Prime Time

On Mount Desert Island’s Southwest Harbor, Linda Lea’s summer home serves up classic camp
Words By Allison Paige
Photos By Erin Little
By the screen door open to summer breezes, Millie, Linda's wire-haired terrier and constant companion, awaits her owner.

Avid followers of the Food Network are likely familiar with the compulsively watchable productions of Linda Lea, executive producer of Chopped, as well as Bravo darling Queer Eye and Roku’s Dishmantled, to name a few. While her busy schedule keeps her hopping, frying pan to fire, from Miami to New York, Maine is where the award-winning creator retreats to relax, unwind, and get off the air. 

Sunny yellow chairs and a favorite painting by Kenton Nelson (far right) add personal flair among inherited furnishings.

Found on Mount Desert’s “quietside,” in the nook of Fernald Cove, Linda’s summer home is a charming New Englander from 1940. The ambling 2,474-square-foot, five-bedroom, four-bath home features cedarshingle siding and a gambrel roof that give it the air of a woodland cottage. “It’s a rambling rustica,” Linda declares.  

Its woodsy simplicity harkens back to the region’s rusticators, with an unpainted white pine interior that feels as timeless as the unspoiled blue view. In the living room, where exposed rafters give the space the expansive reach of a ship’s hull, a painting by Pasadena artist Robert Kenton Nelson depicts a person poised in a swan dive, an exuberant depiction of the delicious vertigo a body feels before splashing headfirst into the bay. It recalls the lyrics of “Free Fallin,” written by another Florida native, Tom Petty: “I’m gonna freefall out into nothin / Gonna leave this world for awhile. 

The fieldstone fireplace is guarded by the trophy of a 12-point elk.
Step inside Food Network producer Linda Lea's "off-the-air" escape in Southwest Harbor.

 When Linda bid on the property in 2020, it was a similar plunge; Maine’s bucolic wiles exerted an irresistible pull akin to a tidal current. “I grew up in Tallahassee, and what drew me to Maine was, I would say, I’m a storyteller. I was a cinephile as a kid cause there wasn’t anything else to do in Tallahassee for me. And so just walking in and seeing this, it’s a movie set, you know? It’s like, who are the people who lived here and what is this story? I was immediately connected and attached to it beyond anything I’ve seen.”

She put in an offer and received the estate with all belongings intact. As only the third owner of the home since its construction, it was imperative to Linda to remain faithful to its original character. “I had to have the entire story,” Linda explains, giddily. “Like, you can take your golf clubs and any special art, but everything else I really wanted, to keep it as a vacuum, as a museum. To just go through the story and see what it is.”

One key update was the screening in of the porch, making it an ideal place for alfresco dining and entertaining.
Tucked away on Fernald Cove, the home has serene water views from nearly every window.
A sky-scraper chess set keeps Linda connected to New York City.

It’s no wonder Linda, who has made her living telling stories, is interested in keeping the home’s narrative arc. With its rambling rooms, comfortable nooks, and copious windows overlooking the serene view of Somes Sound, the home does seem a tale to unfold, like one of the first editions lining the shelves (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz among them) that came with the house. 

An exterior shot captures the quaint shingled exterior and lush plantings.

Aside from minor adjustments (repainting, the screening of the porch to encourage al fresco dining), you get the impression little has changed in 80 years. The effect is almost uncanny, the Platonic ideal of a Maine camp. But it is not static.  
Linda credits her friend Debra Lair, a Miami-based stylist, with helping to curate the estate furnishings. “We drove up together and ran through antique stores once we hit Maine. She helped me edit out the things that weren’t working, save the things that are, and then we brought some modern furnishings in to kind of update it.” To wit, after the pandemic shuttered Linda’s Manhattan office, orphaned furniture, such as the lemon-yellow mod chairs flanking a green Chesterfield sofa, were brought in to enliven the space. Blonde and tan, Linda herself exudes a similarly infectious energy, like a ray of sunshine beaming in through a picture window. 
Because Linda is an accomplished chef and creator of food-forward shows, one might assume her top priority was to overhaul the vintage kitchen. But that’s not how Linda rolls. She painted the cabinets, but otherwise, took it easy, a practice that plainly serves her well. I was like, let’s just live in this and understand the flow. As it turned out, the dishwasher, a KitchenAid from the seventies, is the best dishwasher I’ve ever had! 

"The house is designed to entertain a lot of people, so there's just so many damn chairs everywhere," Linda jokes. "We had to start hanging them on the wall."
Camp essentials, such as a Sea Bags tote and Pendleton blanket, look just right in a guest bedroom. "We hit Pendleton hard," Linda confides.
A vintage milk jug-turned-lamp joins some perfectly patinaed brass candlestickes.

 Linda notes how the islanders still speak fondly of Mrs. Brown, the home’s first owner, and of Dr. Kyle, the second, whose desk Linda gravitates toward when work beckons. The heart of the home is indisputably the epic fieldstone fireplace that anchors the living room with the help of a 12-point elk (also inherited). “Mrs. Brown’s swashbuckling boyfriend brought it in from Montana, I’m told, she shares. The home’s other mascot is Millie, her wire-haired terrier rescue. “She goes with me everywhere. She just watches my feet,” Linda says with a laugh. “She’s the greatest.”

Up a wrought iron spiral staircase, the principal bedroom’s calming dimensions include a hexagonal door wall that opens onto a deck overlooking the rocky cove. It is the one insulated spot in the house and boasts a breathtaking view, but more often Linda sleeps in a cozy downstairs bedroom that contains her “Miami furniture,” familiar, well-loved items that made the cut and manage to look right at home.

Weaving her things among the belongings of the former owners gives Linda a sense of comforting continuity. And if there are any lingering haints, they are benevolent ones. Linda recounts a time when the current caretaker, Tom Goodwin (whose wife’s mother was the caretaker before him), gathered on the lawn with some contractors. One glanced at an upperstory window, turned white, and said, “I think I just saw a ghost!” Linda assured him it was just a friend of hers visiting, but he remained startled. “Then Tom said, Well, I can tell you this: If there’s a ghost in there, it’s a good one. And they’re glad that we’re all here. 

A comfy reading bench by the oversize window is the perfect place to while an hour away. With the sale, Linda inherited many first edition classics from Dr. Kyle's library.
Rustic touches greet you at every corner.

Likewise, whenever Linda hops on an inherited bike, she feels a presence as she wends along the island’s winding carriage paths. “I feel like those women are still there. I know they rode that bike and I’ve got some connection. It’s not just any house, I can tell you that,” Linda surmises, with unabashed wonder. “I wake up and find a joy that I’ve never felt before, to just walk around the property and see it. It’s a gift. It’s not something I created. It’s just something I receive.”

The gift clearly goes both ways. While she remains faithful to the home’s history, Linda will no doubt add her own richly realized chapter to the story. Or as they say in the TV biz, she’s given it its next season. Stay tuned for many more. 

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