It’s hard to imagine what drove settlers to rural Maine in the 1800s. It couldn’t have been the weather.
But all that cold and snow had an upside, says Pamela Haines, owner of a 19th-century Cape Cod-style house in the river town of Buxton. Houses like hers have an assortment of small rooms, the better to close off ones not worth heating, and that configuration can itself be a source of warmth. “Capes are just cozy,” she says. “Rooms tend to be small and separate, which I like.”
Carpentry (cabinets and woodwork) and roofing, siding, wainscoting, and flooring: Saco River Remodeling, Buxton, ME
Windsor chairs: The Workshops of David T. Smith
Candle-bulb chandelier: Timeless Lighting
Paint: Old Prairie (walls), Benjamin Moore; Bayberry Wax (trim), California Paints
A Buxton native and longtime old-house enthusiast, Pamela was unfazed 20 years ago when she and her then husband, James, discovered the well-used 19th-century find at the end of a country lane. While other prospective buyers saw only vinyl siding, dark rooms with low ceilings, an exhausted infrastructure, and no closets, Pamela saw a long-deferred dream—hidden behind overgrowth and a cluttered front yard.
Pendant fixture: Timeless Lighting
Range and range hood: Viking
Countertops: Morningstar Stone and Tile
Paint: Sheepskin Rug (walls), Valspar; Northampton Putty (cabinets and trim), Benjamin Moore
Dark wax-polish: Briwax
“I went to grade school a quarter mile from this house, and I remembered seeing it from the school bus,” she recalls. Having just overhauled another old house 140 miles north, in Winterport, “I was driving around to see if I could find it, and I came down the road, and, unbelievably, the house was for sale.”
Paint: Warren Tavern, California Paints; Old Prairie (walls), Old Gold (cabinets), and Cinnamon (windows and door), Benjamin Moore
Though the find was fortuitous, the house was run-down, worn-out, and abused by hoarding and neglect. The original 890-square-foot Cape, believed to date to 1823 (the local historical society can confirm it only as pre-1852), held a downstairs bedroom, a faded bath, and stairs to a semifinished half floor. A more recent 780-square-foot addition boasted linoleum floors, sliding glass patio doors, two bedrooms upstairs, and no pretense of any period style—its bay window suggested the 1960s, Pamela says, but there are no records.
Paint: Old Gold, Benjamin Moore
More important, the original core was solid, with three fireplaces sharing one interior chimney, a granite root cellar—complete with petrified squashes—a dry-laid stone foundation, and original pine floors. Pamela, an antiques dealer, saw the kind of potential she might have found in a worn walnut hutch compromised by pink paint and a chrome wineglass rack.
But before the game couple could restore the plaster walls, they had to dig into them, while also carving out immediate living space—in other words, months of hauling trash, scrubbing, scraping, and yanking up linoleum. Acting as general contractor, Pamela hired crews to replace pipes and wiring and install wood siding, windows, and doors. With nearly 35 acres to care for, the new owners, meanwhile, had more than a little work to do outside.
Paint: Old Prairie (walls), Benjamin Moore; Thames Fog (trim), and Sheepskin Rug (fireplace), Valspar; Pitch Black (brick), Old-Fashioned Milk Paint
During this time they lived in the attic apartment above Pamela’s sister’s garage, about a mile away. “It went on for a whole year,” Pamela recalls. “A long, long time.”
Most of the early activity centered on the kitchen addition and removing the shaky cinder-block exterior chimney (no big deal—”we pulled it down with a big rope,” says Pamela). A hands-on homeowner who enjoys cooking, she was eager to hook up a decent range, and she happened to have one in mind: a four-burner Viking she had landed on deep discount while renovating the place in Winterport. “We were not leaving without the stove!” she says, laughing as she recalls rounding up enough friends to lift the behemoth into a truck and get it down to Buxton.
Foundation work: James G. Merry Building Movers
Siding: Ward Clapboard Mill
While casting about for subs, Pamela lucked out with Jim Shula, a skilled carpenter who, before turning to boat-building, made the house’s custom cupboards. He and his crew also put down “new” floors in the addition—varied-width pine planks another friend of a friend had salvaged and was storing in his pond. “This is the craziest story ever,” Pamela says. “He said he put the wood in the pond so it wouldn’t rot until he was ready to dry it and plane it down.”
