On the coast of Maine, designing a casual, livable place to retire
After decades of admiring the Scarborough property, empty nesters breathe new life into what was once a seasonal camp.
Built in the 1950s as a seasonal camp and expanded in the 1970s, this property on a coveted spit of land where the Nonesuch River meets the Atlantic Ocean passed through generations of the same family. The current owners, Traci and Scott Giles, had lived in town for 25 years and knew the place well from countless walks along the Scarborough, Maine, beach with kids and dogs in tow. They could hardly believe it when an e-mail announcing that the home was for sale landed in their in-box. The couple, now empty nesters, recognized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a year-round residence where they could retire.
Interior designer Tyler Karu, who had once lived on the very same beach, also saw the listing. “I thought how much I’d love to work on it, not imagining in a million years that I would,” she recalls. A month later, builder Josh Sevigny invited her to join the design team, which included architect Kevin Browne and, later, Browne’s associate Bonnie Wedster.
Given the oceanfront location, the property was subject to regulations aplenty. Ultimately, the team demolished the original portion of the structure, raised the remainder on a new 4-foot-high pier foundation, reconstructed the lost rooms on the new foundation following the original footprint, and added a second story.
The place fronts both bay and marsh, but as in many older coastal homes, the windows were small and the wood-lined interior dark. “Capturing sunlight and the double views were top priorities,” Browne says of the redesign. The cedar-shingle house now has large black-framed windows as well as a second-floor deck off the master bedroom. “We love watching dramatic tidal changes, wildlife, commercial clammers, sailboats, and the paddleboarders,” says Scott Giles.
The couple wanted a livable, casual space that resonated with the surroundings. Karu emphasized the architectural details with a distinctive custom color palette. The scheme — gray-blue with a touch of green for the trim and a lighter variation for the walls — uses vintage colors yet feels timeless. “There are a lot of windows, which means a lot of trim,” Karu says. “The paint combo makes a big statement.”
Wood floors with a subtle gray wash establish an unfussy coastal feel throughout most of the house. In the entry, Karu used an earthy, hard-working Vermont slate tile on the floor and repurposed a Douglas fir beam from the original cottage as a decorative accent. In the powder room, a soapstone sink from Portland Architectural Salvage sits atop a rustic Douglas fir washstand designed by Karu.
The living room, dining area, and kitchen flow together along the bay side of the house. A local-stone fireplace punctuated with a Douglas fir mantel, also reclaimed from the original cottage, anchors one end of the space, flanked by built-in window seats and facing an oversize gray tweed sectional. The dining area, which showcases a custom ash table by O&G Studio surrounded by durable synthetic-wicker chairs, centers on the view. Sliding doors framed by custom drapes in budget-friendly fabric, which Karu used for all the window treatments, open to a new deck with stairs down to the existing ground-level deck.
In the kitchen, Karu prioritized functionality and authentic materials over fancy cabinetry. The backsplash is gray-green glazed brick tile. “The countertops and sink are fabricated from honed granite that looks like beach sand,” Karu says. “The gray and tan colors mimic the coast.”
In the large home office, which holds a desk with a pale wood top and Eames side chairs, deep-blue millwork helps distinguish the work area from the living space while not distracting from the stellar views. “The homeowner wanted more color in the house,” Karu says. “This was the moment for it.”
Directly above, neutral tone-on-tone textiles and natural rattan elements make for a restful master bedroom, and the tongue-and-groove Douglas fir ceiling and window seat base add warmth.
The adjacent covered deck is the Gileses’ favorite spot for observing activity on the beach and enjoying their new perspective on coastal life. “The landscape changes dramatically with the tides,” says Scott. “It’s like two different places at high and low tide.”
■Architect: Kevin Browne Architecture, kevinbrownearchitecture.com
■Interior Design: Tyler Karu Design + Interiors, tylerkaru.com
■Contractor: Sylvain + Sevigny Custom Builders, sylvainsevigny.com
■Drapery Workroom: Home Remedies, homeremediesmaine.com