Owners of an Eisenhower-era ranch discover what’s old is cool again.
Photographed by Jared Kuzia
From the October 2017 issue of Down East magazine.
In the 1960s, guests could enter Bill and Kate Corrigall’s Portland home through a basement door, grab a drink at a white-and-gold mosaic-tiled bar, and proceed to a carpeted dance floor furnished with a built-in wooden bench. Wall speakers pumped in hi-fi sound from an upstairs stereo, and industrial-style exhaust fans inhaled clouds of cigarette smoke. And if the Soviets decided to ruin the fun? Partygoers could retreat to a concrete-lined bomb shelter located on the other side of a wood-paneled wall.
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“We’re the ugly stepchild in the neighborhood — it’s the 1940s Colonials and us,” says Kate, who matched the original woodwork with items such as an Eames-style rocker and a yard-sale dining table. The kitchen got new tile, hardware, lighting, and appliances.
The 1958 ranch has many of the features that today’s homeowners covet.
At least, that’s what the Corrigalls have inferred based on their cellar’s infrastructure and accounts from neighbors. “We aren’t sure when the downstairs was finished, but it definitely has a Mad Men vibe,” says Bill, a real estate broker who saw potential in the 1958 ranch when the couple was looking at properties eight years ago. “There was so much space — close to 3,000 square feet when you count the basement — it seemed like a great family home.”
A tougher sell was the house’s midcentury styling, including a low-slung exterior with deep roof overhangs, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, and birch paneling in nearly every room. “We had been living in a 1920s condo in Boston with crown molding and a built-in china cabinet, and I pictured something similar here,” Kate says. But the couple soon came around to the modernist design, which has many of the features that today’s homeowners covet: a spacious, flowing layout, a central stone fireplace, tall windows that invite the landscape in, and built-in furnishings throughout.
There are so many built-ins, in fact, that the house required few freestanding storage pieces. Louvered-door console tables line the entryway and dining room, which also has a built-in bar cabinet with a fold-up counter. The bureaus in 4-year-old Maeve and 6-year-old Nolan’s rooms are integrated with the paneling, and the kitchen cupboards continue into the mudroom/laundry area. The hearth has a raised compartment for wood and ledges for knickknacks. Even the coir doormat has its own niche in the entry’s slate flooring.
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Playful elements abound: brightly colored laminate flooring in the kids’ rooms, chalkboard paint in the kitchen, the living area’s play structure/cat palace. The living room also features wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a reconstructed deck and an outdoor shower that Bill crafted. “Only one neighbor can maybe see in,” he says with a laugh.
The house needed updates, Bill says, but “we’ve tried to stay within the period.” Fresh coats of gray-green on the formerly brown-and-cream exterior make the home look “mid-century modern rather than stuck in the mid-century,” Kate says. In the kitchen, the couple matched the original maple cabinetry and white laminate countertops with pale-gray walls accented with black chalkboard paint beneath a chair rail and behind a set of open shelves. New mosaic-tile backsplashes distill the room’s palette.
Quirky elements also remain, like the lighted closet with a perforated metal panel in the basement that the couple calls “the confessional.” On an adjacent wall, a square recess houses a pair of phone jacks — “for a bookie, maybe, or someone with the nuclear code, and there was a red phone and a black phone,” Kate jokes. Something beyond groovy parties, she says, “definitely happened down here.”