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HOMEOWNERS - Bob and Juanita Topper

LOCATION - The Camden Maine Stay in Camden, Maine

BUILT - 1802, remodeled 1840s and c. 1870, 20th-century updates

ACQUIRED - June 2002

LIVING SPACE - 11,500 square-foot main house, 1,800 square-foot living quarters

BEDROOMS - Eight in main house, two in living quarters

PROPERTY - Nearly two acres

STYLE - A picturesque mix of Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic, and Italianate

CONSTRUCTION - Post-and-beam with pine clapboards and slate roof

FAVORITE ROOM - The sun porch on a snowy morning

HER FAVORITE PASTIMES - Quilting, cross-stitch, needlepoint, working in the garden

HIS FAVORITE PASTIMES - Skiing, sailing, and tinkering with their antique mahogany Chris-Craft

The Kitchen

Lxururious Living Room

Camden, Maine — Bob and Juanita Topper are hospitable by nature, so it came as no surprise to their friends when, a couple of years ago, they began looking into the possibility of purchasing a bed-and-breakfast somewhere in Vermont, Cape Cod, or Maine. Though Bob's work had led them to put down stakes in Arkansas, they were eager to reconnect with their New England roots. After contacting realtors in each area, they set about visiting all the listings that interested them.

"It was fate that brought us here," says Juanita. And it's true: every road they took during their week-long tour seemed to lead to the same destination. One realtor told them point blank, "The only place I'd consider living is Camden, Maine."

Later, after visiting several properties in Portland, they asked another realtor, "If you were going to buy a bed-and-breakfast, which would it be?" The reply: "The Maine Stay in Camden — but it's not for sale." All the same, Bob suggested setting up a meeting with the owners.

As they drove into town, past the steepled church looking onto the town green, Juanita turned to Bob and said, "This is where I want to live." Known as "the village where the mountains meet the sea," Camden is a picturesque seaside community with stately old homes, numerous parks, narrow streets lined with quaint shops and restaurants, and one of the most photographed harbors in New England. Looming above it all is Mt. Battie, where poet Edna St. Vincent Millay often sat for long hours gazing out to sea, seeking inspiration.


Frontgate customers Bob and Juanita Topper enjoy their tree-top view Bed-and-Breakfast in the summer and winter. Shop Outdoor Living.

A little while later, when they pulled into the driveway of the Maine Stay Inn, Juanita asked, "Is this the place?""It must be," Bob answered. To which she replied, "This is my dream house."

At dinner that evening, they talked with the owners about many things — everything, that is, except the buying and selling of the Inn. The interview must have gone well, however. Bob and Juanita toured the property the next day, made an offer the next week, and moved in four months later.

THE COMFORTS OF HOME

"We had no experience with innkeeping," says Bob, "and we felt a little bit of trepidation. But we were infatuated with the place." They loved the Inn's warmth and charm, its comfort and conveniences, and most of all, the living quarters.

Situated in a refurbished barn connected by an ell to the main house, the two-story, nine-room residence afforded them much more space and privacy than the typical owners' quarters, which usually amount to little more than a one-room apartment.

"It was in no way representative of most bed-and-breakfasts," says Bob. "We gave up nothing in terms of comfort and convenience. We wanted a place where we could entertain and lead a relatively normal life."

He and Juanita occupy the top two stories of the four-story barn. At grade level is the garage and all-purpose storage area; above that, storage for towels, bed linens, foodstuffs, and other items needed to prepare for guests. The third floor houses their private kitchen, great room, powder room, master suite, and laundry; on the top floor, a guest room, full bath, and den.

The couple's business office is located in the Inn itself. "At the end of the day, we can close the door and know we're home now," says Bob, acknowledging in the same breath, however, that "it never really ends. We're constantly in and out of the Inn."

Their home has the relaxed, cushy feeling of a Maine cottage: wood floors, bead board, painted furniture, an easy chair upholstered in red-and-khaki gingham, lots of built-ins. "You have to bring in your own look," says Juanita.

Vaulted ceilings and Palladian windows create an open, airy atmosphere. "The light is great," says Juanita. She and Bob especially enjoy being situated at treetop level. "When we sit in our great room, we're looking out at the leaves on the trees. It's wonderful, like living in a tree house."

STEPPING INTO HISTORY

The very first time they set foot in the Maine Stay, something told Juanita, "You are home." Subsequent experience has borne out that first impression. "We never felt like strangers. Everything fell into place. It was like we'd been here for twenty years."

"We gave up nothing in terms of comfort and convenience. We wanted a place where we could entertain and lead a relatively normal life."

Listed in The National Register of Historic Places along with 65 other neighboring homes in the High Street Historic District, the house dates back to 1802 when, as mentioned on the Inn's website, "Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States, Route 1 was a dirt road, and Maine was still a part of the state of Massachusetts."

The original dwelling comprised a Federal-style main house with hip roof and center chimney, a carriage house, and four-story barn. Each of these wood-framed buildings was made of hand-hewn timbers put together with whittled pegs, then finished with pine clapboard and slate roofing.

