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All in the Details

Tour Skylands in our photo gallery.

Skylands, in Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine, was built by Edsel and Eleanor Ford in 1925 as a summer retreat. With its grandly scaled rooms, exquisite details, sprawling stone terrace, and curious outbuildings, the house provided the biggest canvas Martha has worked on to date and is the best place yet to see the details that add up to her signature style. For Martha, everything begins with color, so her first inclination was to compose the palette. A certain swatch of gold taffeta seemed to catch the sunlight and complement the exposed wood paneling and local pink granite in just the right way. Working with that swatch, a paint "the color of sunset on white walls" was formulated -- and the Great Hall, dining room, and hallway got their first coat of paint in 72 years. "It just felt natural," says Martha. "The rest followed from that."

Curtains came down. Wall-to-wall carpeting was pulled up, and the oak floors were polished to a lustrous finish.The subtle sheen of tone-on-tone damask replaced chintzes and other boldly patterned fabrics on the upholstered furniture. Oriental rugs were sent out to be cleaned; when their revived patterns proved to be too bold and attention-getting, only two were brought back into the house. "This house was built to take advantage of one of the most beautiful places in the world," says Martha. "I wanted to get it back to a state where nothing distracted from the great outdoors."

The rapport that has developed between inside and out suits the house perfectly. A driveway of crushed pink granite wends through an evergreen forest to the house, solidly built from the same stone. Stepping across the threshold into the wood-paneled, stone-floored foyer is like entering a cool, dark cave. After a minute, your eyes adjust to the low light, and you are drawn down five steps into the 42-foot-long Great Hall. A wall of windows opens onto a terrace, framing a view through spruces and hemlocks to the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Suddenly all the choices make perfect sense.

"Taffeta, damask, polished brass, gilt frames, zinc-topped tables, Venetian glass, and mercury glass may seem fancy and glamorous at first," says senior style editor Kevin Sharkey, who worked with Martha on the decoration of Skylands. "But it all echoes what's going on outside: the way the stones of the house look when they're wet; how the sun glints on waves; how the water reflects the sky; the sleek shine of wet rocks at Hunters Beach; the varied greens of the ferns and moss that line the paths in the woods."

Beyond the visual dazzle, however, Skylands is a home because it indulges all the senses. "There's always great music playing," says Sharkey. "There's always something really good cooking -- you just know you're going to eat well. The garden is planted with fragrant herbs and flowers."

"Stylistically it's mixed up," says Martha. "But that makes it as comfortable, livable, and as useful as possible. I just want everything to be beautiful. I keep thinking of Edsel and Eleanor Ford, and I want the place to still be nice enough for them."

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