Creating a home and garden filled with art, show dogs, and happy memories
Below a gold-framed painting of two children playing in water stands a yard-high gong from Thailand. A ceremonial Berber marriage necklace hangs in an enormous frame in the dining room, above penguin sculptures from Argentina. A glowing collection of paperweights from California-based Lundberg Studios sits atop a generously sized coffee table, itself shortened from a dining room table built by James Taylor of York, Maine.
For homeowners Mark Steffen and Randy Price, their Kittery Point home and all that it holds is testimony to nearly 40 years together, with artwork collected from their many travels mixing easily alongside paintings and furniture accumulated during decades spent on the Seacoast.
The house—the couple’s third home in Kittery and fourth in Maine—started out as a temporary residence. “We were going to build a little house nearby,” says Price, co-anchor of WCVB Boston’s “Eye Opener” early morning newscast. “We were going to downsize; we were going to have a simpler existence.” But when their previous home sold and they had no plans for building a new one, they rented the current spot. “All of a sudden we changed our minds,” says the Louisiana native. “This was a small house and we’d fallen in love with it, even though it was terrible at the time.”
Perhaps it was the location that swayed them. The Gerrish Island house is uphill from Crescent Beach, with a sweeping, rocky shoreline falling away below the owners’ newly planted flower gardens and native grasses. They also have views of Cutts Island, Boon Island, and the Isles of Shoals. “On certain days you can see the windows in the building” at the Isles of Shoals, says Minnesota-born Steffen, the retired CEO of a medical malpractice insurance company and consultant.
When the previous owner died, her children decided to sell the house. Price and Steffen were ready to buy it and make major changes to the 1973 structure. “Nothing about it was appealing,” Price says. “It was a mouse hotel. We liked the floor plan, but it was so boring from the outside.”
Like many who go through a major remodel—the project took a year and a half—the homeowners are delighted with the end result and can laugh about ordeals along the way. “It would probably have been faster and more economical to tear down the house, but we were living here,” Price says. Steffen still cringes at the memories of those mice displaced during the renovation while they slept just down the hall.
Paul Gosselin of Salmon Falls Architecture helped the homeowners update the bland exterior, which now combines a midcentury feel with an Asian influence. Gosselin began by reconfiguring the entrance, giving Steffen and Price the opportunity to create a play area for their six American cocker spaniels. The couple has bred and shown the breed internationally for years. The site was excavated, walled, fenced, and protected from winter winds. It is central to the front garden and a welcoming sight for friends entering the house. Behind the house, an expansive screened porch sat on pipes that were in poor shape. The couple hired Chase Construction of North Berwick, Maine, to pump concrete under the foundation and build foundation walls in order to transform the porch into a year-round part of the home.
Windows were changed and enlarged, making stunning ocean views more accessible. A section of wall between the kitchen and the dining room was removed to modernize the space and open views to the ocean that were not there before. “It gave us a nice sweep down to the beach when we came in” the front of the home, Price says. Behind the kitchen, three closets were turned into a combined butler’s pantry and laundry room. The home’s overall footprint did not change, and it is only in the bathrooms that they are aware of space limitations. Price still manages to find a silver lining. “We came up with efficiencies in the bathrooms that we would not have done,” he says. “It charted us in a direction we would not have gone.”
While Price focused on the building, Steffen, a skilled gardener, led the charge on the yard. After stripping away weeds and woody vegetation, he discovered a massive ledge formation. With a tractor and weeks of picking, scraping, power blowing, and washing, he transformed the property’s entrance. Neighbors marveled at the change. Price kids Steffen that one of his best gardening creations has little to do with plants.