Bed: The Workshops of David T. Smith
Paint: Old Prairie (walls), Benjamin Moore; Hickory Nut (trim), California Paints
The crew excised the addition’s sliding patio doors, and relocated and rebuilt the staircase, making room for a much-needed closet. The new staircase has a period-style balustrade and a small window of its own. “Capes tend to be pretty dark because the rooflines are so low,” says Pamela, who would later punch holes for skylights and for extra windows in the original attic space—now a master suite.
Staircase: Saco River Remodeling, Buxton, ME
Wood stove: Jotul
Paint: Desert Mountains (stair treads) and Green Tea (risers and trim), Clark + Kensington, thepaintstudio.com; Oyster Shoal (walls), Valspar
Fixing up the Cape’s fireplaces was high on the early to-do list. “They were filled to the top with debris—so I got a wheelbarrow and shoveled my way to the bottom,” Pamela says matter-of-factly. A mason, Richard Irons, arrived and stayed for a while, restoring the fireplaces in the dining room and den and adding a chimney to vent the new woodstove in the foyer (the house burns through a couple of cords a year). The gas-burning stove in the front parlor vents through the original chimney.
Masonry: Richard Irons
Tub filler: Kohler
Door handle: Historic Housefitters
Paint: Old Prairie (walls) and Old Gold (tub), Benjamin Moore
The master suite and sitting area materialized several years later, along with a one-story addition at the back of the house: a garden room with a gas stove for warmth, leafy-green paneling, and a brick floor that Pamela dry-laid in stone dust. Then came new finishes in the front parlor, including a custom corner cabinet and vintage furniture.
Paint: Wethersfield Moss (trim), Benjamin Moore
Four years in and eager to preserve the original walls, Pamela researched recipes for plaster and tried smoothing it over damaged drywall in the dining room. Then she threw in the trowel and hired a seasoned plasterer, Peter Lord.
Plasterwork: Peter Lord Plaster & Paint
Stencil details: Alan Kirk Roberts House, MB Historic Decor
Paint: Barn Red (bricks), Old-Fashioned Milk Paint
“Lime plaster gives you that old look you can’t get any other way,” says Lord, who patched and replaced plaster in the den and new stairwell, occasionally cutting through 19th-century lath and cow hair. “What I’ll do is push on the wall and see where there’s movement—do I hear or feel the wood or fasteners move? That makes sags,” he says, adding, “It’s like pulling a string on a sweater—you don’t know how far it’s going to unravel.” The goal was not a glass-smooth finish, he says, but “three-dimensional character, complete with pockmarks and undulations.”
Paint: Northampton Putty (trim), Benjamin Moore
After Pamela and James split up in 2008, she kept the house—and kept going with the reno. She had pried pieces of the original trim out of two rooms and had it replicated, allowing carpenters to case the windows and doors in a way that gave the small rooms more texture and dimension.
Paint: Warren Tavern (paneling), California Paints
Pamela took it from there, experimenting with historical paint colors and warm neutrals. “I wanted the house to have an earthy, outdoor kind of feel,” she says. “I decided the transitions should not be too jarring, but at the same time, I wanted each room to have its own character.”
Nowhere is that more evident than in the garden room, now outfitted with a comfy sofa, a TV, and a rescue dog named Ever. “It’s my favorite room in summer,” Pamela says. But come winter, you’ll find her in a toastier perch: “There’s a sitting area just above the staircase, right above the new woodstove.”
And in this neck of Maine, there’s no shortage of wood.
Stencils: Moses Eaton Collection, MB Historic Decor
Pamela Haines, ABOVE, leans toward colors that evoke foliage, forests, butterscotch, and barns, but she greets visitors at a door painted with Clark + Kensington’s Sapphire Earrings, a French blue. “I am in love with the blues of Provence,” she confesses. Inside, however, she opted for historical hues. “I started out painting the interior trim beige, but it was drab. So I switched to colors that bring the woodwork to life.” Here are a few.
Pre-renovation, the 1,670-square-foot house had a downstairs bedroom and bath and a side addition with two bedrooms above a kitchen and dining room. The kitchen and lower-level bath were rebuilt within their existing footprints and the stairs in between them were relocated, creating a large foyer with a new wood stove and chimney. The attic in the original portion of the house was finished as a master suite. A 384-square-foot, step-down garden room was added in back.