In the 1840s and again in the 1870s, the house underwent extensive renovation, accounting for much of its present-day charm. Its owner, Dr. Jonathan Huse, added a third story, changed the hip roof to a steep gable with a porthole window at the peak, edged the roofline with large Italianate double brackets, replaced the existing front windows with six-over-sixes, and installed shutters. He later added the two-and-a-half-story ell connecting the main house to the barn.

"It was a classic progressive New England farm building," explains Bob, "a series of interconnected structures: big house, little house, back house for seed, lavatories, and storage, then a carriage house and barn. You could go from house to barn to feed the animals without having to go outside."

The home remained in the Huse family until 1939. "The house changed hands very few times," says Juanita. "That's why it's in such good shape. It was loved for a long, long time."

Though she acknowledges it would be difficult to give up the Maine Stay, she nonetheless feels that "you can never really own a home like this. You can only be its caretaker. And after your time is up, you pass it on to someone else who will love it and take care of it." In the meantime, says Bob, "We're having fun."

INSIDE THE MAINE STAY

The main house came furnished with period antiques and a scattering of antebellum pieces. Bob and Juanita accessorized as needed, adding a wingback chair here, a grandfather clock or secretary there. They take a lot of pleasure in their guests' enjoyment of the house. "We do our best to make everyone feel very welcome here. We genuinely enjoy people, and the Inn itself has a good feel to it."

"The house changed hands very few times. That's why it's in such good shape. It was loved for a long, long time."

Three rooms had to be completely renovated that first year. "A frozen third-floor pipe burst on Valentine's weekend," says Bob. "It was part of our initiation. Luckily everyone had already checked out." The makeover gave them the opportunity to add some custom cabinetry and open up an unused fireplace in the library.

Each of the eight guest rooms has a distinct personality. One is decorated with hand-stitched needlework, another with posters from regional agricultural fairs, still others with memorabilia from the Topper family's hand-made cigar factory or photographs of an Alpine village recalling Juanita's Austrian heritage. Some are equipped with a fireplace or Vermont Castings stove. Windows (and the occasional pair of French doors) offer vistas of the rock garden, historic clapboard-clad homes, a wooded glen, or the neighboring state park. And always trees, lots of trees.

The Inn's two parlors have wood-burning fireplaces. Bob is particularly fond of the north parlor's ornate cast-iron mantel with marble surround, installed circa 1850. Many of the rooms have original wide plank-pine flooring, now accented with Oriental rugs.

The antique Queen Atlantic stove creates a natural gathering spot for guests to unwind and chat about the day's events; the well-stocked cookie jar provides another excuse to drop by the large country kitchen.

Bob and Juanita give their guests the option of taking breakfast at the large harvest table in the dining room or at tables for two on the sun porch overlooking the garden. "We love the sun porch," says Juanita. "It was enclosed about eight years ago and heated with a Vermont Casting Stove. We enjoy catching glimpses of the garden while we're serving breakfast, especially in autumn when the American elms on the property start showering yellow leaves. In winter, we take breakfast there when we have no guests, read the newspaper, and hope that it snows."

THE PLEASURES OF HOME

In his spare time, Bob enjoys sailing, skiing, and tinkering with their antique mahogany Chris-Craft boat, which is parked in the first-floor garage. "Restoring this boat has been my hobby for nearly 20 years," he says. "It's in wonderful condition, beautiful condition."

Juanita spends much of her free time in the garden, working up to eight hours at a clip, "but still not as much I'd like." Though the one-acre plot was already fairly well established when she and Bob took up residence a year and a half ago, they saw plenty of opportunity for improvement. "We all have to make our mark," she says, "to make something our own."

"We love the sun porch ...especially in autumn when the American elms on the property start showering yellow leaves."

For Juanita, that meant putting a lot more color in the garden. She also laid out an inviting system of walking paths and planted one of the shady new seating areas with white azaleas, white rhododendrons, white daisies, and white begonias to lighten it up.

"It's nice and cool in summer. Our guests like to go there with a newspaper." She's currently designing a garden of shade-loving perennials, and plans are underway to add more definition to the entire garden using large boulders.

As much as she enjoys gardening, her work isn't without its challenges. "I planted hydrangeas as a living railing along the walkway, but deer eat them so I'll have to plant things they won't nibble. I love deer, but not in the garden. We also have a very fat groundhog, named Rusty for the rust-colored tummy you see when he stands up. He's cute, but I don't like it when he eats my coneflowers."

Bob and Juanita walk through the garden every day on their way to town. "We sometimes try to get away for lunch. In summer we go to the deli, sit on the upper deck, and just look at the harbor. Do we really live here, we ask ourselves, or are we on vacation?"

They take equal pleasure in their wintertime walks, particularly when there's snow falling. "Camden is such a beautiful town," says Juanita. "During the Christmas season, there's a huge star up on Mt. Battie, and you can see it no matter where you are."

The entire family is gathering at the Inn for the holidays, just as they did last year. "Each of our five children had their own bedroom. We had breakfast on the sun porch, then opened gifts in the north parlor. There was a beautiful big tree and a fire blazing in the fireplace. Everyone said it was like walking into a Christmas card."

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