ABOVE In Prudence and Roger Kiessling’s Alna study, George lounges on original pumpkin-pine floors in front of one of the home’s six fireplaces. On the back wall, a mantel found by the roadside is reimagined as a built-in bookshelf.
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIN LITTLE
On their honeymoon, in 2014, Prudence and Roger Kiessling drove the rural back roads of England, Scotland, and Wales, where the country-house novels Prudence had loved since childhood came to life in mist-cloaked manors that seemed to loom, dreamlike, around every bend. The pair, each beginning a second marriage with a blended family of three young children, was captivated by the Victorian estates passed down for generations. Having moved often as a child, with her nomadic single mother, Prudence was particularly struck. “I had this yearning for a home that felt like a family had been there for a long time,” she says.
ABOVE 1) The great room and kitchen are housed in an addition furnished with rough-hewn timbers; a vintage sheepskin from Portland Flea-for-All adds cushion to an armchair rescued from the Georgetown dump. 2) In the dining room, a hand-carved wall, stripped by previous owners, backdrops an Irish wake table from Portland Flea-for-All draped with an antique tablecloth. 3) The home’s main staircase, trim, and most of its more than 50 doors remain stripped, scuffed, and carved on by centuries of residents. 4) The Kiesslings are only the third non-family owners of the home.
They found it the following year in a 1770 Georgian on 120 acres along the Sheepscot River, in Alna. Known as Kingsford Manor, for its proximity to a ford that led to a road then called King’s Highway, the elegant farmhouse is thought to be one of the oldest homes in Lincoln County. It was built by Moses Carleton, a ship owner, merchant, and revolutionary who reportedly became endeared to the patriots’ cause after the British began marking Alna’s choice pines as the property of King George and shipping them overseas to be made into masts. Perhaps the wealthiest man in the region — legend has it, employees pushed sacks of gold in wheelbarrows to his second home in Wiscasset, where they were stashed in basement chests — Carleton outfitted Kingsford Manor with decorative paneling and fluted pilasters, likely carved by his ships’ carpenters, as well as wallpaper, an extravagance at the time. A neoclassical pattern in an upstairs bedroom was reproduced by New York designer Inez Croom, in the 1960s, and sold as “Head Tide House,” after the historic district in Alna, where Kingsford stands.
ABOVE 1) A geranium soaks up sun beside a great-room window. 2) In the study, photos of the Kiesslings and their family mingle with mid-century pinups and advertisements. 3) In the primary bedroom, an IKEA bed is aged by association with an antique nautical map and a Victorian marble-topped table. 4) An airy shared office occupies the house’s newest wing, added in the 2000s.
The house stayed in the Carleton family until 1956, when it was sold to the first of two non-family owners. By the time Roger noticed it on his drives from the couple’s Bremen home to Boston (via Alna to avoid Wiscasset traffic), for business, Kingsford Manor had been for sale for more than two years. “For like a mile, it’s all you see, this grand Georgian farm with a huge barn on the banks of the river,” says Roger, who, with Prudence, now owns the Damariscotta home-goods store The Kingfisher & The Queen. “I said to Prue, ‘You’ve got to see this cool house.’”
On their first visit, the Kiesslings were jittery. “Roger and I come from modest means,” Prudence says. “And we were like, ‘Did you ever think that we would have the chance to have a house like this?’” The autumn day was crisp and overcast, and Kingsford’s maze of rooms was dark with what Prudence calls “an air of mystery,” underscored by endless curiosities, such as carvings, possibly done by children, of houses, birds, and other symbols on the parlor mantel, and burn marks from centuries-old candles on upstairs shelves. Three months later, the couple had their New England answer to those misty European family homes.
ABOVE 1) The Kiesslings removed worn shutters and painted the Georgian’s gray-green clapboards snowy white. 2) In the parlor, campy portraits of 18th-century elites get star treatment over a second-hand leather sofa. 3) A sewing table from Brunswick’s Cabot Mill Antiques acts as a kitchen island, while a new Carrara-marble countertop from Stone Surface, in Naples, spruces up a built-in.
Thanks to preservation efforts by previous owners and the Kiesslings, Kingsford Manor retains its rugged, lived-in look, with walls, doors, and trim stripped by a former steward subtly contrasting with almost-as-roughed-up pumpkin-pine floors. Against this patinaed backdrop, the couple has layered orphaned heirlooms: A taxidermied stag head lords over a downstairs hallway, an antique copper finial, rescued from the renovation of Québec City’s Le Château Frontenac, decorates a living-room corner, and old family portraits and photos hang throughout the home. “Many are people who aren’t in our family, but look like they could be,” Prudence says. The result is a tapestry of adopted pasts that gives the illusion that this nascent family has been nestled in here for generations.