Treasures From Their Past Found a Home Here
Following a tragedy, a family finds a Waterville Foursquare is a surprisingly good fit.
ABOVE Julianne Gilland and her 14-year-old son, Sam, sit at the kitchen’s Saarinen dining table, a surprise gift from her late husband/his dad, Max Withers, who also built the bookshelf. “That was one of those pieces where I was like, ‘Oh my god, it fits perfectly,’” Gilland says. She matched new quartz countertops to the Calacatta marble on the table and, after trying a different color, repainted the trim the yellow it was when she moved in. “It feels sunny and unexpected and like a nice homage to a past iteration of the house.”
TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIN LITTLE
From the October 2022 issue of Down East magazine
Shortly after moving from Oakland, California, to Austin, Texas, with their twin boys, Julianne Gilland and Max Withers began dreaming about heading northeast. Withers grew up in Massachusetts, and the couple had a fondness for Maine, where his parents retired. “We concluded that Texas was not where we wanted to stay,” says Gilland, who hails from San Antonio. Then, after Withers died suddenly of cancer, in 2016, Gilland says, “it felt like the right thing to do, to follow through on that conclusion.” The following year, she became deputy director of Waterville’s Colby College Museum of Art, and the family moved into an in-town 1900 Foursquare with the mid-century furniture she and Withers had acquired together. “Do you remember in the novel Howards End when the caretaker unpacks the furniture in the house and [protagonist] Margaret marvels at how everything fits perfectly, like it was meant to be? I had that feeling when I moved in here,” Gilland says.
Gilland loves the home’s elaborate turn-of-the-century woodwork — “probably the fancy elements from the Sears catalog” — and found it complements her streamlined mid-century furnishings. The vintage walnut sideboard and Baumritter chair are from her favorite local shop, Waterville’s Modern Underground.
Gilland fell for the house — lovingly cared for by the same couple for decades — online. After visiting, “I was ready to buy it on the spot.” When the butter-yellow shingles needed repainting, she went with Behr’s Undersea, a dark shade like she’d seen in an early photograph. “It was definitely something people noticed when I did it; I got lots of good comments.”
Despite being sequestered at the north end of the house, the kitchen is bright, thanks to a large window here and in the dining room beyond, and new snowy cabinets, countertops, and subway tile. Beneath two layers of linoleum, Gilland discovered original maple flooring in pristine condition. “I love sitting here and having my coffee at my beautiful table [previous page], which was our one big, fancy purchase in our first home.”
A vintage trio, comprising a Julio Le Parc op-art print, Withers’s record player (atop a Target cabinet), and a Charles Pfister lounge chair that, along with its twin and a matching sofa (opposite) came from Enron’s former Houston headquarters, juxtaposes with an 18th-century Peruvian traveling chest. A wedding gift to Gilland’s parents, “it’s got layers of meaning for me, given my dad’s family’s history of travel [as Mexican immigrants] and my own path as a historian.”
Gilland’s and Withers’s books (he worked in academic publishing) flank the living-room windows and pick up the shades in the bright Mexican pillow covers. “I’m not convinced that my sons will want to read that book about the later Roman Empire, but I want them to have the option of seeing it and having that be a way to get a sense of their dad,” Gilland says.
“All of these things have traveled through three homes with me,” Gilland says: a circa 1960s Danish teak console (topped with an Italian marble lamp from Modern Underground and ceramics collected on trips); a 1970s Danish teak dining table and circa 1960 teak Hans Wegner chairs (atop FLOR carpet tiles); and a giant 1972 Dorothy Cutter painting from an Oakland warehouse sale. “I remember on my old flip phone, sending a picture to my husband and saying, ‘What do you think?’ And he was like, ‘No, but get it if you like it.’ Much to my delight, it often gets comments from people who love it, and I used to really enjoy giving him the knowing look. He liked that I like it.”