A new house takes shape inside a historic Munjoy Hill cape.
Seven years ago, Anna Ginn was in Maine to ski with a group of Freeport friends who nick- named themselves the Mamas, because they’d raised their children together. She’d arrived early from New York City, where she worked as the managing director of a philanthropic network focused on global poverty. With her free time, Ginn headed over to the Maine Island Trail Association’s (MITA) Portland office to visit her niece, only to find she was out sick. Ginn could have easily found someone else to visit. She had moved to New York in 2003, but had lived in South Freeport for the previous 25 years, during which time she’d raised a family and served as publisher for the Maine Times and as senior development officer for Coastal Enterprises, Inc. Instead of leaving MITA’s office though, Ginn fell into conversation with a volunteer who was working on marketing and membership. His name was Tom Franklin, and he was a retired lawyer who’d moved to Portland from Boston a decade earlier.
The two had a lot in common. They were community activists and political progressives who loved art, biking, and boating. Ginn hesitated when Franklin invited her to lunch, but not for long. Within the year, they were not only a couple, but owners of a newly renovated home. “We moved quickly. We tell our kids, ‘Don’t do what we did,’” Ginn says. (She and Franklin have six children from their first marriages.) “But when you find the right person, you know it. Just like when you find the right house, you know it.”
In their case, the right house was on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, just down the street from where Franklin was living when he and Ginn met. Originally a modest Cape with an unheated back ell that likely once served as a summer kitchen, the house dated back to 1860. Tom Landry, owner of CornerStone Building and Restoration, and Brewster Buttfield of Prospect Design had just finished a major renovation of the property. The house had lovely details, some obvious from the start and some uncovered during construction, including a graceful curving front staircase and an antique front door with a beveled glass oval window, pebbled and stained-glass sidelights, and decorative cornices. Otherwise, the house was in poor condition when the renovation began and revealed itself to be in even poorer shape as the project unfolded, with rot, mold, slapdash framing, and other problems cropping up daily. The financially savvy move would have been to tear down the original structure. Instead, says Landry, “We built a new house inside the old,” fitting an environmentally sound, contemporary, open-plan home into the original. “The end result of salvaging existing property is that you get creative and a little more unique,” he says. “It’s sort of like poetry: the form leads you to achieving better things.”
Now, the ground floor of the house flows from a sunny, art-filled living room and dining room to a modern kitchen of sleek, sustainable materials, such as concrete for the countertops and caramelized, vertical-grain bamboo for the flat-panel cabinetry and open shelving. A sliding barn door separates the public space from a back den, which has a chic, glass-fronted fireplace with a stainless-steel firebox that runs on ethanol, a clean, non-polluting fuel that requires no venting. The den has a full bath, so it doubles as a guest suite and can be converted to an owners’ bedroom, if single-floor living is ever desired. Upstairs, three bedrooms are fitted below the steeply pitched roof, including an owners’ bedroom with an asymmetrical live-edge teak headboard, part of a bedframe from Paulus Fine Furniture in Harpswell.
The initial furnishings for the house were from Franklin’s previous East End apartment. “I have had Danish modern furniture since the 1960s,” he says. “What a rut I am in.” Happily, Ginn likes midcentury modern, too, and the couple filled in with additional purchases, like a George Nelson bubble lamp for over a round teak dining table, surrounded by black plastic Bellini dining chairs. The couple occasionally combine older pieces with their modern furnishings. The floors have Oriental rugs, and an upstairs guest bedroom has a chest that dates back to Franklin’s childhood. The den has a red leather antique chest from Tibet, a tufted navy Ligne Roset sofa that folds down into a bed, and a Noguchi lamp that hangs from the ceiling and looks like a sculpture of stacked square and rectangular boxes. It is, Franklin says, “the world’s most expensive piece of paper.”
The couple’s art reflects their fondness for Maine artists, contemporary art, and sculpture. The collection includes a bronze figure by Leonard Baskin, which stands by the front staircase; black-and-white portraits by Jack Montgomery, which are displayed on a shelf in the bend of the stairwell; and a Peter Ralston photograph of an island near Mount Desert, over which Eric Hopkins has painted. A large landscape by Ginn’s son, Case Conover, hangs in between the dining and living area and consists of rubber-stamped images piled high and with increasing density to form a large ground on top of which sits a single tree. (One might assume that Ginn brought this piece, which was exhibited in the 2010 Center for Maine Contemporary Art Biennial, to the conjoined household, but Franklin purchased it as a present, thereby supporting, as Ginn notes, son and mother.)
“When I moved onto Munjoy Hill in 2000,” says Franklin, “the average age was 24, and in 2003, we realized we tripled it.” Now, he says, “We see a lot of people like us living on Munjoy Hill. They’ve given up life in the suburbs and come to Portland to seek a more walking-friendly community.”
Although Ginn and Franklin currently travel between New York and Portland, they intend for the Maine city to eventually become their primary home. Ginn never abandoned her commitments to or fondness for the state. “I love the way the air smells in Maine,” she says. She has many friends here and is board chair
of the Maine Media Workshops and College in Rockport. Franklin’s attraction to Maine was originally about boating—the couple has a 28- foot trawler that they keep in South Freeport— but Franklin also appreciates the scale of Maine life and how it affords him the opportunity to stay active with MITA and with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “You can become involved in the community in a significant way without having been born here,” he says.