Tour This Colorful, Historic Maine Beach Cottage
Interior designer Leslie Rylee is the best kind of friend—which is to say, one who shares her greatest finds. In this case, it was letting her New York City neighbors in on her summer getaway discovery: a beach town on the southern coast of Maine with significant laid-back charm. The couple and their three young children leapt at the inspiration, headed north, and fell in love with the rhythms of relaxing days at the beach; long bike rides; and sailing, golf, and tennis lessons for the kids. When Rylee learned the family was searching for their own place, she quickly called them about an 1887 Shingle-style cottage newly on the market.
"I told them I'd found their next home," she says. "It had been in the same family for-ever, and it's a house I've always loved—full of soul and quirky details, and just a five-minute bike ride to a gorgeous, sandy beach."
Pictured: This late 19th-century Shingle-style cottage captured the heart of a young family, who honored the past while making the interiors bright.
Rylee, along with builder Steve Murphy, went to work infusing the New England classic with fresh style and function for the young family. "We preserved the historic details," says Murphy, who kept the cottage's original flooring, windows, doors, and woodwork, blending architectural salvage and carefully reproduced millwork where needed.
And while the team wanted the home to serve the present-day needs of a busy family, "we didn't want it to feel slick and suburban," Rylee says. Allowing the floors to remain uneven and quirky, she says, was one way to keep the home grounded in its history.
Pictured: On the screened porch, vintage wicker furnishings evoke the past. Half-hull boat models—hung as a dimensional border near the ceiling—lend nautical New England charm.
Two other original features so charmed Rylee that she advocated keeping them intact: fish-scale shingles lining several interior walls, and a band of sand dollars rimming the living room and entryway. "The previous owners would find sand dollars on the beach and make them part of the house," she says. "It's a wonderful bit of tradition that the new family plans to continue."
With the home's historic character on firm footing, Rylee brightened things up with crisp white walls and sunny bursts of color. "The house was dark downstairs, with the exception of the porch and kitchen," she says. "It's a summerhouse, so we wanted it to feel summery but at the same time warm. We introduced pops of bright color everywhere, so it's a house where you want to be in every room."
Pictured: Original wood shingles wrapped the living room in darkness until white paint brightened the space. French blue on the draperies and a ship's lantern fixture add refreshing color.
Rylee worked to play rugs and fabrics in crisp geometrics along vintage-inspired florals, creating a feeling both new and nostalgic. A lively mix of fixtures continues the dynamic rhythm, making the home feel timeless and forever young. At night, Rylee notes, when the porch's three star-shaped fixtures come to life, they emit a beautiful glow. "It's a moment that reminds me this house remains full of life."
Pictured: Bistro chairs, smartly dressed in colorful zigzag stripes, contrast with the antique kitchen table. Pale green paint softens the imperfections in the original wood floor.
In the expanded kitchen, window frames and interior doors in coral help distinguish the work core from the family dining area.
Painting stair balusters white helped lighten the space and highlight a wave detail at the top of each spindle.
Rylee softened the walls in the dining room with a blush hue and checkerboard-painted the wood floor for a playful sense of drama. Sand dollar–patterned fabric on the windows is a nod to local beach bounty.
Custom built-in bunk beds maximize floor space in an odd-shaped bedroom where standard twin beds wouldn't fit.
Rylee makes use of an alcove off the entry-way for an inviting desk that's perfect for postcard writing.
Curtains and a rug in cheery lavender honor the burgeoning tastes of a purple-loving child, while a Victorian-inspired headboard is an architectural detail that will grow up alongside her.
The homeowners wanted the master bedroom to feel like a serene sanctuary. White walls with accents of lapis and yellow-green make the space fresh and inviting.
A sleeping porch, open to Maine summer breezes, has a cozy daybed that becomes the ideal spot for reading with children or taking an afternoon nap.