ABOVE On the stairway in the front hall, an intricately carved newel post.
TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHS BY KEVIN BENNETT
Llori Kierstead furnishes her home with 19th-century exuberance and charm.
Don’t even look at the house,” Scott Keirstead teased his wife, Llori, when the Towle Farm next to their family’s potato fields in Presque Isle went on the market in 1984. “It’s got the original tin ceilings, pantry, and hardwood floors. So don’t even look, because every time you say something, the price is going to go up.” Llori looked, of course. “I was blown away,” she says. She loves old houses, and this one, built in 1857 by farmer Daniel Duff, had been little changed since 1902, when the Towles’ forebears moved in. Plus, she says, the house was “dirt cheap.” The Keirsteads bought it, doubling the size of their farm to nearly 240 acres, and, bit by bit, they set about preserving and furnishing their farmhouse in country-Victorian style.
PARLOR GRAND PIANO
The Keirsteads found this parlor grand piano in an abandoned farmhouse and bought it from the property owner for $100 (he was going to burn it!). Most of the Keirsteads’ improvements to the house have been cosmetic and catching up on deferred maintenance. The tin ceiling, for example, was stained and sagging from water damage, so the Keirsteads hired a craftsman to repair and repaint it.
The original builder knew a thing or two about siting a house, Llori says. Consider the porch: “It faces south. In summer, when the sun is high, we never get direct sun. In winter, when the sun is low on the horizon, it heats the downstairs. We can sit in the living room without turning on the heat.” The second story was added in 1902, by the Kitchen family.
The Keirsteads haven’t been rigid about their Victorian restoration. The kitchen was among the first rooms they tackled, and they were more interested in function than faithful reproduction. The maple floors are original, but otherwise, it’s been renovated for modern appliances, good lighting, ample storage, and flow. Cabinets were chosen to match the wainstcoting. “It’s a lot of wood,” Llori says, “and you’re either put off by that or you love it.”
Most of the house’s woodwork, including this built-in china cabinet, is original, and, lucky for the Keirsteads, none of it had ever been painted. To give the dining room a warm, rich ambiance, they installed tall, paneled wainscoting, stained to match this cabinet, on all four walls. The reproduction Windsor chair was handcrafted by Mapleton furniture maker Terry Kelly.
One of four bedrooms, this room is a good example of country-Victorian tastes: flamboyant window treatments, wallpaper instead of paint, layered table linens, oriental rugs, and tall, four-poster beds. The mattress on this bed sits so high, the Keirsteads have set a stool next to it.
The double living room has two distinct spaces connected by a wide, pillared pass-through. This side is furnished with several chairs and a couch. Designed to complement the stained glass, the silk swags and valances were made by Presque Isle seamstress Lucy Nelson. The other side of the living room is occupied by the piano and a sofa. Llori has selected period furnishings with the house’s deep history in mind. “There have been weddings and funerals in this house. Children have been born here, and people have died here. But there are no ghosts — at least, I haven’t seen any yet.”