SACO – As a youngster, Marjorie Cantara always loved old houses.

So it must have been somewhat difficult for her to watch the old house she grew up in — an 1820s structure in Scarborough — being slowly modernized. Her mother didn’t like old houses, so she was constantly having Cantara’s father do updates.

But this ended up being an important learning experience for Cantara.

“I was the oldest, so I would help him and got to see a lot about how that house was made,” she said.

Given that, it’s not surprising that Cantara has spent the past 16 years — along with her general contractor/husband Marc Cantara — restoring an old house from which others had stripped the historic elements over the years.

Their home, the Lt. Robert Brooks/Deacon Amos Chase House, dates from 1743 and sits on Ferry Road (Route 9) between downtown Saco and the beaches.

It’s actually two houses. The original house on the site, a stately colonial, was merged with another similar house later in the 1700s.

During some of her extensive historical research on the property, Cantara discovered that the newer house had been built on a spot a short distance away, and was moved on logs. The owner of the house at the time it was expanded was Deacon Amos Chase, who had a large family — 12 children.

When the Cantaras bought the house, it was in rough shape. Rooms had been partitioned, plaster was falling, and there were holes in the roof. It took about a decade for the couple to restore it to an authentic period look.

Cantara researched historic paint colors — both for the green and red on the exterior, and the bright blue, green, yellow and lavender used inside. She also researched period architectural details. And whenever they could, the couple tried to build new elements to match existing ones.

For instance, in the library, one wall of original panels and carved woodwork remained, so Marc Cantara copied the elements and reproduced them in the rest of the room.

Original beams — gigantic and rough-hewn — can be seen throughout the house, and some original floorboards as well. There is an original door lock in the library; Cantara tinkered with it to get it working again.

From her research, Cantara learned to tell the difference between a 1740s guest bedroom and a family bedroom. She said wide floorboards were used in the family bedrooms, because they had knots and would become bumpier. Narrow floorboards were usually solid and without knots, so were better suited for guests.

When they bought the house, Marjorie Cantara’s father was still alive. After years of modernizing an old house, he was eager to help his daughter de-modernize the Saco home. He made 40 sets of double-hung wooden windows, in period style, for the house. He was 83 at the time.

Besides the attention to period detail — including a massive cooking fireplace in the kitchen and a coffin door on the side of the house — the bright colors and vibrancy of Cantara’s artwork jump out at visitors.

In the front stairway, for example, she painted a sprawling mural depicting a local American Indian chief she had read about, whose tribe was from the Fryeburg area but spent summers catching fish on the beach in Saco.

Cantara painted other murals and stenciled designs on floors and walls. She even created paintings that hang in various places.

In the library, she painted a portrait of what she thinks Deacon Amos Chase looked like, based on research. She used her husband’s face, then added longish hair and outdated clothing.

Cantara’s enthusiasm for her house and its history is so strong that she feels a need to share it. During good weather, usually beginning in the spring, she and her husband open their home to free tours on weekends.

And in keeping with the period feel, she doesn’t have a website or Twitter account to announce the tour dates. People have to find out about the open house the old-fashioned way.

“We’ll put a sign out that says, ‘historic house tours today,”‘ said Cantara.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]