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design new england

Inhabiting an antique Cape in Maine

A dealer in things old brings a fresh new vision to an 1800s Cape.

 Exposed beams in the living room attest to the house’s 1800 vintage, while the fresh white walls and comfortable upholstered pieces invite modern living. The floor is painted in a geometric pattern inspired by the Swedish clock. The 16th-century painting of a gypsy fortune teller above the sofa is the homeowners’ favorite art object.

eric roth

Exposed beams in the living room attest to the house’s 1800 vintage, while the fresh white walls and comfortable upholstered pieces invite modern living. The floor is painted in a geometric pattern inspired by the Swedish clock. The 16th-century painting of a gypsy fortune teller above the sofa is the homeowners’ favorite art object.

Editor’s note: This article is from the July/August 2014 issue of Design New England. Read the full edition. For regular updates from editors and contributors visit Design New England’s blog.

Who: Frank V. Grdich + Bill Floyd

An antiques dealer with a penchant for interior design and an education consultant turned gardening maven

Design philosophy: Grdich believes in mixing old and new pieces for maximum interest. To achieve a fresh appealing look, he keeps furniture simple in shape and to a minimum. “I keep removing things,” he says. “To do it right, you really have to simplify.”

Frank V. Grdich is an antiques dealer who shudders at the thought of a house entirely furnished with antiques.

“It’s kind of dismal,” says the owner of Bulfinch Antiques in Kennebunk, Maine, as he leans into a white-upholstered armchair in his vaulted-ceilinged living room. “I like a mixture of antique and new pieces. When it comes to upholstered furniture, I definitely want new.”

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He gestures around at the mix he espouses. New white armchairs keep company with a 19th-century Anglo-Indian table carved from an unidentified tropical wood. Underneath it stands a cluster of blue and white Chinese ginger jars, while a pair of early 20th-century Colonial Revival wing chairs augments the seating of two contemporary white sofas. In the corner stands an 18th-century Swedish clock.

Grdich and his partner, newly retired independent school consultant Bill Floyd, bought this compact circa-1800 Cape Cod-style house a little more than 10 years ago. The house came with a pony barn that they have converted into retail space for Bulfinch Antiques, which was previously located on Charles Street on Boston’s Beacon Hill.

“Moving from Boston to Maine was a big transition,” Grdich says. But the couple were tired of the urban hassle, and since they spend much of the winter in Florida, a Down East summer was more appealing than one in the city. “I had more English things when I was in the city,” Grdich says of his inventory. Here, he has changed his focus to coastalinfluence design, with specialties including fine European and English furniture, blue and white ceramics, silver trays, and coral.

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“I have the largest collection of corals in New England,” he says, noting they have become favored objects of decor during the last 10 years.

By the time he and Floyd bought the house, its antique charm was long gone. “In 1926, the then-owners tore out everything old; the interior was primarily cardboard,” says Floyd, describing the Homasote-like panels used to replace original plaster. “When we removed the ceiling tiles, look what we found!” he says, gesturing overhead at the living room’s ceiling joists and their connecting roof rafters. Bearing the marks of hand-hewn construction and the unmistakable patina of age, these architectural elements now frame the soaring, light-filled space, which they converted from three small rooms into one.

Once they had expanded the living room, Grdich and Floyd launched into a series of additions, including a dining room ell, also with a vaulted ceiling, and an adjoining sun porch that overlooks the gardens, two small ponds, and a marsh behind the house. Simply furnished, the porch is arguably the owners’ favorite space in the house. “We use it for eating, for drinks, or to just sit and take in the view,” says Grdich.

Like the living room, the spaces are furnished with a mix of old and new, including a beautifully worn French dining table and simple beige flat-weave carpeting. When Floyd applied a gold decorative finish to the new dining room walls, he found that the product dried much faster than expected, producing blotches as he worked. “We decided that we liked the way it looks,” he says with a laugh.

A guest suite occupies the front of the house opposite the living room. When they added the dining room, the couple also built a new master bedroom at the rear of the house, away from the street and noise.

“We had no master plan; we just added on as it occurred to me,” says Grdich, who claims credit for the house’s interior design. Floyd, he says, is the gardener — fruits of his labors bloom all around the house and shop. “In 1800, they built close to the side of the road,” Floyd says, so one of his first projects was to plant a hedge in the tight strip of land between the house and busy Route 9. He also planted perennials and small ornamental trees in the areas beside and behind the house and shop. A visual focal point from the screened porch is a terrace defined by miniature evergreens, lavender, and a Lutyens bench.

Grdich prizes high quality in materials and workmanship. To replace the house’s original windows, for example, he carefully chose true divided lights. “I wanted the windows to look antique and original,” he says. “So we found reproductions that have efficient thermal panes with fat muntins.”

The new side porch, however, is constructed from contemporary rot-free materials. For Frank Grdich, it’s a matter of the right thing in the right place. For this antiques dealer, it’s the way to live in the present while inhabiting an antique.

On Tomorrow’s Antiques

“You can’t find these things any more,” Frank Grdich says of the antique European furniture he favors. “Nothing is really left for sale in Europe; they’re coming here to buy things back.” The same is true of Russian and Chinese pieces. What’s next? “We don’t really know, but there may be great antiques in South America.”

From Gems to Treasures

Grdich was managing a jewelry shop 30 years ago when he began to frequent an auction house where he often bid on unopened boxes that sold cheaply and, at times, held antique treasures. “I bought stuff, sold it, and made more than I did at the jewelry store,” he says. Soon, he was working in the antiques stores on Boston’s Beacon Hill, where, he says, “I got my best education in life.”

Bulfinch Antiques 82 Western Avenue (Route 9) Kennebunk, ME; 207-967-5569.
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