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Restoring a 19th Century Cape Cod

An antiques lover restores authenticity to her 1820s Cape with vintage furniture, salvaged flooring, period-style trim, and paint colors that bring back its time-honored patina.

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
Homeowner Pamela Haines, an antiques dealer, furnished the dining room of her snug home with a well-worn trestle table and a vintage Welsh dresser. Colorful casings and trim enliven the plaster walls.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The custom kitchen cabinets were brush-painted, then finished with a scrubbable wax-and-polish that contains carnauba wax and beeswax. The random-width floorboards are salvaged pine; the island is a 19th-century grain bin.
Gridley + Graves

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
Dishwasher: KitchenAid
Countertops: Morningstar Stone and Tile
Faucet: Kohler
Paint: Sheepskin Rug (walls), Valspar; Northampton Putty (cabinets and trim), Benjamin Moore
Dark wax-polish: Briwax

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The garden room’s trio of windows, coupled with a French door and a skylight, usher in sunlight and open the house to the side yard and patio. The floor is dry-laid reclaimed brick.
Gridley + Graves

“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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
Gutted and rebuilt, the downstairs bath has a salvaged slate sink and a vintage mirror with artfully peeling paint.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The front parlor has its original pine floors and a fireplace that previous owners had clad with cement bricks. The gas-burning stove is new.
Gridley + Graves

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.

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The den’s brick fireplace surround was parged, or smoothed with a thin coat of mortar, then finished with milk paint. The mantel is believed to date to before the Civil War. The chair rail is new.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The front parlor’s new nine-over-six windows, corner cabinet, and paneling reinforce the period style of the house.
Gridley + Graves

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.”

Windows: Brosco

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The house’s vinyl siding was replaced with low-maintenance quartersawn pine clapboards stained with a mix of linseed oil and turpentine and weathered to a nearly black gray.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
Former dead space in the attic became a master suite with skylights, exposed beams, and reclaimed pine flooring. Attic windows, including light-capturing ones just above the floor, are new, as in the rest of the house.
Gridley + Graves

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.”

Skylights: Velux
Bed: The Workshops of David T. Smith
Paint: Old Prairie (walls), Benjamin Moore; Hickory Nut (trim), California Paints

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
A set of stairs in the old addition was demolished, and a period-style staircase with a window was added in a more graceful spot, yielding a foyer. The wood stove sits on a granite slab; the door under the stairs opens to a new closet.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
A salvaged claw-foot tub, painted gold to match trim found elsewhere in the house, anchors the master bath. A high-arc faucet filler complements the tub’s timeless profile.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
A guest bedroom on the old addition’s second floor has new windows based on the house’s originals.
Gridley + Graves

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.

Windows: Brosco
Paint: Wethersfield Moss (trim), Benjamin Moore

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The dining room fireplace mantel was refreshed with black semigloss paint, a color found buried under layers of other paint. The brickwork was topped with milk paint. Homeowner Pamela Haines painted the floor using a stencil that replicates a pattern found in an 1816 house.
Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
The breakfast area in the kitchen boasts an antique painted hutch, a Southern yellow pine table, and 20th-century French caned chairs.
Gridley + Graves

“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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
A stylish potting table in the garden room is set off against a pine-green wood wall and a salvaged-brick floor. Light-channeling French doors open to a side patio.
Photo: Gridley + Graves

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

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME
A woodshed on the property displays old-school snowshoes against a wall finished with a variety of stenciled patterns topped by amber shellac. The stencils are replicas of ones popularized by the itinerant painters Moses Eaton and Moses Eaton Jr. in the early 1800s.
Photo: Gridley + Graves

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


Featured Paint

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME Photo: Gridley + Graves

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.


Floor Plans

1820s Cape Cod remodel, Buxton ME, floor plans Floor plans: Ian Worpole

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.