Reworking the Blues
Musicians put it like this: Learn it to lose it. Meaning, drill your scales, study the progressions, practice, practice, over and over until the basics are so reflexively yours that, in the heat of performance, you’re free to abandon them, to chase instinct, to move around inside the music. As for Louise Hurlbutt, of Hurlbutt Designs in Kennebunk, and her way with New England coastal, let’s just say she knows the charts. Well.
At the Nash home in Kennebunkport, a fresh, second-level-entry bungalow overlooking a pristine tidal inlet begging to be lazed on for a raft-mounted afternoon, Hurlbutt works within the fundamentals—blues, whites, the occasional whale. But just watch her riff. See how she ad-libs, invents, how after nearly two decades in Kennebunkport, and having lived, worked, and studied everywhere from Sydney to Afghanistan, she’s in the pocket.
The house is a dream project for owner Linda Nash—a lifelong dream project, actually. She’d been planning to own a home in Kennebunkport ever since her parents brought her and her nine siblings up from Boston when they were young. “For thirty-something years, I looked for the right place,” Ms. Nash says. “The agent probably thought, ‘This lady’s never going to buy anything!’”
In May of 2015, however, Ms. Nash found a ne’er-updated, mid-fifties ranch house tucked away in a tranquil cul-de-sac and knew it was the precise location for which she’d been waiting. The existing property was razed, and architect Brian Beaudette of Kennebunk and Rangeley, and project manager Paul Adler of custom builders Thomas & Lord of Kennebunkport and Portland, worked carefully to construct the Nash home on the exact footprint of the previous structure. “Not too much exceeds your expectations these days,” Ms. Nash says. “This place did.”
It doesn’t take long upon entering the home to notice Hurlbutt at play with convention. The upper level’s open floor plan allows the whole of the design to be viewed panoramically. Across from the entryway, a back wall—almost exclusively glass—reaches an astounding 18-foot ceiling and opens the entire floor onto a sequestered tendril of the Kennebunk River. The space is light, airy, and feels as if a breeze is passing through even when one isn’t. More bluntly: It feels exactly how you would want a place on the Maine coast to feel. Then there are the two seascapes by Canada-born artist F. Lipari, one over the living room fireplace, the other, across the dining area at the top of the stairs just over a railing, based on designs from England’s Brighton Pavilion. Both canvases seem to present perfectly reasonable coastal backdrops, the same spectrum of sky tones used to polite effect throughout the home, but there’s something in those razor-straight horizons. Look closer. Don’t they feel Zen? One can imagine Footbridge Beach but also, somehow simultaneously, the desert. A vast humming energy exists in all that stillness. These deft selections, bookending, as they do, a large swath of the top floor, touch the space with an overtone of the otherworldly.
Ditto in the sunroom, which Ms. Nash and her husband Stephen both agree is the best place in the house to sit in the dual, modern, nautical-striped swivel chairs with a cup of tea (or something stronger) to admire the view of the idle shore, but also of Buxton-based landscape architect Ted Carter’s multiple blueberry cultivars, a nod to Ms. Nash’s Maine ties. They call it “eating your view,” says Carter. Now notice the classic, diamond-tufted wingback near the entrance, done here, by Sarreid, in a deep, navy leather. The saturation is such that suddenly we’re no longer on the languid coast evoked by so much of the house but are reminded of open sea, those dark, unfathomable depths so removed from—yet intrinsic to—one’s enjoyment of the shore.
We find these deepenings again and again, familiar elements tweaked and recast, demanding a second look. In the downstairs lounge, a pair of seeded-glass lamps with burnished brass bases nod to antique fishing floats. The bunk room, like the entire downstairs, is walled in shiplap, done not in the traditional raw wood you might have seen elsewhere but in a crisp white, with a widened gap to give the area more dimension.
At times, these experiments become full-blown departures. The dining room table, masterfully crafted by Keith Fritz Fine Furniture, is drawn from solid walnut with a soft matte finish. The piece is stunning and was selected early in the design process, allowing Hurlbutt to blend outward with additional walnut-stained furniture. This abandonment of custom pays dividends. “Painted wood is what you see most of the time,” Hurlbutt says. “Painted wood says cottage, but stained wood is how you get that richness. It’s sophisticated.”
As a blazing July afternoon wanes, Hurlbutt sips a can of seltzer at the Nashes’ kitchen island, a leathered-finish Blue River granite offering just a waft of the rustic. Beside her, the custom range hood, made in-house by Thomas & Lord, rises all the way up to that distant ceiling, sucking in steam from a cooling batch of pasta. (Mr. Nash, a semi-retiree of the fast-food industry, claims not to cook that often, but the way he chops tomatoes says otherwise). Hurlbutt seems genuinely taken by the view. “That tree,” she says, shaking her head at a stately aspen out back, “the way the leaves ripple with the light. I’ve lived here a long time. I’ve driven all over these streets, even this street. But I never knew what was behind these houses.” Another pause. She touches her right ear and discovers an earring gone missing—on the phone all day—an occupational hazard—she’ll find it later. She gazes out the window a moment more. “The water, too,” she adds finally. “It’s just great how it’s always moving.”