A Fryeburg Kitchen Rises From the Ashes
After a tragedy, a benevolent designer helps a family build anew.
ABOVE After Saco Valley firefighters rescued the Dickinson family (below) from a blaze in their Fryeburg farmhouse, a former Saco Valley firefighter-turned-kitchen-designer helped them rebuild their cookspace with snowy shiplap walls, cabinetry, and a quartz countertop juxtaposed with maple butcher-block countertops, a pine window seat, and a salvaged barn-wood table.
TEXT BY JOYCE KRYSZAK
PHOTOGRAPHED BY SEAN LITCHFIELD
Rolling out German Christmas stollen is a tradition Chelsy Dickinson’s family, handed down by her grandfather, who taught her how to bake. After he passed away, Chelsy, her mother, and her grandmother continued to gather in Chelsy’s Fryeburg kitchen to turn out dozens of the fruity loaves. In December of 2020, they baked together for the last time in Chelsy and her husband Andy’s newly remodeled cookspace.
Five days after Christmas that year, a fire broke out in a cow shelter attached to the Dickinsons’ 1860s farmhouse. Saco Valley firefighters saved the couple, their son, Asa, their pets, and a visiting friend, but the blaze ravaged the south side of the home, including the new kitchen, and smoke and water damage claimed most of their belongings. Chelsy’s grandfather’s recipe book was among the few items they were able to save. “It will probably always smell like smoke, but I don’t care,” she says.
Over the next 15 months, while reconstruction dragged on, the family roamed from rental to rental. During the same period, Andy’s mother and Chelsy’s grandmother died. Numb from loss, Chelsy lamented on social media. Designer Hannah Guilford, a former Saco Valley firefighter whose first job was scooping ice cream in Chelsy’s grandparents’ store, responded to the post, asking how she could help. “I just felt a calling,” Guilford says, “especially after they had experienced what it was like to get a dream kitchen, and then have it taken away.”
If the couple’s last kitchen realized a dream, the one Guilford helped them achieve — by donating her design time and selling them high-end Merrilat cabinetry, from Heart and Hammer’s showroom, at cost — exceeded it. To create a clean, but cozy, look on an insurance-policy budget, Guilford balanced alabaster cabinets, shiplap walls, and a quartz countertop (Chelsy’s splurge) with warm maple butcher-block countertops from Lowe’s, vinyl “elm” flooring, and a table made by Andy from salvaged barn wood. “You don’t need to buy the most expensive options,” Guilford says. “You just need to know how to use things.”
Working in her crisp new space, Chelsy says she can still feel her grandmother’s presence. “She would have absolutely loved this kitchen! She’d be drinking coffee, watching me bake, stealing bites just like she used to.”