The Life of the Loft
by Rebecca Falzano
Photography Trent Bell
On Camden’s waterfront, a lively blend of food and family
One Sunday morning in Maine, as in Robert Frost’s famous poem, Christina Sidoti came upon a fork in the road.
Growing weary of her New York City lifestyle, Sidoti had long dreamed about opening her own organic restaurant in Camden and living above it. It is a lifestyle deeply familiar to Sidoti, who was raised by her grandparents above their candy shop in Queens. Finding a building on the waterfront would be a bonus, of course. On this particular Sunday morning, as she made her way to a lawn sale in Belfast, for some unknown reason—and to this day, she’s not sure why—Sidoti turned toward Camden and came upon her own personal fork in the road. There it was: a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window of a waterfront building with both retail and residential space. It was an opportunity that held the promise of all the things she holds most dear in life: food, family, and a dedication to the environment.
Christina Sidoti may be a newcomer to the Camden waterfront, but the native New Yorker’s soul has always had a place in Maine. When she was a little girl, Sidoti’s father brought her and her siblings—albeit kicking and screaming—to Searsmont one summer. When she stepped out of the car, the young girl planted her feet on the unfamiliar land and they took root. Forty years later, Sidoti still has a camp in Searsmont where she goes to “escape.”
It is impossible to separate Sidoti from the historic Camden Herald building she now owns; her spirit and life experiences are reflected in all three floors: from her top-floor, open-concept loft whose motto is “a full house is a happy one” to the second-floor art gallery that is her gift to the Camden community, to her pride and joy, Paolina’s Way, an organic Italian restaurant that honors her grandmother in both the restaurant’s name and in its dedication to good food and good company.
Perhaps it was Sidoti’s grandmother who offered some celestial intervention at that fork in the road. “My grandmother worked seven days a week in the candy store and would run upstairs to cook every meal. The core of family was always around the dinner table,” she recalls. It was from her grandmother that Sidoti learned how to make sauce and pasta by hand in the same loving way she prepares meals at Paolina’s Way today.
While the renovation of the building involved all three floors, “the icing on the cake,” according to Sidoti, is her loft apartment on the third floor: a stunning 1,800-square-foot space overlooking the harbor. Marc Lorraine of Rockport-based Lorraine Construction worked on every aspect of the renovation, but he and his team paid particular attention to restructuring two former apartment units into Sidoti’s present-day loft. “Commercial and residential spaces require two entirely different types of discipline. While the loft posed many opportunities for innovative solutions, it was the simultaneous coordination of finishing the apartment and ensuring that the restaurant would be ready for its summer debut that made this project so satisfying to complete,” says Lorraine.
The main goal was to open up the space by raising the eight-foot ceilings to expose the beautiful wooden trusses, while also preserving the building’s original features—its brick walls, doors, and transoms. “At first, I was on the fence about the space. But then I popped my head into the cobwebbed attic and I saw these trusses. They were filthy and covered, but I said to my builder, ‘If we can raise these ceilings and expose the trusses, I will buy this,’” Sidoti recalls.
Lorraine restructured the layout around the trusses while creating private sleeping quarters and three levels of integrated living space. As soon as the ceiling was raised, the idea for an unplanned room was born. “We never expected to utilize a second mini-level,” says Sidoti, “but now we use it as an entertainment loft and it is constantly filled with kids.” Above this space is a rooftop deck accessed by a ladder—a place Sidoti calls her “Zen escape.” Eventually, she plans to plant herbs up there for use in Paolina’s Way.
In the apartment’s main living space, raised 16-foot ceilings create a roomy, spacious feel with an open kitchen that flows into the living room. The biggest dilemma for Sidoti was having the apartment’s front door located in her kitchen. “You walk in and you’re in the middle of the kitchen. We probably could’ve made the kitchen smaller, but it’s the heartbeat of the apartment. Everyone hangs out here,” she says. In the effort to create a kitchen that wasn’t too “kitchen-like,” Sidoti selected elements that “looked more like furniture” and that blended seamlessly into the living room design. Brandon T. Kimble Designs in Camden crafted the custom kitchen cabinetry out of olive and maple wood complemented by ribbed glass. The oversized island bar, strategically located in the middle of the living space, easily accommodates the many friends and guests that often sit, stand, and socialize around it. “Even with the restaurant downstairs, we use this kitchen constantly,” says Sidoti. “People will sit here on the couch and at the bar, and conversation will just flow between spaces. That was my vision for this space—to have it integrated.”
While opening and integrating spaces was a principal objective, the three bedrooms required a bit more privacy. A glass wall maintains the master bedroom’s open-concept design, and its location at the back side of the building takes advantage of the waterfront views. A floor-to-ceiling curtain creates privacy when needed. Two additional bedrooms face the street, one of which has a sliding barn door that expands the main living area and allows for refreshing saltwater breezes to flow through the loft.
Because of Sidoti’s long-standing commitment to social and environmental justice(she formerly worked for an organization dedicated to nuclear disarmament), renovating the building to be more environmentally friendly was also a key consideration. With the help of Susan MacMillan of Fixtures Designer Plumbing Showroom in Rockland, Sidoti sought kitchen and bathroom fixtures that incorporated water saving and recycled materials. She also chose highly efficient hot-water systems and hopes to add solar panels on the roof in the future.
For now, Sidoti—standing on her wrought-iron balcony designed by Benjamin Leavitt, a consummate metalworker in Hope—takes in the waterfront and the al fresco tables below, before calling down to her staff about a mysterious case of Coca-Cola being wheeled into her organic restaurant. “I love this balcony. It can get a little noisy back here; we have garbage trucks coming through the alley in the morning. But that’s okay. I like the sounds of life,” she says.
The sounds of life in Camden may be different from those in Manhattan, but for Sidoti, who still lives part-time in New York, it’s a pleasant change. “It was a frightening decision for me to take a whole building and invest my life and assets into it,” she says. “But I’m happy here. It seems that everyone here chooses to be here. There’s a happiness about that.”
Just as Sidoti thrives off keeping people happy and well fed in her restaurant, she does too in her loft and gallery space. “This building was a way for me to consolidate my love of food and my love for making people happy,” she says. “It’s so joyful here—it’s like an endless revolving door. I never know who’s coming and going, who’s sleeping and eating here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
On Camden’s waterfront, like she’d always dreamed, Sidoti has created one big, flowing dinner table.
Paolina’s Way | 10 Bayview Landing | Camden ME 04843 | 230-0555 | paolinasway.com