Just admit it, because everyone does it: You’re out walking the dog at night, strolling along the street. As you pass by each house, you look inside to see what color their walls are painted, what furniture they might have around the room, or what interesting artwork is hanging on the walls.
That’s why decorator show houses are so popular, because you get to sneak a peek inside a gorgeous home with rooms that have been decorated to the hilt by professional designers. It’s like legal voyeurism. Better yet, it’s for a good cause.
Like many old homes, the Job Lyman House in York, Maine, has been made over many times over with additions and changes since it was first built in 1785. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Greek Revival-style home is one of the most prominent houses in York Village. Shortly after a young couple bought the house last year, they were approached by the society to host its show house there. The couple agreed, and their only condition was to keep the freshly painted ochre-colored walls in the front hallway. Otherwise, designers had carte blanche.
Among the most stunning rooms is the sunporch. It was not in great shape when the owners bought the house. The floor was rotted and falling away from the home. Plus, the room had windows that didn’t open. When Anne Cowenhoven of Accent & Design in York, Maine, first saw the room it was covered in an inch of sawdust. But she could see its potential. She brought the green of the outdoors inside and divided the long and narrow space so that it was perfect not only for taking an afternoon nap but also for summer dining with friends.
“I wanted to play off of nature and to be whimsical,” says Cowenhoven, pointing out the trompe l’oeil dragonflies, moths and butterflies that dot the ceiling and room in various places.
Another dramatic makeover was the kitchen. Custom-made vanilla cabinets by St. Martins Lane in Keene, and a butcher block counter contrast nicely with the bold blue, red and yellow of the curtains, upholstery and other accessories — not to mention the cheery yellow plaid walls. “This space needed a shot in the arm,” says Ann Henderson, the designer who won the bid for the kitchen and pantry area. “The whole thing was crying out for the brightness and warmth of yellow. The idea for plaid walls in a kitchen had been rattling around in the back of my mind for a while, and it was perfect for this space.” Henderson enlisted the help of Lisa Teague, a decorative painter from Nashua. “Anything I ask her to do, she makes it look great,” says Henderson, who adds that the faux plaid walls are “not too mustardy Provence yellow.”
But before all the details were worked out, the entire kitchen needed to be rejiggered. “The butler’s pantry was really the only thing charming about the kitchen. I definitely wanted to keep that and expand on it,” says Henderson. She knocked down a wall to open up the galley kitchen — basically it was one “long skinny corridor,” she says. She also put a second sink and a dishwasher in the space so that the family had access to the dining room and the table in the kitchen to make cleanup easier. You’d never know the dishwasher was there. It is designed to be completely integrated into the cabinets with a panel on the outside and controls that are on the top of the door.
The stove was another obstacle for this kitchen space. Originally it was on a diagonal wall toward the back. “I called it the punitive damages of cooking: ‘Go to the corner and cook supper,’” says Henderson. “You had your back to everything. I couldn’t imagine a less engaging place to cook, standing in a corner and not even a window to look out of.”
By doing away with a radiator and the diagonal wall, and rearranging things, Hendersen gave the cooktop space its own identity. The cook can now be more a part of what’s going on in the rest of the kitchen. A bench and bookshelves were created for the window area to add to the warm and inviting family kitchen. It also creates a spot to eat breakfast or do homework, adding a functional aspect as well.
Down the hall in the downstairs powder room was another space that needed a transformation — and got one in the form of a tranquil garden. The closet-sized space was white with an ivy wallpaper border. Lori Eberhardt-Rahill, a mural painter in Manchester, won the bid for this tiny room, along with Dawn M. Dube (who helped with the sink skirt and valance). This was the pair’s first show house, and together they created a room full of chocolate browns and olive greens.
A glass chandelier from the Brimfield antique show added sparkle and panache to an otherwise utilitarian room. Even the towel holder is not your average device: Eberhardt-Rahill got the idea of using glass knobs and ornate roping from a client whose bathroom she was painting (and who also happened to be a designer). “We all get inspiration from each other,” she says.
Is she nervous that after the showhouse ends the family’s three small children might decide to add their own artwork by taking crayons to it? “Well, it is an eggshell finish, so you should be able to wipe it all off,” she says. “Besides, I have the paint, so I could always touch it up.”
This article appears in the September 2004 issue of New Hampshire Magazine