In the lush landscape, hostas, hydrangeas, ferns, daylilies, and dahlias compete for glory, along with planters full of exuberant cigar plant, verbena, coleus, ornamental grass, and other striking specimens. A fountain, Buddhas, and granite and kinetic sculptures add welcoming accents, while a low retaining wall and several chairs and benches furnish seats for enjoying the garden and the views. A row of ‘Green Giant’ arborvitaes offers additional privacy, and an Asian-influenced garden shed in the same black and tan tones of the home creates a focal point at the end of a sinuous garden path. Behind the house, a small yard slopes down to native grasses that Steffen found online; their sage tints blend harmoniously into the beach rock and seaweeds they abut.
Inside, the men—who did all their own decorating—were extremely mindful of their surroundings. “This is the first house we’ve ever had with neutral colors,” Price says. The flooring used throughout the home is a sand-toned tile, chosen for its texture and ability to hide dirt or sand tracked inside, from Eldredge Lumber’s Atlantic Design Center. While the old fireplace was red brick, the new one combines egg-shaped stones Steffen collected from the beach clustered around the base of a stainless steel, propane firebox, a bird’s eye maple mantel, and a pebbled surround that took weeks to install. “It kind of mimics the beach,” he says.
Paintings by regional artists cover the walls. Most reflect the shoreline and waves outside the windows. A painting of two children playing in the sand is by York, Maine-based artist Stan Moeller, one of several by the artist that the couple owns. A still life in the kitchen is by Seacoast painter Lisa Noonis, while a light-filled painting of crashing waves by Kittery Point artist Wendy Turner hangs over the master bed.
Their collection of international art is also part of the décor—the two travel extensively, including visits to Greece, the Netherlands, Morocco, Cambodia, and Thailand. A mirror in the entry is from Morocco, and on a Kenyan safari they traded a camera for an elaborate wall carving of African animals. Buddha statues collected in Southeast Asia are
found both inside and out, and glass from the Czech Republic is on display.
Throughout the kitchen and the butler’s pantry, the granite countertops came from Morningstar Stone and Tile of Topsham, Maine, and were chosen with the surrounding landscape in mind. “It’s so organic with the outside stone,” Steffen says. When he first looked at the granite, he saw a sample that was polished and, Steffen thought, too busy. When he and Price returned to look at it again, they bought it, but instead of choosing a polished finish, they selected a brushed finish, which gives the granite a matte, leathery surface that better reflects the shoreline. Its use in the backsplash adds to the clean and simple feel of the space. Chase Construction did the maple cabinetry with ribbed glass in its milling shop, the Webhannet Co. Depending upon the time of year, a bouquet from their flower gardens, perhaps daisies, lilies, or dahlias, adds color the otherwise neutral space. It is Steffen who takes advantage of the Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf six-burner stove, and Miele dishwasher. “Mark cooks all the time,” Price says. “His thing is giving away flowers and food.”
From the kitchen and entryway, a hall leads to the bedrooms and baths. Although the hall bathroom is narrow, neutral colors and a window to the sea make it feel larger and more open. Price and Steffen adapted mosaic tile and border layout ideas from Atlantic Design Center, working with a soothing palette of grays and beiges. The whole design was produced to order in Turkey, a process that took many months. “We think the suspended cabinets and lighting on the floor gave us the splash that we wanted in those small spaces,” Price says.
In the master bedroom, the window was enlarged to provide a stunning view to the gardens and sea. Numerous artworks, ranging from images of crashing waves to farmhouses, surround a Thos. Moser bed. The guest room also contains a bed made in Maine, but this one is by Doug Green and has nearly a dozen paintings, depicting boats, fields, flowers, and porches surrounding it.
The couple uses a third bedroom as a large closet with a center island, shelves, and hanging space lining the walls. Price says the carpentry in the closet sits on top of the tile floor, so a future homeowner can easily return the space to a bedroom. For the news anchor, having a large and easily accessible closet was a necessity.
Both Price and Steffen enjoy the home they have created and the place where they have landed, far from previous abodes in Minnesota, Louisiana, California, and Boston. They have long admired the quirkiness and down-to-earth nature of coastal Maine. Now they have a modern house filled with beauty and happy memories, thanks to the makeover that took it well beyond its former life as a mouse hotel.