‘Elegance is Refusal’ has long been one of my favorite quotes—first uttered by Coco Chanel, later appropriated by Diana Vreeland, I repeated it often through the last two decades of excess, as I saw too many buildings and landscapes, perfect in themselves, altered and renovated beyond reason by people who simply could not resist the human temptation to ‘improve’—add a bit of shrubbery here, add a great room there—for whatever reasons: to mark something with an manufactured idea of comfort and status. Restraint, suitability and understatement have been sadly missing from the dialogue.

These photos are from a real estate website. They are of a simple saltwater farm, long used as a summer residence, on exclusive North Haven Island off the mid-Maine coast. The house honors a fast-disappearing and classic vision of Maine, spare and ascetic, as I grew to love it, and as it guided and marked my own aesthetic growing up. The property seems a bargain—for $1,875,000 one gets “A classically beautiful saltwater farm in a desirable location on North Haven’s eastern shore, this property encompasses over 90 acres with woods, meadows, and 580± feet of waterfront with a wonderful wide pebble beach. Approached via a private lane, the historic three-bedroom Cape sits amidst open fields in a pastoral and secluded setting with long views to the northeast, offering the charm and simplicity of a historic island farmhouse. The shorefront on East Penobscot Bay offers spectacular views of the islands, and there is an excellent potential building site near the shore.”

It it not far fetched, as such properties have gone in recent years, to suppose that the new owner will either renovate the farmhouse—which I like to imagine with curtainless windows, painted floors and simple scrubbed furniture, sea glass collected from the beach laid out on windowsills to catch the light—adding the usual overscaled, over-windowed ‘barn’ room with super-kitchen, or perhaps build a new cottage, no doubt in a painfully overworked shingle style reproduction on the ‘excellent potential building site near the shore’.

My family has a tiny cottage on the beach on a peninsula near here. The peninsula was pure magic in the summer. The landscape was entirely made up of such farms, lovingly and simply kept, some by summer families, some still hardscrabble farmed by the families who had long owned them….old stone walls, meadows to the ocean, hedgerows of steeplebush and fragrant wild roses constituted the landscape. One by one these breathtaking properties are being broken up for smaller summer properties. The formula almost never varies: a section of field or wood is leveled, a driveway with gateposts is built, a square of lawn is created, and a very suburban house is plopped in the middle, usually landscaped within an inch of its life. In short, a landscape that once evoked the best of Maine now increasingly evokes Scarsdale.

Don’t get me wrong–I am far from against change. Nor am I even against grandeur, in its place–quite the opposite—I’m as happy as the next architectural tourist to visit Newport and imagine myself for a few minutes the grandson of robber barons rather than farmers and sea captains. No, what I’m against is banality, insensitivity, and pretension and cheapness. As I’ve said in a previous rant on the subject, If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

And maybe I’ll be proven wrong—maybe this place will be purchased by some artistic soul who loves and understands it just as it is. And maybe Sarah Palin will go back to Alaska.

Pictures from Landvest.com


I am currently unable to upload pictures from the new version of Blogger editor. The ‘help’ section, of course, is an oxymoron. Anybody else?