We Saw the Harbor Lights

I’ve written extensively about decorator show houses on this blog and I’ve even bragged that one day I will write the ultimate tome on the topic. Who loves decorator show houses more than me? I’m sorry to say there is no Wikipedia entry, providing a definitive definition of this post-modern phenomenon. When I was the co-chair and cheerleader for the 2006 Junior League of Boston’s Decorator Show House, I liked to rally the troops with such quips as “it’s like inviting men and women into your very own 4,000 square foot home. Isn’t it fantastic,” and “154 years of architectural history, 30 decorator spaces, 5 minutes from Harvard Square…it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Last Friday, expired license and all, I sped away to York, Maine to visit the 25th Annual Decorator Show House at 9 Harbor Lights Way. Gina Mason rode shotgun. We got on the last shuttle to the house and we knew we’d have to be quick if we wanted to take it all in before the house closed.

Harbor Lights had all the ingredients to be a show house for the ages. The shingle-style house, built in 1906 as a summer house for then-New Hampshire governor Frank Rollins, sits on a secluded lane. Cozily nestled in the pines, the house looks out over York Harbor. It was allegedly the filming location for a made for Tee Vee movie, The Gathering, Part II.

The house had the bones…meticulously restored floors, a hallway and landing perfect for dramatic dinner party entrances, and a back staircase for making graceful exits.

The designers had stylized each room with rich paint effects, elegant carpets, and the occasional tricky maneuver, like the diagonal bed placement.

Gina and I floated from room to room, examining furniture, draperies, and color schemes. Before we knew it, we were on the Georgie McGowan-designed open porch. Oh, how good it would have been to sit on the all-weather sofa and sip a Moxie before boarding the shuttle.

Not an option.

The year after my work on the Junior League of Boston’s Cambridge show house, I lamented the League’s lack of an annual house to my co-chair. I was shocked and shocked when she said something like:

“I’m over show houses. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly lovely way to raise money. I’m just over it.”

Dang ShowhouseAs Gina and I were driving north into the Maine Turnpike dusk last Friday, she asked me what I thought about the show house.

“I think I’m over show houses. Don’t get me wrong, they’re perfectly lovely ways to raise money. But I think I’m over them.”

I hope Gina wasn’t shocked and shocked.

I’ve analyzed and compared the available historical data. Right after the completion of the 2006 Junior League Show House, my co-chair and her husband bought a house of their own. She got busy sanding, peeling, painting and flufferizing her very own show house. It’s a lot of work to create a comfortable and livable home and her renovations were significant. The Herculean tasks behind the glamour had taken its toll on her, perhaps.

What about me? Why, I’ve just bought a show house of my own, too. My renovation plans aren’t huge, but there’s a lot to do to put things in their place and flufferize my old house on a hill. Could this be the reason that I, too, was “over” it?

This is the type of existential question I pose to my readers today. I don’t call this occasional Friday column “The Talk of the Toile” for nothing. As is my pattern, I don’t have any answers…just a lamentable aesthetic quandary scuttling around the cranium, dimly lit by the gauzy Harbor Lights.

The Museums of Old York’s Designer Show House at Harbor Lights ends tomorrow, Saturday, August 16, 2014. Hours run from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The last ticket will be sold at 3:30 p.m. at The Parsons Center, 3 Lindsay Road, in York, Maine. The cost is $25.

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