I grew up on the Massachusetts coast in a picturesque seaside town—the kind of Hollywood-ready, little town founded by Colonial settlers whose ships sailed in the wake of the Mayflower. Founders’ descendants still lived in the white-and-black Colonials lining both sides of Main Street, with spindle-legged furniture and touches of pewter. There were salt-stained homes with starfish décor near the harbor, and inland homes with floral upholstery and horse paintings. Our house was different.
A former summer home built in the 1920s for a wealthy Bostonian, our home sat toward the top of a hill above the harbor, with casement windows that swung open to let in the salty air, Spartan old chauffeur’s quarters tacked onto the garage, and just enough insulation to keep the original owner cozy on cool summer nights. We moved there in 1985, charmed by the house’s porches and molding, and intent on relieving it of the former owners’ anachronistic handiwork. When they left, they’d taken the bongo drums and carved wooden figurines once clustered around the brick fireplace, but we still had to contend with the dining room’s velvet flocked wallpaper, and the Jacuzzi room (a mid-’80s must-have), which teetered precariously over the back porch with a slate tile floor and a leaky four-person tub, all watched over by a papier-mâché parrot….