A Designer’s Vacation Home on the Maine Coast

At her own getaway home, a designer delights in sharing with her family the love she’s had since childhood for Maine’s rugged southern coast.

Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by John Gruen Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent

Those who fall in love with Maine’s craggy beauty give over their hearts forever. Interior designer Leslie Rylee came to know the state’s southern coast (a draw for many notable American artists) as a young girl. Now she shares her passion for the region with her husband, two teenage daughters, and a hefty Labrador who covets downtime by the water as much as his owners do.

The salty air is a perfect antidote for the harried pace of Manhattan, where the family is based. Everything is pretty much as Rylee recalls from her youth, too—the spectacular shore and many of the neighbors.

Rentals make ideal getaways for generations of the same families in these parts, and Rylee and her brood long had a perfect one. “We were happy there for a dozen years,” the designer says. Still, they always wanted a place they could call their own. When a quintessentially old-school-Maine abode became available, Rylee and her husband jumped. Not only was the location lovely, the structure was sound and had been recently renovated, with its character-giving open framing intact. The bathrooms needed a boost, and the small, attached guest house warranted an overhaul, but the rest was about cosmetics.

Even the grounds were almost perfect, needing just a bit of sprucing out front and some additional plantings. Of course, with her designer’s flair, Rylee took it a notch further, laying a checkerboard bluestone terrace and creating a sweet sitting area with a direct view to the ocean.

“This is my happy place. My spine unwinds the second I get here,” says Rylee. Naturally, then, the interior promotes relaxation, conveying a “come on in, don’t worry” attitude. There’s a sprinkling of antiques, some found treasures, but nothing precious. Every room feels open and fresh, which is exactly what the designer intended. This is a house where memories are made.

Friends and family read, play cards, or gather in the kitchen while Rylee readies meals. “It’s my favorite kitchen for cooking,” she admits. The aged Garland stove, which came with the house, is largely responsible for the designer’s affinity for the place. Standing in its own handy niche, the pedigreed appliance (now with an electric ignition—no more striking matches!) suits the simple architecture, the painted floor, and the oil-cloth-covered table, which in lesser hands might be tacky but here seems an engaging nod to the past.

“A lot of our clients want the true, old-style cottage look they remember from their childhood. But they also want updates,” says Luke Lockwood, president of Eider Construction. “They’re willing to invest time and energy to achieve the right balance—something our company specializes in.” Rylee, appreciative of Lockwood’s sensitivity, recruited his company for all their updates.

Practical matters take a back seat to sheer bliss for anyone ensconced on the easy-going entry porch. The upholstered bed-like custom swing at the porch’s center is an element every retreat should feature. If this popular spot is taken, though, there are also comfortable wicker chairs from Kings Lane and a Plexiglass CB2 coffee table just waiting to double as a footrest. A bright Barclay Butera rug defines the area, and a big old crock stands at the ready should anyone need to park a drippy umbrella.

Step from the porch through the French doors into the living room, and the laid-back vibe doesn’t falter. If ever there were a room destined for good times, this is it. The large space sports a sitting area at either end, each with a Restoration Hardware sofa bearing pillows dressed in appealing John Robshaw fabric. Robshaw fabric also covers some of the armchairs, while the curtain fabric is by Lulu DK. The mix of patterns—including the Indian dhurrie rug—is as subtly uplifting as a sea breeze. With no shortage of roosts for sitting, and plenty of landing pads for drinks, guests are easily accommodated. But Rylee has also cleverly contrived a quiet corner for letter writing, complete with choice art, an antique desk, and a wicker chair from the Portland Flea-for-All.

No classic Maine retreat would be minus a dining room, but Rylee smartly keeps the lid on formality with a sisal rug, an antique Chinese table, and a host of Palecek red chairs—enough for unexpected drop-ins. An Oomph lantern mimics the chairs’ color, and heavy linen curtains (another John Robshaw fabric), picking up on the same hue, flank the windows. To help make entertaining stress free, placemats and napkins are plucked at a moment’s notice from an antique chest of drawers. A
collection of whiteware finds a home in the glass-fronted corner cupboard.

The only television in the house is sequestered upstairs in its own paneled room (“We never turn it on,” Rylee says). In days gone by, the space was a walk-in closet, but Rylee transformed it into a cozy sitting room with a built-in sofa/daybed for overflow guests. The additional arm chairs (a flea market score) and tailored coffee table are painted a deep nautical blue—a fun contrast to a cheery West Elm rug.
Down the hall, the master bedroom displays heady splashes of blue, too, from the Serena & Lily rug to the dreamy curtains. Over the couple’s cane bed, hangs a landscape Rylee nabbed at the Brimfield Antique Show. “It looks just like our view,” she says with delight.

Nearby, is another of her inviting tableaus: a sitting area with a bamboo shelf stocked with tomes, a slipcovered settee, and lofty lamps from Peggy Carboni Antiques in Wells, Maine. The standout piece, however, is the old Sleepy Hollow–style chair decorated with dog heads that resemble the family’s pet. Like the house, the chair charms without overpowering. And that speaks to Rylee’s unmistakable talent for concocting a no-fuss vacation home that’s as grand as it can be. •

Interior design: Leslie Rylee, Leslie Rylee Decorative Arts & Interiors
Builder: Luke Lockwood, Eider Construction

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