Design Inspiration From the York Show House

The York Show House is a treasure trove of decorating ideas

Imagine letting some of the best interior designers from New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts remodel every inch of your home, room by room. It sounds too good to be true for the average homeowner, but it’s exactly the mission of the Museums of Old York Annual Decorator Show House.

For 24 years Museums of Old York, a historical society that works to preserve and document the history of York through art, literature and architecture, has commissioned New England’s finest designers to completely transform a historical Maine home. The organization then opens the house up to tours in July and August, the proceeds going to their upcoming projects. This year the house is Secret Cove, a waterfront escape in Kittery Point that overlooks the Piscataqua River and, far in the distance, the New Hampshire coast.

Constructed on 18th-century pasture land about 20 years ago, the multi-level house was built into the hillside with the intention of conforming to and complementing the surrounding land. The property is complete with a guest cottage, swimming pool and waterfall, boat dock and thriving gardens, making it a true outdoor estate.

The scenery taken as a whole makes the property what it is, says Michael Englehardt of Ethan Allen Design Center in Portsmouth, but the gardens, in particular, are truly spectacular. “It’s a beautiful house on the water,” he says. “The thing that makes it interesting this year is that the gardens are absolutely spectacular.”

In fact, Englehardt says the gardens were largely responsible for inspiring his living room design. “They’re very unusual in that they almost look tropical because they’re so lush and just beautiful,” he says. “That’s where I kind of got my inspiration from, and my color palette. I used soft greens and warm browns for my room.” Overall, he says he went for “sort of a world traveler and connected look — something that was put together over time” by using rough fabrics like burlap and varied textures.

The color palette and inspiration for the living room design came from the lush gardens and grounds of the house, says designer Michael Englehardt of Ethan Allen Design Center in Portsmouth.
By Susan Laughlin

For the homeowner who doesn’t have a fleet of interior designers redoing their home, Englehardt says that, in addition to finding ways to cut down on clutter, anyone can use a gorgeous color palette to inform their living room design. “Paint is always a great, cheap way to freshen a room and try some different colors,” he says.

For Helen Hanan of Newmarket’s Helen Hanan Interior Design, paint also played a large part in her room, the guest suite. High, sloping ceilings and angled walls allowed Hanan to totally transform her space. “Because it’s very, very large and it has that very interesting roof line, it kind of had the feeling of being in a tent,” she says. “I followed the lines of the ceiling and the walls and painted them to look like an abstract painting.”

Hanan complemented her work, already enhanced by a skylight, with an antique chandelier, one of many antiques she used in the eclectically furnished room. “Everything that’s old is new again,” she says. “A lot of the furniture in there I refinished and rebuilt. I used a lot of cottons and linens, a lot of woods, so it’s very natural.”

Aside from design aesthetic, Hanan says two values played heavily into her plan for the suite: comfort and privacy. The apartment, which sits above the house’s three-car garage, is totally self-contained and divided into a living area, a bedroom, an eating area and a quiet corner for reading or relaxing, all unified by a common color scheme to keep it consistent.

“It has its own entrance and exit so that when you’re a guest you’re not intruding too much on your host and hostess,” she explains. “Think of comfort first and foremost. I think also privacy because that keeps the homeowner as well as the guest happy.”  

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