look wasn’t in our budget, so I spent 70-plus hours stripping paint off the windows/trim/corbels and re-glazing the window glass. It was tedious and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it a second time, but I can’t imagine the house without those windows!”
The Harkleroads hired Tyler Karu, of Landing Design in Portland, to help them choose furnishings that complement what they already had. A modern blue couch and antique furniture cart-turned-coffee table anchor the main living area, which has a porch overlooking the back garden. “The space was a challenge,” Karu says, “mostly because it was so striking on its own.”
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A white and gray palette unifies the first floor. “I like color, but Ryan is more traditional,” says Katy, a graphic artist and nutrition educator. “So when you see color, you see compromise.”
Upstairs, three bedrooms and a master bath are strung down a narrow hall. A new dormer above the stairway maximizes space and light.
A second staircase, custom built by Maine Spiral Staircase in Turner, leads to a hidden loft outfitted with a sleeper couch and minibar. A map mural of the Portland peninsula was a gift for Ryan from Katy. They can trace their fingers along the network of streets to point out the house they rescued so well that they had to call it home.