The Kids Stay in the Picture of this MDI Cottage

Focus on function, fun, and family guides updates to a classic MDI cottage
Words By Arielle Greenberg
Photos By Michael D. Wilson

“Each room should speak with but one voice.” So declared Edith Wharton in her 1897 tome, The Decoration of Houses, written with Ogden Codman Jr., a treatise on good taste for the American home. Wharton was recommending a measured approach to architecture and decor, one that takes into account competing needs for beauty and functionality. These same principles have guided Lynne Wheat in the decoration and renovation of Mainstay, her classic cottage on Smallidge Point in Northeast Harbor. 

Mainstay was built by MDI architect Arthur McFarland in 1938 on the former site of the steamboat wharf for patron of the arts Roland L. Taylor, who had previously rented other properties nearby. A half century later, Lynne and her young family did the same, coming to Northeast Harbor on the recommendation of a friend and trying different houses for several summers in a row. “But each place we rented sold the following summer,” she says. “One of them—Seaswallow—is now the home of friends we know from Brussels, which reminds you how small of a world it is.” 

The open-concept kitchen is designed for light, laughter, and future grandchildren.
Updated windows and doors bring nature in and invite outdoor exploration.

When Mainstay came on the market in the 1990s, Lynne chose it for its position on Somes Sound. “There were two other houses available that summer,” she says, “but they didn’t have a dock.” Mainstay was—and is—a classic MDI property with “beautiful bones,” as Lynne puts it. “We really wanted a central-hall Colonial, and we’ve kept it very traditional.” This sense of tradition is carried through the exterior property in the Alaskan yellow cedar shakes and the England-inspired secret garden, and through the interior’s airy color scheme, a collaboration between Lynne and interior designer Ann LeConey. Shades of cream, pebble gray, and slate blue echo the shoreline on a misty Maine morning.   

Throughout the home, shades of cream, gray and blue echo the landscape of Somes Sound.

Despite its formal notes, Mainstay is, at its heart, “a very comfortable home,” as Lynne puts it. Her renovations have been guided by a desire to bring in the seashore light and to make the spaces fun and functional. When they first moved up, Lynne’s children were school age, and what was first designed as a playroom later became “the teenage party room,” she says with a laugh. Those teens are older now, marrying—the property will host the wedding of Lynne’s youngest child this fall—and having children of their own, so the pool table has been given away to make room for toys again. “We’re putting in French doors to make an easier path to the garden, and we’re building a larger laundry room for washing all the kids’ clothes. The place is really an oversized camp where people can tear around, swim in the frigid water, run in the field with their dogs,” Lynne says. “Everything I do is informed by wanting Mainstay to be a beloved home for the family for many years to come.” 

Lynne’s dedication to making the house kid-friendly is matched by the pleasure she gets from having people over. As caretaker and local Erika Wibby-Mitchell says, “It’s the perfect home for entertaining, with the rolling lawn and terrace and the formal living and dining rooms. That’s probably how it’s been forever—parties for decades.”  

Renovating the bar for entertaining necessitated a two-level addition to accommodate convivial parties.
The sink pedestal was hand-built from an elaborate wood building ornament, which was found at Portland Salvage.

That legacy continues thanks to one of Lynne’s latest renovation projects with builder Richard Bradford, a bar designed for fabulous gatherings. The bar features one-of-a-kind details such as reclaimed oak floors, copper pendant lights fitted with Edison bulbs, and a bar top made from a slab of ancient kauri wood from New Zealand. (It looks “almost holographic,” Richard says.) The bar’s adjoining bathroom is a showstopper, with a handmade copper sink set in a salvaged wood cornice and paneling crafted from hand-selected wooden wine cases. “But each panel had to be from very good wine,” Richard laughs. Because the best parties have a certain ease and flow, further structural additions were made to the bar area to ensure that guests can breeze from room to room and wander between indoors and out. The overall effect is at once sophisticated and fun, industrial chic and timeless, capacious and warm.  

The secret to successful renovations, of course, lies in assembling a great team. “Working with talented people who share your aesthetic is so important, and materials are so important,” Lynne says. “When I told Richard that I wanted to replace the carpeting with a hardwood floor, I came to him with one idea, but he recommended a wide-board floor for its character. And I trust him. We choose materials that are sympathetic to the nature of the place.”  

Wide board floors give the space character and nod to its 1930s origins.
Collected treasures decorate a shelf seemingly suspended by trompe l’oeil in the hallway.
Whimsical, nature-inspired wallpaper adds interest to a guest room.

For the Wheat family and their guests, Mainstay is just that: a reliable source of serenity and good times, many of which come from the simple pleasure of being by the ocean. “My go-to place is what I call the pillow rocks outside on the terrace, the oversized, cushion-shaped boulders that frame the staircase down to the water. I can sit there for hours, with coffee at sunrise and a glass of wine at sunset,” Lynne says. She laughs. “This house is the only place I actually like washing the dishes, because I get to see that view.”