The owners of the Wedding Cake House in Kennebunk are seeking permission to use the barn and carriage house as event space, the revenue from which they say would help cover the $1 million cost to restore the house’s elaborate trim. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The butter-yellow house sits in a row of stately captain’s homes on Summer Street, a short walk from Kennebunk’s quaint Main Street. Once home to a shipbuilder and his young wife, it later became famous for the intricate white trim that inspired both a romantic legend and its name: The Wedding Cake House.

It has been called the most photographed house in Maine and has been featured in dozens of books and magazines, architecture courses and tourism guides. Visitors frequently stop to take photos. Busloads of cruise ship passengers drive by to see it on their way to Kennebunkport.

Owners Hunt and Katie Edwards in front of the Wedding Cake House. Courtesy Hunt and Katie Edwards

Now it’s in danger of losing the very element that has made it a landmark for more than 160 years. The original trim is “rotting from the inside out” according to Hunt Edwards, who inherited the property a few years ago.

Edwards and his wife, Katie, say they hope to turn The Wedding Cake House into an inn and event venue so that they can afford to restore the trim and maintain  the historic home.

But as they seek permission from the town to do that, some neighbors say such a business shouldn’t be allowed in a residential neighborhood. They formed a group, Friends of the Wedding Cake House, to oppose the effort.

“Our concern is not so much that we don’t want the Wedding Cake House to continue to be a viable part of the community, it’s just that this seems to be a little bit too much,” said Kati Allen, who lives three doors down. “Allowing outdoor amplified music with up to 150 guests in somebody’s backyard cannot possibly not disturb the neighborhood.”


The town planning board spent the past six months reviewing the application for a contract zone before voting to recommend it last month. The select board will consider Tuesday whether to schedule a public hearing on the plan and then place it on a ballot for a town vote in March. The board also could send it back to the planning board or reject it outright.


The legend of the Wedding Cake House that has circulated for decades says the house and intricate trim were built by a sea captain to atone for leaving his new bride on their wedding night to go to sea. As the story goes, he spent his lonely nights at sea carving woodwork to bring home to his bride.

The name of the house is inspired by its wedding cake-like appearance, but the rest of the story isn’t quite true.

According to Edwards, the federal style house was built in 1825 as a wedding gift for George Washington Bourne and his new wife, Jane, from his father. Bourne, a fourth-generation shipbuilder and prominent businessman, had grown up in the house next door and built ships on the Kennebunk River, which runs behind the home.

In 1852, the barn caught fire and the carriage house that connected it to the main part of the home was demolished to prevent it from spreading. The shipbuilding industry on the river was coming to an end, so Bourne hired an apprentice, Thomas Durrell, from the shipyard to help rebuild the barn and carriage house, Edwards said.


Taking inspiration from a Gothic cathedral Bourne had seen in Milan, the men spent several years making and installing six buttresses with pinnacles and joining them together with intricate woodwork, Edwards said. The style later came to be known as Carpenter Gothic, a designation for Gothic Revival architecture detailing added to wooden houses and churches in North America.

Bourne died in 1856, four months after he finished the work.

The Wedding Cake House dates to 1825, but the distinctive white trim, inspired by a Gothic cathedral in Milan, wasn’t added until the 1850s. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The nickname for the house came later when a local businessman created a postcard collection of the homes along Summer Street. He labeled the yellow home “The Wedding Cake House,” Edwards said.

The house was passed down through generations of Bourne’s family. At one time, possibly in the 1930s or 1940s, it was used as an inn. While moving furniture to paint, Hunt and Katie Edwards found an undated brochure that listed room rentals at $2.50 per night.

In 1983, it was purchased from the last Bourne descendant by Mary Burnett and her daughter, Anne. They restored the home and opened an art gallery in the carriage house. The Burnetts sold the house in 1997 to James Hunt Barker, who first saw it in 1954 after he returned from serving in the Korean War. Barker, an art dealer, fell in love with it.

Barker occasionally opened the Wedding Cake House for tours – once after Hurricane Katrina and at other times to support local food banks. It was the first time the public got a glimpse inside. Barker died in 2020 at the age of 92 and Hunt Edwards and his sister inherited the house.



Hunt and Katie Edwards have spent the last several years doing restoration work and stabilizing the barn and carriage house. Their focus has now turned to the original trim, which they estimate will cost more than $1 million to replace. The complex replacement involves the custom fabrication of many intricately carved pieces of trim, including the 30-foot buttresses, he said.

Workers install a replacement buttress on the Wedding Cake House in October. Courtesy Hunt and Katie Edwards

“There is no one in town that will disagree that a 200-year-old house doesn’t require an exorbitant amount of care,” Katie Edwards said. “The thing that makes the Wedding Cake House different is the trim, which is extraordinary in its maintenance.”

The Edwards, who do not live in the house full-time, rent out the house for short stays and are allowed to operate an owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast with up to six rooms. But an inn and event venue would bring in more money for maintenance, he said.

Katie Edwards said the house and grounds create a unique and romantic ambiance for “boutique style events.”

If the contract zone is approved, the Edwards could host events for up to 150 guests and use a tent in the yard. There would be strict time rules, with events limited to 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and no outdoor music after 9 p.m. Events using a tent would be limited to 20 per year. A traffic attendant would be required for events with more than 50 guests.


A group of Summer Street residents says allowing a commercial use in a residential zone will create problems with noise and traffic and could change the character of the neighborhood. Summer Street is part of the Kennebunk Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

David Spofford, a former select board member whose property abuts the Wedding Cake House, said they’re also concerned it could diminish the value of their properties. Most homes along the street sell for over $1 million, he said.

“If this contract zone is passed, it’s forever. If he sells the house, you don’t know what they could do,” Spofford said. “It’s kind of a scary proposition.”

David and Gayle Spofford live near the Wedding Cake House and are opposed to plans to use the house as an inn and event venue. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Georgia Bolduc, an attorney hired by the neighbors, said the proposal is inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan, which calls for regulating growth in a way that preserves historic structures and neighborhoods.

“This contract would erode the historic character of the neighborhood,” she said.

The Edwards’ plan also has its supporters.


In a letter to the town planner, Robert Georgitis, president of the Kennebunk Development Corp., said the Wedding Cake House has brought tourism that supports local businesses to the area.

Elaine Lacker, who lives across the street from the house, said in a letter to the planning board that she is not concerned about traffic because people going to events will be able to park on the property. Allowing the contract zone would “keep the property in great condition,” she wrote.

Hunt and Katie Edwards said they are a little surprised by the pushback from neighbors and have tried to address their concerns by emphasizing limits on guests and hours. They say they have heard a lot of support from residents and on social media, which makes them hopeful voters would support the contract zone.

The Edwards say new zoning would preserve the house’s historic features and just change its use to make that possible.

“It is being done all over the country to preserve historic houses,” Katie Edwards said. “We feel it’s a way to preserve this very special and unique property.”

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