Skylands, my home on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine, is the perfect place for a house party. Guests can come and go easily, many can be put up as if the place were a small, luxurious hotel, and the magic of the house and its surroundings is extremely appealing. The location has been a favorite summering destination for families from Philadelphia, New York, and Boston for generations. In the late 19th century, Rockefellers, Fords, Eliots, and other illustrious American families discovered the appeal of pink-granite mountains, verdant forests, and shimmering ocean vistas in their search for natural beauty and American splendor.
My property was developed in the 1920s by Edsel Ford; his wife, Eleanor; and a spectacular team headed by Duncan Candler (a very talented New York architect) and Jens Jensen (a Prairie School landscape architect). “Space,” “views,” “comfort,” “fresh air,” and “rustic luxury” are the best words to describe the place where I decided to invite a group of friends to celebrate my birthday last August.
I have a fraction of the staff once enjoyed by Mrs. Ford, but the house works very well, thanks in part to the fine and thoughtful architecture of Candler. Every bedroom has a walk-in closet, a large comfy bed, and a beautiful bathroom, and most have a fireplace. And the house is so well built that barely a sound penetrates from room to room or floor to floor. There are two tennis courts, kayaks and canoes for intense upper-body exertion in the ocean or lakes, a picnic boat for day trips or lunches or dinners on some of the outer islands, and walking sticks and backpacks ready for daily excursions into the mighty Acadia National Park, where 125 miles of well-designed hiking and climbing trails await intrepid and serious hikers.
The birthday weekend officially began on Friday with a lunch of cheese, fruit, and cookies. There was no set arrival time, and since people were coming from everywhere, by car, plane, and boat, the food was set up in the butler’s pantry so guests could help themselves as they arrived.
Dinner Friday night was served in the carriage house, and a long table for 30 was set in the entrance. Much of the food that night was cooked outdoors, on the grill, in a La Caja China roasting box and in the stable kitchen. The food prepared by our cook staff (my dear friend Pierre Schaedlin headed the weekend effort), had been meticulously vetted and planned.
The big party was planned for Saturday evening, when my houseguests mixed with summer residents on the island, and 65 of us sat down to an alfresco dinner on the large stone terrace overlooking Seal Harbor. The food was delicious, the birthday cake spectacular, and another year of a good life was celebrated in a spot near and dear to everyone in attendance.
For recipes and photographs from the birthday weekend, visit www.marthastewart.com/sky
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.