Dilettante: York takes its Show House on the road

Posted Tuesday, July 16, 2013 in Culture

Dilettante: York takes its Show House on the road

by Jan Brennan

For almost a quarter-century now, York’s historical society has put on a Decorators’ Show House every summer as its major fund-raiser. One had to assume that eventually the day would come when the small-town group would run out of fabulous seaside mansions to redecorate.
 
This year, it happened.
 
Undaunted, the group, called Museums of Old York, simply went down the road a piece, to Kittery. There they found a property that perfectly met the Show House criteria: large enough to provide a canvas for 18 decorators to display their talents, in a location breathtaking enough to draw the crowds, and with an owner and real estate agent willing to essentially take the property off the market for the couple of months that the Show House circus is in town. Also necessary: plenty of nearby parking and neighbors kind enough to put up with the comings and goings of moving vans, some 300 volunteers and thousands of visitors.
 
The result is Secret Cove, a three-story house complete with waterfront guest cottage and sweeping lawns that overlook Pepperell Cove, with views across the water to New Castle, N.H., and the old “Castle” at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
 
For those of us who have been attending the Decorators' Show House for the past 24 years, it’s a treat to have a new area to explore. History buffs will be in heaven: The house sits across the street from the Kittery Point First Congregational Church, built in 1727 and still in use, and abuts the church’s seaside cemetery with its 18th-century gravestones. Just down the road from Secret Cove is the Lady Pepperell House, a Georgian mansion built in 1760, and up the street is Fort McClary State Park, a defensive fort dating from about 1720 with a blockhouse built in 1844.
 
Secret Cove is a newcomer in this historic neighborhood, just 17 years old, but fits in unobtrusively and is mostly hidden behind a high garden wall. Built in 1996 with all the modern amenities, including a hot tub and elevator, it’s open-concept and multi-level.
 
Some of the designers embraced the modern feel: for example, Patricia Finn of Finn-Martens Design transformed the enormous master bedroom into a relaxing, three-zone suite with the luxurious ambiance of a tropical resort, while Katherine Hawkins of Trio Design turned a teen’s bedroom into a purple-and-metal extravaganza with a fun mermaid theme.
 
Other decorators played up the home’s historic surroundings. Pauline Vastardis, in decorating a ladies’ sitting room, covered the walls and a standing screen with a mural painted by Susan Marshal that shows a lighthouse and Colonial homes of the area. In the living room, Michael Englehardt of Portsmouth’s Ethan Allen Design Center paired the company’s traditional, elegant furniture with a stunning antique harpsichord whose lid is painted with the view from Secret Cove when it was 18th-century pasture land. And in a first for the Show House, Museums of Old York turned a huge room the homeowners used as a Montessori classroom into an exhibit space for some of its treasures; fittingly, these include a gateleg table that came from the neighboring Lady Pepperell House and a clock made by a Kittery clockmaker around 1750.
 
There are plenty of  interesting items to see in the house from the antique French prie-dieu that Helen Hanan cleverly used as a bed’s footboard to the light fixture made from melted Coke bottles that Rosanne Palazola hung in a hallway but for this reviewer the best part of the tour lies outside the house. Owner Nancy Albertsen’s lush flower beds surround an undulating saltwater swimming pool complete with tinkling waterfall I could have stayed there forever. Next to the pool stands a small garden shed; Valerie Jorgensen of Wells remade this into a rustic, charming poolhouse with two dressing rooms and an antiques-decorated sitting room. And down by the ocean’s edge there‘s a guest cottage. Anne Cowenhoven of Accent & Design in York wisely eschewed the typical beach-cottage blue and instead decorated the big bedroom in the pinks and greens she saw in the gardens, which eases visitors’ attention away from the gorgeous landscaping and onto the stunning, unobstructed water view.
 
We are lucky that Museums of Old York made Secret Cove a secret no longer.
 
The Show House is open daily except Tuesdays, now through Aug. 15. Admission is $20 at the door. For directions, hours, or information on lectures and other Show House events call (207) 363-4974 or see the website at www.oldyork.org.
 
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