By Colin W. Sargent
“There will be no gold records on the wall.”
–Singer/songwriter Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates, viz. “Sara Smile,” “Kiss On My List,” and “Maneater”) has always had a passion for antique homes.
Restoration buffs are buzzing about singer/songwriter Daryl Hall’s recent purchase of the oldest house in Maine. The hammer price at auction for the John Bray House at Kittery’s Pepperrell Point was just under $2 million.
How did you feel when you first personally toured this house?
My first impression was, ‘how English,’ as opposed to Colonial American. I know this because I’ve just finished renovating a 1740 house in London, in Hammersmith. For example, I was surprised to find high plaster ceilings in this 345-year-old structure in Kittery, which make it more akin to an English house than an American Colonial house. The house is oak beamed. There are no chamfered beams and things indicative of a 17th-century house in most places in America. It was built ahead of its time.
Was this first excursion up here before the auction?
Just before. I subscribe to Antiques and The Arts Weekly, an antiques magazine in Newtown, Connecticut, and they have a small real estate section in the back. I just happened to see, coming up for auction, “the oldest house in Maine,” and I was intrigued. So I asked an architect I know, Analee Cole, to go up to look at the house and just kind of describe it to me–you know, do some research, take some pictures–and when she came back all excited, describing this great house in good nick–English slang for “in good shape”–with beautiful views, I came up a week later and saw what I saw. I really liked the old village it was in; I’d never really seen that part of Kittery before. I loved the age of the house, number one. I felt drawn to something there.
This is starting to sound like a ghost story.
A house really does have a feeling. I’m a soul singer; a house can have a bad soul, good soul, and no soul, but believe me, when a house does have a soul you can feel it. I think of ownership of a house in this way: You may have contemporary control over your house, but it has an existence of its own.
Can you describe your views of Pepperrell Cove?
When John Bray, who was a shipwright, built this house in 1662, he had his choice of any building site he wanted, and he picked well. It has a lot of shore frontage. Today, looking out over the cove, you see various islands, lighthouses, and the south-facing view is great–good for the weather.
Where’s your favorite spot in the house or grounds–a magic spot?
I think the parlor is my favorite right now. It’s where William Pepperrell, who built his mansion three doors away, and John Bray’s daughter were married in 1680. It’s elegant, cozy, with a great outlook into the cove.
You’re already channeling the former owners! Do you feel you have to connect in some way with them in order to restore it correctly?
I’ve been doing a lot of research. Luckily, the people who have owned this house have passed its story through the generations. I have in my possession just about every article written about it, and the people in it, dating to the 1880s. I have a lot about the configuration of the house in its original state and documents about what’s happened over the last 300 years.
As far as changes are concerned, I’m not going to touch the original part of the house. A general store was built on an adjacent lot around 1830 that they later attached as a wing in the 1920s, and an outdoor porch turned into an indoor porch about the same time. Those are the things that I’m going to address.
So many people think of you as having this cool and contemporary side–is your love for early architecture a hidden part of you?
It’s been there all along. Besides, I don’t look at myself as a very contemporary person. When you’re popular you may be contemporary in your popularity, but in everything I do I have always shot for things that are timeless emotions. Not that I have always succeeded. But I value things by how far they go beyond the contemporary.
If you had lived contemporary with the Bray House, do you think you’d still have been a singer/songwriter?
I would have been a musician in any period in time if I had grown up in my family of musicians. Musicians and carpenters and bricklayers, actually. My father built the house I grew up in, my mother was a musician, and I was a singer in a band.
How much time will you spend up here?
Somewhere between living and visiting– that’s my life! I’ve always been a road person. My career takes me all over the world, but at the same time I like to have my feet on the ground. So all sorts of times in the summer, fall, and spring, I’ll be up in Kittery, living there. It’s only a three-hour drive from two other homes I’m restoring near Millbrook, New York. They were built in 1771 and 1780.
So you’re up here now, puttering around, sampling the local crustaceans…
I had a lobster roll the other day. I love all kinds of seafood, shellfish.
What part of the Bray house has been most neglected?
None of it has really been neglected, but someone has renovated the east side of the house, always the unknown part of the house, less than well. That’s probably the most altered part of the house. The documents get more vague when they get to “the east side lean-to with chambers above…”
When was your first-ever visit to Maine?
In the 1970s I guess. We did a rehearsal above Portland somewhere. I’ve played Portland a few times; it’s a very distinct place, not like anywhere else in New England. I really like it a lot, but for one reason or another it hasn’t often turned up for me on tour.
Have any high-profile buddies of yours ever joked with you about this musty passion of yours?
I don’t really talk to my contemporaries that much. Musicians seem to stay in their own solar systems. The guys in my band have known about it all along and don’t find it unusual at all. It’s funny. I look at Architectural Digest and see various musicians pictured with their houses and they always look like they’re in hotel rooms–mansions and hotel rooms–and that’s not me. [Laughs] There won’t be any gold records on the walls in the Bray House.
Are there songs people should steer away from if they visit you?
Any song I’ve written or am writing–don’t sing. I hear that too often in my head. I’ll be coming to Maine to get away.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever revealed while peeling back some old wallpaper or fixing a wall in one of these old homes you’re restoring?
In Dutchess County, New York, I took a house apart piece by piece to restore it. It had been owned by the Bates family from 1771. Finally, after the last of the Bateses died, the caretaker sold it to me. Dismantling it, I found, in the walls, a gray, mummified cat.
I told the caretaker about it. She said, “This house was called ‘the gray cat house’ because a legend passed down through the Bates family says that a gray cat will always live here. When one dies, another will appear out of the woods.” I sort of humored her and went back to putting up the beams. A few weeks later, out of the woods, came a gray kitten. I call her Miss Gray. She hasn’t left since.
Some people like old homes because they miss their parents, or grandparents, or the whole gorgeous sense of a past that just gets discarded like a Handi Wipe. Who are you looking for in your past with these houses?
I grew up with a very close sense of history on both sides of my family. We have family furniture and bibles that date to the early 1700s. I’ve lived with a sense of history all my life. [Pause] I’ve watched stone Pennsylvania farmhouses turning into fields full of Mc Mansions and shopping centers and all the crap you see out here. Finding the value of things that might otherwise go to waste [it’s rumored that the underbidder for the 345-year-old Bray House was considering tearing it down] and recovering them, it’s the way people should naturally live. People should live in small, natural, village- like environments, where they get to know each other and are connected to the land and progress is stimulated. I’m very Jeffersonian about that. You can progress toward something better. You don’t always have to progress toward something worse.